New Directions in Classics Teaching at The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

New Directions in Classics Teaching at The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on tertiary education delivery throughout 2020-2021, the Ancient History teaching staff at The University of Newcastle presented their experiences in several venues during the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. The teaching staff consisted of Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics and Ancient History; a team of HDR students, Connie Skibinski, Tanika Koosmen, Madelaine Sacco, Thomas Sharples, and Timothy Worrad; and professional staff in the Teaching and Learning Design Unit, Paul McDonald and Adrian Merles.

The team presented at two conferences: (i) A roundtable, ‘Virtual Antiquity in the Classroom – Benefits and Pitfalls – A Mixed Presentation Roundtable’ at “What Has Antiquity Ever Done for Us?” – The Vitality of Ancient Reception Studies, Now: An international virtual conference presented by the society, Antiquity in Media Studies (AIMS); (ii) A joint presentation (Johnson and Skibinski), ‘AHIS@UON Collaborative Innovations in Online Delivery’ at ASCS 2022 panel, ‘New Directions in Classics Teaching Workshop.

Professor Marguerite Johnson and PhD Student Connie Skibinski were delighted to represent this academic team through the ASCS43 ‘New Directions in Classics Teaching Workshop’, by sharing the innovative teaching practices implemented in Semester 2, 2021. Owing to lockdown, the staff delivered two courses online at short notice: AHIS1000: Ancient Greece and AHIS2500 Greek Mythology. Due to the engaging use of online delivery and the innovative Ancient Reception pedagogy implemented in these two courses, the AHIS@UON team were proud recipients of the DVC(A) Educator Innovation and Impact Awards in 2021. You can access a snapshot of their deliver of the two online courses from 2021 here.

While the challenges were intense, they also resulted in new approaches to undergraduate teaching that have been maintained post-pandemic restrictions. In this blog post, Marguerite Johnson and Connie Skibinski address the key points they raised during the teaching workshop, and reflect on what was a successful semester of teaching in spite of unexpected adversities.

Extend your university network:

Some of the 2021 innovations that have been maintained include the extension of our university network to include experts in learning media and solutions development. As academics we are not usually trained in many of the skills required to produce learning modules characterised by effective use of technology to highlight key pedagogical material. By working as a team that includes academics and media production experts, including Ancient Reception segments to supplement specific historical or cultural course components, we have continued to introduce new facets of Ancient History in visually exciting and culturally relevant ways.

Take advantage of what Ancient Reception Studies offers:

This is very much about the vitality of current developments in pedagogy using Ancient Reception Studies in terms of both form and content. By ‘form’ we mean the delivery mode of technology per se – so much at the heart of Ancient Reception Studies – and the direct implementation of such in the vital role played by professional staff with the expertise to manage media, transform lecture content into video recordings, and combine various modes of technical enhancements. By ‘content’ we mean not only ancient history and mythological topics but also the expression of such content in relation to the currency of ‘antiquity’ in diverse media, from television, comics, video games, and film.

Examples from AHIS1000 – Ancient Greece:

In this introductory course, we incorporated video montage with an audio overlay by one of the teachers. Two of the films used were Troy and 300 to show the histories of the Iliad and the Battle of Thermopylae, respectively. These were montages of around five minutes each, and the audio commentary by the teacher pointed out highlights related to the teaching material on the topics that had already been delivered to students. Further on Thermopylae, another teacher used video game extracts to visually demonstrate the battle tactics employed. Keeping the Ancient Reception materials to a strict time limit, incorporating historical content during the videos, and focusing on promoting visualisation learning through popular media, this teaching strategy added a dynamic, relatable and informative component to the online classroom.

Examples from AHIS2500 – Myths of the Ancient Greek World:

Throughout AHIS2500 we opted to incorporate an embedded Ancient Reception approach, meaning that we utilised short case studies from contemporary media (video games, film, television, comic books) throughout the entire semester, when introducing students to ancient material they may be otherwise unfamiliar with. Examples include a case study on Wonder Woman when teaching about the Amazons, and an analysis of a scene from the television series, ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ when teaching about Hecate. This approach was a deliberate divergence from previous iterations of the course, which left Ancient Reception to week 12 only. By incorporating Ancient Reception through practical case studies before introducing the students to Reception Theory in the final week, we found that students were very responsive and engaged with the premises of Reception Theory. The Course Experience Survey results also showed that students particularly enjoyed the references to contemporary media throughout the course, as it prompted them to consider and interrogate how their contemporary context shapes their interpretation of ancient material.

Professor Marguerite Johnson

Connie Skibinski

Conference reflections: Preparing to present

Conference reflections: Preparing to present

Academic conferences are a huge part of research – they are where you share your research and get feedback from peers. A good conference leaves you feeling stimulated and psyched up to get back to your work, with new ideas and approaches and texts and people to email and things to read. And yet, there are horror stories of people’s conference experiences – particularly for post-graduates. You hear about the young researcher driven to tears by the zealous questioning of a single audience member who appears to know more and finds fault with the work. You hope that that is never you, and you prepare for your first conference with that image in mind – at least I know that I did.

I was incredibly lucky that my first conference was an AMPHORAE – an incredibly welcoming and relaxed post-graduate conference. Open minds, who were quick to point out that I did not need to apologise 20 times in my 20 minute presentation, as the research and reasoning were good. I’m not a natural presenter – the written word rather than the spoken is my forte – but I have come a long way from that first conference, and my last presentation contained no apologies at all!

So, here is my advice for those of you preparing for a conference – whether it is your 1st or 500th:

1. Start with the point you intend to make. Once you decide on the main message of your presentation, then the details you add will help you shape that message. If you don’t know what your message is, your presentation will be descriptive, not analytical, and the details won’t fit together for your audience.

2. Structure your presentation for a listener, not a reader. With a presentation, the audience do not have the option to flip back to the previous point and remind themselves of what you’ve said, so it is often necessary to remind them. It is usually expected that you will tell the audience what you are going to say at the beginning, give them the examples and evidence you told them you would in the middle, and then remind them of what you’ve said at the end.

3. Write more than you need. Although you have a limited time for presenting, and need to select your evidence clearly, most people talk faster when they get nervous and most people get nervous presenting. If you practice your paper and it comes out on time, write a bit more! Generally, 3,000 words will end up becoming a 20 minute presentation.

4. Design your slides well. Almost everyone does a PowerPoint presentation of some description these days, and yet some slides are still terrible. As David JP Philips says in this TED Talk, YOU should be the focus of your presentation, not your slides. Keep the font size large, the amount of writing small, and use the built in features to help your audience follow what you are saying. A dark background with off-white, grey or beige texts is also easier to look at than a glaring white background with dark text.

How to avoid death By PowerPoint | David JP Phillips | TEDxStockholmSalon

5. Be the expert. Your presentation is about your research – something you have been looking at in detail, and know better than you think. Even if your audience contains a scholar whose work is important to your research, they haven’t looked at the evidence the same way you have, to research the same conclusion as you. Be proud of the work you have done and take confidence in the fact that you know what you are talking about.

6. It’s okay to not know. I always get nervous about the questions at the end of my presentation, worrying that I won’t know the answer. This anxiety definitely lessened when I realised it’s okay if I don’t. If I know the answer, great. If not, I admit that as well – usually not as bluntly as saying I have no freaking idea! Instead, “I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a really interesting point and I’ll have to look into it” or “I wasn’t aware of that text. Can we talk about it more in the break/over lunch?” You may find that your audience respects you more when you acknowledge the gap in your knowledge, and you’ll walk away with more ideas than you started with.

7. Include your translation. When you are including the Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, or other language in your presentation, make sure that you include the translation on your slides or handout. This makes your presentation accessible to people who are interested but might not have the language skills needed to translate off the top of their head. You can also include any words you think you might mis-pronounce, so your audience knows what you intended to say!

Remember, conferences are made up of people who are just as passionate about your topic as you are. They want to hear what you have to say and share their knowledge with you.

– Aimee Turner

Athens in the Hellenistic World

Athens in the Hellenistic World

By Ian Worthington

First published in the World History Encyclopedia 11 November 2020 (with different illustrations)

Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian (OUP 2021) By Ian Worthington

When we think about ancient Athens it is almost always about the Classical city. We think of such things as its numerous monuments (the Parthenon on the Acropolis for example), beautifying everywhere, the Agora swarming with people doing business, discussing current affairs, and chit-chatting, and its flourishing intellectual, artistic, and literary life, including great philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, orators like Pericles and Demosthenes, and festivals that both honored the gods and provided a focal point for people. Daily life was anchored in the ideals of freedom and democracy, and in the fifth century Athens was an imperial power second to none in the Mediterranean.

But in 338 that life forever changed for all mainland Greeks when Philip II of Macedonia (r. 359-336) defeated a Greek army at Chaeronea (in Boeotia) and imposed his hegemony over Greece. Apart from some futile attempts to recapture their freedom, for well over a century the Greeks remained under Macedonian rule until the new power of the Mediterranean world, Rome, absorbed Macedonia and Greece into its empire.

Philip II was assassinated in 336 and was succeeded by his son Alexander III (“the Great”). He died in Babylon in 323, having toppled the Persian Empire and marched as far east as India. The three centuries from Alexander’s death to the final conquest of the east by Rome with the capture of Egypt in 30 are commonly called the “Hellenistic” period. It was the era of the kingdoms of Seleucid Syria, Ptolemaic Egypt, Antigonid Greece, and Attalid Pergamum; the age when the opening of East to West by Alexander’s conquests came to fruition, with the Greeks realizing their world was far bigger than the Mediterranean; the time when Greek language and culture spread in the east; and Alexandria’s great Museum and Library made it the intellectual and scientific epicenter of the world.

What was Athens’ place in this Hellenistic world? How different was it militarily, politically, economically, and culturally from its Classical predecessor? What were the people like and how did they react to their Macedonian and Roman masters? These questions are what my book is about, and some refreshing new answers come to light.

Athens had been an imperial power in the fifth and fourth centuries, but in the Hellenistic period it seemed only a second-rate city, its politicians bowing to foreign orders, its democracy robbed, its economy in shambles, and even its civic and religious institutions curtailed. Under Macedonian rule, it had even suffered garrisons in the port of Piraeus and in the city itself, within eyesight of the Acropolis, home to the patron goddess Athena.

View of Acropolis from likely site of Macedonian garrison on Museum Hill. Photo Ian Worthington

Once Rome brought down Macedonia in the second century, Athens was subject to Rome’s will. In particular, Roman building activity in Athens, especially under Augustus and in the first century AD Hadrian, was steering Athens further away from what Pericles had proudly proclaimed “the school of Hellas” in his funeral oration of 430 (so Thucydides 2.41.1). The Athenians witnessed the Romans’ appropriation of much of their culture for their own needs and were victims to widespread looting of artworks throughout Greece, which were taken to Rome for public and private display.

Yet this dreary picture of decline and fall belies reality. It is the result of the hostility of ancient sources, and especially, as I show, the flawed tendency to compare Hellenistic to Classical Athens in every area. After Chaeronea Athens was still a force with which to be reckoned: its people were resilient; they fought their Macedonian masters when they could, and later, they sided with foreign rulers against Rome to regain their freedom.

If anything, given the city’s diminished land forces and lack of its once powerful navy, the people’s courageous defiance of oppression against terrible odds was a defining feature of their history. Thus in 268 the Athenians idealistically joined forces with Egypt and Sparta to defy Antigonus II of Macedonia, being totally defeated seven years later. In 229 they actually did regain independence, but warfare against Philip V of Macedonia after 200 led to an appeal to Rome for help. From then on, the Athenians’ future was linked to that city.

In 146 Rome annexed Greece, yet when the opportunity to regain freedom came in the 80s the Athenians sided with Mithridates VI of Pontus (Black Sea) against the Roman People. That decision would lead to their darkest hour, for in 86 the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla besieged and sacked the city, with a terrible loss of life and destruction to buildings.

Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens. Photo by Ian Worthington.

But the people recovered, only to find themselves part of the downfall of the Roman Republic. Having welcomed Pompey, then Caesar, they gave refuge to Brutus after Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March in 44, and to Mark Antony after he had defeated Brutus and Cassius at the battles of Philippi in 42. After Actium Athens had to live under Octavian (Augustus) as ruler, yet the people refused to be cowed. When Augustus visited the city in 21, he was angered that dissidents had daubed the statue of Athena on the Acropolis with blood and turned it westward, as though the goddess were contemptuously spitting on Rome.

Then a century later, under Hadrian, the city was catapulted again to prominence in the Greek world when that emperor chose it as the center of a newly created league of cities in the east called the Panhellenion. Athens thus enjoyed a renaissance.

Hellenistic Athens was far from being a postscript to its Classical self; its rich and varied history continued, and its status as a cultural and intellectual juggernaut, especially in philosophy and rhetoric, enticed Romans to the city in increasing numbers, some to visit (like Cicero), others to study there. Athens should no longer live unfairly in the shadow of its more famous forerunner.

My book does not end with the commonly accepted terminal date of the Hellenistic period in 30, but controversially in AD 132 with Hadrian. Periodization (dividing up a historical time frame into periods and giving a name to each one) is a double-edged sword: it’s convenient, but it does not follow that the beginning and end points reflect things starting and ending but merely continuing with changes. “Hellenistic” was coined in 1836 by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen because he believed those three centuries were defined by the spread of Hellenism (Greek language and culture), and the term stuck. But we should not forget that the Greeks did not have this concept of time, and when we look at what Actium and the Roman annexation of Egypt meant for Athens – and Greece – a different picture emerges.

Yes, 31 and 30 were significant years for Rome, but by 31 the Greeks had been part of the Roman Empire for over a century; Octavian was merely another in a line of Roman rulers, and nothing ended in Athens. Octavian had forgiven the people for their support of Antony and given them much needed grain, just as Caesar and Antony had forgiven them for supporting their rivals and had bestowed gifts on the city. It is hard to imagine, then, that the Athenians (or the Greeks) would have felt that Actium, and a year later Egypt’s fall to Rome, was the end of a period for them.

To me, the inscription on Hadrian’s Arch speaks volumes: “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus.” There was of course a continuum of Roman rule after Hadrian, but it is not just the imposition of foreign rule that drives the history of “Hellenistic” Athens but the changes to the physical city. Hellenistic rulers had funded buildings in Athens (the Stoa of Attalus of Pergamum in the Agora – now reconstructed – is perhaps the most famous), both to beautify the city and earn them honours as benefactors. These rulers did not take over the city, but the Romans did. Their constructions, especially Hadrian’s grandiose building program (including the completion of the temple to Olympian Zeus, whose huge size takes your breath away today), impacted the city even more.

Columns from Library of Hadrian, Athens. Photo Ian Worthington.
Arch of Hadrian, Athens. Photo Ian Worthington.

What Hadrian had built, where, and why, were his choices. Athens, then, had become as close to a provincial city as one could get, before settling into life in the later Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Arch is a fitting climax to a period in Athenian history that should be viewed, I argue, as one block from Philip II of Macedonia to Hadrian, when the city was no longer just that “of Theseus.” Athens certainly had its share of ups and down, but it remained a vibrant city, its people always resilient, its culture captivating the Romans, and commanding respect in the Greek world and in Rome. Hellenistic Athens therefore still shines, just not in the same way as the Classical city.

Professor Ian Worthington | MQ Research Profile

O Livia, the places you will go…

O Livia, the places you will go…

I mentioned in my last post that my research is in the literary reception of Livia Drusilla, the first imperial consort of Rome (and yes, I know that this is debated, but that’s a different post!). Looking in various Latin databases for references to this figure has led me to some weird and wonderful texts.

Livia pops up, naturally, in histories of the Roman empire and biographies of Augustus and Tiberius. But she is also present in biographies and commentaries on the poet Ovid, where she is the cause of his exile – because of an affair or because he simply saw her naked. This may well have been the inspiration of Faustus Andrelini, at the end of the 15th century CE, who used Livia as a pseudonym for the woman he addresses in his erotic poems.

Livia is also used in political philosophies, as a voice of reason. In the reign of Henry VIII of England, the story of Livia urging Augustus to clemency and mercy for those who betrayed him was immensely popular. This is picked up by a French diplomat in the Elizabethan period, who claims to have offered the same story to Elizabeth I when urging her to let Mary Stuart live.

But perhaps the most surprising places that Livia pops up is in medical texts. In the late 4th century CE, a Gallic author by the name Marcellus Empiricus, or Marcellus Burdigalensis, composed a medical encyclopedia of cures. He presents three herbal concoctions whose efficacy is based on their use by Livia. For example, of his cure for angina and synache he claims “Livia Augusta always had prepared and kept in a small container of glass” (Marc. Emp. Medi. 15.6). John Parkinson, in the early 17th century CE also draws on the authority of this imperial consort in his book on botanical cures to recommend enula, because Livia “let no day passe without eating some of the rootes of Enula condited, which it may be shee did to helpe digestion, to expell melancholy and sorrow, and to cause mirth, and to move the belly downewards, for all which they are also effectuall” (Park. TB, 5.83).

References:

Publi Fausti Andrelini, Amores sive Livia, ed. G. Tournoy-Thoen. Paleis der Academiën-Hertogsstraat, I, 1982.
Marcellus Empiricus, Über Heilmittel, Volume 1-2. Edited by M. Niedermann and E. Liechtenhan. Translated by J. Kollesch and D. Nickel. Akademie-Verlag, 1968.
John Parkinson, Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants or, An Herball of a Large Extent. London: The Cotes, 1640.

Why study the ancient world?

Why study the ancient world?

I often get asked why I study the ancient world. Everyone you ask this question will have a different answer. I thought I’d start this blog off with my answer to that so common question.

My story starts, as I’m sure most do, with my mother. When I was a child, she would tell stories about the Roman emperors, gleaned from her tattered copy of Suetonius Lives, that she read in high school. This inspired not only an interest in history, but a love of stories. When I finally went to university myself, the first in my family to do so, this interest led me straight to the Classics department, where I found so many more stories to explore.

My current research focuses on Livia Drusilla, the wife of Augustus Caesar. I don’t know how old I was when my mother and I watched I, Claudius together for the first time – too young to really understand the nuance of the show, to be sure. From the first appearance of Siân Philips as Livia, I was hooked. Here was a powerful woman, who was highly intelligent, using her position to benefit her family.

Studying the imperial consort during my degree, I was struck by how different she appeared in the work of different authors. I wanted to understand how we came to her characterisation in I, Claudius. What influences shaped our modern understanding of such a woman? How is our view, as modern readers, with all of our assumptions and values, filtered through the literature of the intervening years? My research looks for portrayals of Livia in literature in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, to identify those influences.

The more interpretations of Livia I read, the more I realise the character of this great woman is lost to time. Faint echoes are all we have left – and yet her story is that of so many women – modern, ancient, medieval – overshadowed by the men in their lives, dedicated to their families and working within their context, often facing barriers, to demonstrate, over and over, the amazing things they can achieve.