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How do we support classical reception teaching?

Use this cloud to make suggestions for how practical help might be provided for those teaching classical reception studies.

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Joanna Paul
22 September 2010

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Joanna Paul
10:46am 22 September 2010

It seems to me that that a website would be an obvious way of compiling useful classical reception teaching resources, but how might this best be achieved? And what might those resources consist of? Could something be devised as part of the CRSN website, say? 

Is it feasible to compile up to date bibliographies that could be shared on such a site (given the potential breadth of coverage)? Could individual pages for different reception topics (eg film, theatre, politics etc etc) be managed by a specialist in that field?

Emily Greenwood
2:30pm 24 September 2010

I agree with Joanna's suggestion about the website. 

As we start out, we can't aim for systematic coverage of reception topics, but over time we might build up good coverage by encouraging colleagues to upload their classical reception teaching materials (or those that they would like to share). As a steering group we could check the materials before they were posted (just of typos and in order to ensure that the quality of submissions is maintained. 

To maximize use of the website while simultaneously reassuring contributors, it would be great if access of the teaching materials was via log-in of registered users (registration would be free). If this is feasible, then when we launch this area of the website we could each contribute some of our own teaching materials to get the ball rolling.

with best wishes,


Emily Greenwood
2:31pm 24 September 2010

Apologies for the typos in my last post ...

Alastair Blanshard
11:08am 26 September 2010

I agree. Bibliographies are an excellent place to begin, and Joanna's suggestion for dividing up material sounds like a good way of working.  I also agree with Emily that having it password protected wouldn't be a bad idea in the first instance.

We might also think about arranging a way for people to post course materials (lecture lists, tutorial guides, essay questions, past exam papers). Obviously, this is a trickier issue and questions of student access, institutional policy etc come into play. That said, if we can devise a way that satisfies such concerns, then it could become a powerful tool for disseminating best practice.  

Kim Shahabudin
10:24am 28 September 2010

Disseminating best practice certainly should be the object of this endeavour, but I think we need to think carefully about the type of teaching and support resources we might want to offer. Reception has traditionally been taught by enthusiasts, and they are still likely to be the people leading courses – given the general independent-mindedness of most academics, I suspect they will not appreciate me offering them my teaching notes on Quo Vadis (they will have their own ideas about that). In fact, my recent experience of trying to disseminate more generic support resources for teaching suggests that specifics are likely to put users off - what they want is ideas and knowledge sharing. 

Given that, I would agree that bibliographies (and webographies?) are a good place to start. Beyond that, I'd be looking to include things like guidelines on pedagogical issues , glossaries of specialist terms, perhaps even case studies. (This sort of resource would also be especially useful for seminar leaders who, in my experience, are the most anxious about teaching reception, and can have a great impact on the student learning experience.) But not lecture notes - so the problems of institutional policy on access may not be an issue.  

I'm wondering whether we need to start identifying some of the pedagogical issues and seek out practitioners to write articles - perhaps for publication in a dedicated teaching strand in the Journal?

Here's an example of a pedagogical issue that's certainly surfaced in discussions I've had with other academics involved in teaching reception, and which I've never seen satisfactorily answered: students studying receptions in, for instance, film are going to need to know something about writing about films as texts, and the same will be the case for all other forms of reception. The questions then are: how much do they need to know; how can we support them to gain that knowledge; and how do we maintain a proper balance between (say) film studies and classical studies?   

Joanna Paul
4:45pm 28 September 2010

Kim, these are really valuable points - that final issue about how we equip students with the appropriate level of skills in film studies (or whatever) needs to be talked about on a more abstract level (and relates to your points that you made in the other thread about how we manage student expectations about the 'easiness' of a course and so on; and how we support academics teaching reception if they're not so familiar with it) - but you're right that a website that could host case studies would also be useful here. Interesting point about how it's enthusiasts that teach reception - I'd never stopped to think about this before but I suspect you're right - or has anyone here been in a situation where a non-reception-specialist colleague has had to be drafted in to teach such a course? Seminar leading may be a different issue; but whereas I've had more than my fair share of having to swot up on the Roman economy so that I can do my bit and contribute to a core module, I've never had to ask/tell a colleague that they need to teach some of my reception modules.... which comes back to the issue of 'where' we teach reception; if reception does or should become part of a classics/ancient history/whatever 'core' then this situation will surely arise.

One last thing: another related issue (which also connects with the comments made elsewhere about graduate attributes) must also be:  if we encourage students to 'do' classical receptions, how does this connect with the bigger picture of those students then perhaps going onto an academic career. Where can they get a job and what will they (be expected to) teach? I know the CRSN has considered this before in the context of graduate workshops, and I don't think it needs to be a central issue for us, but it should be on the periphery. My own experience here is instructive (though I'll keep the life story brief for now!): having been emphatically encouraged to do reception as an undergraduate, by 'early adopters' in the field, I wholeheartedly threw myself into postgraduate research in rec, but was told from early on that I'd need also to look like a 'proper' classicist too. So I make all the necessary efforts to do so, and teach the whole gamut from Latin to visual culture to ancient history - but I still sense that my career progression faces big challenges in terms of my own disciplinary identity... Any mission statement that we construct must acknowledge some of these issues, I think.



Cressida Ryan
9:02pm 29 September 2010

JISC was supposed to offer ways of disseminating resources and teaching materials in editable shells, so that each teacher could mould them to their own use but still save some time. Did anyone use it much for Classics? I’ve lost track as to where it’s at now, but it might be worth pursuing as an existing framework for teaching support.

What teaching support do people need / want? It might make sense to do some research in what people find hard about teaching reception (as opposed to other things) and then deal with a.) readjusting the extent to the which it’s perceptions rather than realities that are the problem and b.) the problems.

Bibliographies would be useful in many areas but would be better annotated. For the ones where there are countless publications, to provide a novice with a path through, and for the under-researched ones, to make sure people do get to know what’s out there. It would make sense to delegate different areas of reception to individuals and encourage liaison to keep them up to date.

Is there also a theory / practice divide which needs to be addressed? Some reception teaching requires students to anlayse existing works of reception, others require them to produce such works. Sometimes the end product is assessed, sometimes it isn’t.  Do these categories need to be more clearly differentiated, or conversely, conflated? I know when I was starting my PhD I had hoped to include a creative element, and was in discussion with people in Australia who were able to direct theatre as part of a Classics PhD. Obviously this is already the case in e.g. creative writing courses.

How much are those working with Classical material out of Classics departments being integrated into reception studies? I suspect that Neo-Latinists, Art Historians, medieval historians, or people in English and Philosophy departments, who may have been in Classics departments at some point, would have a lot to say about teaching. Field co-ordinators who could help unite some of these areas might be useful.

Joanna Paul
8:53am 8 October 2010

Cressida raises a valuable point about practice-based reception teaching, and it's also just come up this week in my department with an MA student who is also a playwright, and who wishes to include a creative writing element in her dissertation... this may also be something we wish to consider, then. Should such practices be encouraged? To discourage it would be to reinforce the barriers between theory and practice/scholars and practitioners that reception studies has been doing a good job of undermining; but how many of us would feel comfortable designing and implementing assessment criteria for this kind of work? Should the working group think about how support might be offered for such practices?

Kim Shahabudin
11:08am 13 October 2010

The practitioner question is very interesting. Personally I think this might be the place I would draw the line in my own expertise, and start looking at working in co-operation with other departments.

Going back to Jo's earlier point about non-enthusiasts teaching reception: due to an unexpectedly high module intake, and lack of resources to pay extra postgraduate teaching assistants, I once had to provide comprehensive briefings for other members of academic staff to lead reception seminars through the term - a kind of crash course in film reception. As Jo says, if the boot had been on the other foot, I'd have been expected to go away and swot up for myself, but reception was considered so specialist that it was entirely acceptable that I should double up my teaching load to teach my colleagues. Some were extremely anxious, more so than postgrad seminar leaders as they felt they had more to lose in terms of authority. Others were actively hostile, and one (I was told afterwards by students) spent the whole seminar telling the students that reception was not a real academic topic. Even the sympathetic ones treated the subject as one that they respected my expertise in, but that for them was not wholly part of what they regarded as Classics. It was a demoralising and alienating experience, and certainly contributed to my decision not to follow an academic career in the discipline.

Not sure how that advances the discussion, but I do think it's important to acknowledge that there are still considerable attitudinal issues to overcome here.

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