9 May 2019
Panelists: Amy Pistone, Darrin Sunstrum, Jeff Wright, Victoria Austen-Perry
Chair: Katherine Blouin
Organizers: Aven McMaster, Katherine Blouin, Alison Innes
When we talk about public outreach or public engagement with Classics, we tend to think of scholars communicating their research and ideas beyond the confines of the classroom or scholarly community. But there has always been a thriving community of non-traditional scholars who are interested in the Classical world and whose engagement with ancient history, literature, and culture can often reach a much wider audience than many scholars’ public outreach efforts. This panel will follow up on the 2018 CAC panel “Public Facing Scholarship in Canada” to continue the conversation about the place of public scholarship and the ways that members of the CAC can support it. The panel will highlight some of the people doing Classics outreach from positions other than tenure-track faculty, in particular how they take advantage of the possibilities offered by digital media, and will draw attention to ways that we can involve non-academics as contributors as well as audience and address the problem of gate-keeping within our discipline.
The Changing Face of Public Scholarship
For many academics, ‘public scholarship’ brings to mind things like Op-Eds in major newspapers, lectures for non-specialists, podcasts, or maybe even participation in a documentary. These forms of public engagement can often seem daunting or, at the very least, time consuming. Many academics are interested in engaging with a broader audience outside the academy, but do not feel like they have the ability to engage in a large-scale project.
This paper will look at a range of different ‘low stakes’ forms of public engagement that scholars at any stage of their career can use to connect with the broad classics community online. Digital tools offer simple ways to share our passion and expertise with a vibrant community ranging from high school students to non-traditional scholars to general enthusiasts of the ancient world. I will speak to my own personal use of blogging and social media (Twitter in particular) to make my scholarship more public-facing.
Finally, as a junior faculty member who does not have a permanent position, I will speak in particular to how the changing job market and the precarity of many young scholars has actually increased our public engagement, as we are rethinking what an academic career will look like and finding new models for how to be a classicist. I will also talk about how — paradoxically — decreased job prospects have actually empowered many young scholars to do more daring and controversial work in the public sphere, and highlight some of the most exciting examples of this work being done in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Podcasting and the Power of Conversation
Podcasting provides a creative space to engage with the field of Classics from outside traditional academic spaces. The open access nature of podcasting extends teaching beyond the classroom and provides a friendly, accessible introduction to the Classics for the public. At the same time, podcasting allows us to expand the discussion of ideas beyond what is given in a course syllabus.
My own podcast provides a space to engage the public in a transdisciplinary conversation about Greek Mythology, connecting it to larger themes in culture and society. By blending scholarly literary analysis with discussion of contemporary issues, our conversational podcast invites listeners to engage with Classics. Equally it provides an important space for us to practice scholarship outside the traditional university framework and to contribute to the development of our field. By mediating the space between traditional academics and the public, podcasting is a fertile creative space for academics, independent scholars, and the public to come together.
On Being a 21st Century Homeric Bard
I spent the first 20 years of my professional life as a high school Humanities teacher. I loved serving as my students’ “point of first contact” with the amazing worlds of philosophy, literature, and history. Ten year ago, I decided to narrow my focus, to Greek Mythology and Homeric epic. I left the traditional classroom, and set out as a travelling Demodocus. For the next 7 years I performed Greek Epic – in bars, clubs and cruise ships; at the National Arts Centre and at Oxford University – but mostly in high school auditoriums. During those “live performance years” I developed an understanding of how contemporary audiences respond (or, frequently, fail to respond) to Homeric epic. I discovered the recurring “stumbling blocks” to contemporary audience’s understanding; and I learned the places where Homer continues to provoke delight, laughter, and tears.
In 2016 I launched Trojan War: The Podcast: an experiment in translating my live show to the medium of podcasting. The podcast consists of 20 hour-long episodes, each offering 45 minutes of serialized story, and 15 minutes of informal “teaching” on all things epic. My experiment succeeded. To date, the podcast has been downloaded 500K times, by listeners in 156 nations. A lot of diverse listeners, it turns out, are eager to dive into Greek Epic, if you package the content in a way they can access. Odyssey: The Podcast is due for release in 2019.
I suspect that in the years to come, podcasts will more and more become the “point of first contact” for students encountering the world of Greek Mythology and Homeric Epic. This paper will describe my experiences transmitting Classical content and scholarship to audiences outside of the university classroom, and share what I have learned about the value of such work for spreading a love of the ancient world and an understanding of its myth and literature. Our disciplines should talk; we share a common goal.
#WCCWiki – Using Wikipedia for Public Engagement and Mobilising Change
As the fifth most visited website in the world, with more than 5 million articles in English and 30 million registered users, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is arguably one of the most, if not themost, influential source of information available to us all. However, as with any community-based and collaborative project, Wikipedia is not devoid of prejudice – it is, as Victoria Leonard (2018) states, a ‘mirror that reflects society’s biases and prejudices back at us’. The facts and figures provided in articles do not just reflect what people know, but also reveal how they think about it, and what they think is important, and this is all too evident in the gender bias on display across the platform. Out of the 1.5m biographies on Wikipedia, only c.17% focus on women; and only 20% of those female profiles feature images. When it comes to classics specifically, an estimate in 2016 found that only 7% of biographies of classicists featured women – even when prominent women (such as Mirriam Griffin) were mentioned, it was merely in relation to their husbands. This disparity speaks to a general marginalisation and omission of women in academia, but it can also be linked to the fact that at least 85% of Wikipedia editors are men.
What can we do, then, to rectify such stark gender imbalances? The online activism of the Women’s Classical Committee UK (#WCCWiki), begun in 2017, has already made huge strides in combating these issues, not only by training new female editors, but also by hosting monthly online ‘editathons’ to create new or improve already-existing female classicist biographies. Since its inception, the project has already doubled the representation of female classical scholars on Wikipedia. In this paper, I will explore the role of Wikipedia in mobilising change through the lens of the #WCCWiki project; and provide a short lesson in how to become a Wikipedia editor yourself.