Inside Out and Outside In: Public Scholarship in Classics

img_7499CAC/SCEC 2019 
McMaster University 
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

Amy Pistone
Email:amypistone@gmail.com
Website: amypistone.com
Twitter: @apistone

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

Darrin Sunstrum
Email: dsunstrum@brocku.ca
Twitter: @darrinsunstrum / @mythtakepodcast
Podcast: MythTake

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

Jeff Wright
Email: jeff@trojanwarpodcast.com
Twitter: @trojanwarpod
Podcast: Trojan War Podcast, Odyssey: The Podcast

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

Victoria Austen-Perry
Email: victoria.austen@kcl.ac.uk
Twitter: @vicky_austen

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.

Bibliography
Times Higher Education
The Guardian
Wikipedia

Consciousness Raising: SCS Toronto 2017 – o pietas animi

The 2017 meeting of the Society for Classical Studies that took place from Jan. 5th-8th in Toronto had a common thread running through it: a growing interest among classicists to engage wider audie…

(Source: Hannah Čulík-Baird  Consciousness Raising: SCS Toronto 2017 – o pietas animi)

I found this in my Twitter feed this morning! Hannah Čulík-Baird has written a summary of a conversation that took place during the AIA/SCS annual conference.

Remember I was just blogging about my conflicting feelings about not being there? Turned out, thanks to Twitter, I was still a part of the conversation! Not only was MythTakes briefly mentioned in a panel (unbeknownst to me), but by picking up on the #aiascs hashtag at the right time, I joined the conversation about podcasting Classicists. This is a perfect example of the power of Twitter to widen conversations!

It’s also a very important conversation and I have more thoughts on it that I plan to work out here, but for now, please enjoy Hannah’s post!

in defence of millennials

This morning on Twitter the hashtag #HowToConfuseAMillennial is trending and of course it is filled with the usual stereotypes of millennials being ignorant, spoiled, precious snowflakes who expect the world handed to them on a silver platter. It makes me so angry.

I am only a few years off from being a millennial myself. Because I went back to university after working for a while, I identify much more with millennials than whatever my generation is. I’m in the same life stage as some millennials: trying to transition out of university life and into the working world, struggling still to find permanent employment in an economy that really sucks (through no fault of our own, I might add), and pay off the heavy student loans we acquired because, unlike earlier generations, a single university degree rarely seems to be enough to find employment and working unpaid internships has become de rigeur. 

I went to university with millennials and many of my close friends are millennials. They are establishing lives of their own as contributing members of society. They are raising children and trying to make their way in an economy that is not friendly to all (do the people writing the think pieces appreciate how much childcare costs these days?). We follow several generations that had unprecedented economic and education benefits. We can’t expect to get jobs without post-secondary education, so not attending college or university isn’t an option. Our predecessors could work the summer and pay their year’s university tuition; they defaulted on their student loans to the point that now, the only way to “get out of” OSAP (government) debt is death. Seriously. OSAP loans are immune to bankruptcy because an earlier generation of post-secondary students didn’t want to pay their thousand dollar debt. Now, we are graduating with $20k debt into no jobs, insecure part time jobs, or unpaid internships. We are criticized for living with family and not buying our own homes, but how can you buy a house when you can’t make a living wage? We didn’t create this economy; the people complaining about us not working did.

I have spent the past nine years teaching millennials in the university classroom and they are a diverse and fantastic bunch. I love my students. I love their energy and passion and their desire to learn. They are contributing to their society through their jobs and volunteer work. They are dealing with unprecedented anxiety levels and pressure to do well so they can get a job somewhere, somehow when they are done their degrees. They are struggling with financial and academic pressures in a social, political, and economic climate very different to that of the preceding generation. 

The millennial generation is as varied as any other. Are there millennials that fit the entitled stereotype? Sure, but there are entitled people in EVERY generation. They’re not unique to the millennial one. And before blaming them for being self-important, special little snowflakes, let’s take a minute to ask WHY they might be that way. Who raised them? Who gave them participation trophies and minimized competition so no one’s feelings got hurt? Who passed their school assignments so they wouldn’t feel the sting of failure or be left behind their friends? It wasn’t the millennials. It was the people now complaining about the millennials.

So if you want to confuse a millennial, here’s how: Tell them they need a university degree, but saddle them with debt. Shame them for living with their families, but price them out of the housing market. Criticize them for not working hard enough while you retire to sunny climes. Tell them they’re lazy for not working, but run the economy into the ground so there aren’t enough secure jobs to go around.  Tell them they need to be saving for retirement by the time they’re thirty, but don’t pay them a living wage. Sneer at them for being entitled after you’ve spent their lives telling them they are.

mythTake is in iTunes!

Our awesome new myth podcast is now on iTunes! Please give it a listen, let us know what you think, and write a review!

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/mythtake/id1103569489?mt=2

Join us on Twitter: @InnesAlison and @darrinsunstrum

Episode 2 (Odysseus & Circe) in editing now and coming soon!