Chameleons? The Classics Scholar of the 21st Century

David Fitzpatrick

The summer months of 2004 raised all too familiar problems for the teaching of Classics in this country. In May, the education supplement of The Independent published an opinion piece entitled "What's the point of a Classics degree?"[1] Irrespective of the (poor) quality of argumentation in the piece, the appearance of such views only further serve to establish popular (mis)conceptions of Classics as outdated and irrelevant to learning and earning in a modern society.[2] Not long after this, though presumably unrelated, the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) announced that it would no longer examine, inter alia, Greek and Latin at GCSE and A-Level after 2006. The decision was taken without consultation with teachers and subject associations and only came to government attention through reports in the media. While this decision is deplorable per se, an effect is that these subjects will be no longer be available in state maintained schools which tended to use this board.[3] At the time of writing the decision appears to be irreversible and will ultimately impact on the type of students that come to university to read for language-based classical degrees.

However, despite this negative backdrop, there was evidence for the ongoing and enduring popularity of contemporary engagement with the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome. In early May, Wolfgang Petersen's Troy hit the cinema screens and Oliver Stone's Alexander will be released in November. Whatever the quality or accuracy of these films, they will serve as a catalyst for increased in the subject. As the annual reports and statistics in this Bulletin on student numbers over the last few years show, the figures for students taking Classical subjects at university are healthy. Nevertheless, the subject remains under a great deal of pressure as a result of popular misconceptions and also from policy decisions and initiatives of government and funding councils which have more to do with the psychical and medical sciences than humanities. Within all this, there are, of course, the subject community's own views on where it is going and its immediate concerns and priorities. A key question in all this is how classicists and ancient historians can best correct outdated perceptions of the subject.

What follows is a musing on a potential image of the future Classics scholar working in the British system of Higher Education.[4] This image is inspired by my experiences over the last four years as the Project Officer for Classics and Ancient History in The LTSN (Learning and Teaching Support Network) Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology. This piece also gives an idea of the work which has been supported by Classics/Ancient History team in LTSN (hereafter LTSN C/AH) and it points a way forward for the work in Classics and Ancient History as the LTSN becomes part of The Higher Education Academy.

The Classics Scholar: Teaching and Research

The academic role is, of course, divided mainly between research and teaching. As the Higher Education environment comes under ever increasing external and managerial scrutiny, both aspects of the professional life are now subject to regular national audits. The research role is examined under the Research Assessment Exercise and teaching, or, more accurately, aspects related to teaching, is reviewed by The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). It hardly needs stating which review is tolerated and which one reviled. An unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, result of both reviews is that a numerical score is all a department has to show for its endeavours in both fields. Furthermore, perceived research excellence attracts further funding whereas even a maximum score in the QAA reviews appears to have no impact on resources and to be quickly forgotten by institutions (even if it has an indirect impact on newspaper 'League Tables' of teaching quality. It is hugely regrettable that the academic role appears to have been so definitively divided into mutually exclusive activities of research and teaching. It is fair to say that the notion of scholarship in Classics and Ancient History has now become exclusively reserved for research and that teaching has been relegated to the status of, at best, associated activity, or, at worst, secondary activity.[5] In this context, it is very difficult, and there is little incentive, for a Classicist to become interested in devoting time and energy to serious pedagogic issues and to research classroom practices and to investigate student learning in a 'scholarly' way. Nonetheless, there is a duty to bring about circumstances in which both roles are able to exist in a way that do not conflict and actually enrich each other.[6] Some key questions here are as follows. If teaching is still important, why and to whom is it important? How can departments best convey the value of their teaching, both externally and internally? Is it still true to say that for most academics research and teaching are interdependent? If so, how can this best be demonstrated? If it is not true, how can this be acknowledged without devaluing teaching? Who does or should do the teaching?

During my time as Project Officer, one particular opinion has surfaced time and again at our events. This is the feeling that generic educational issues, and the events and publications which go with them, have little relevance and make no impact on teaching and learning at the subject specific level of Classics and Ancient History. There is only one way to solve this problem and this is to create an environment in which Classics scholars are willing and able to carry out pedagogical research themselves. Subject specialist academics will listen to and learn from each other and all agree that teaching innovations and practices need to be carried out with the same degree of rigour that is expected from research activities. This can be the only way in which a truly useful practitioner-led literature in the teaching and learning of Classics will appear. To this end, the Classics team in The Subject Centre have developed a number of initiatives. Besides the various events, the most tangible evidence of progress must the proceedings of some of our national conferences.[7] A more important step, perhaps, would be to integrate panels on teaching and learning in major conferences. This would go some way to helping break down the dichotomy between research and teaching which currently exists in the profession. We have also tried to address this by hosting a panel at the annual meetings of the Classical Association. There are interesting examples in the USA of conferences which combine research papers with contributions and practical sessions on teaching.[8]

These are initial tentative steps, but there is a need to build more substantially on this. In many respects, the current 'generic' context does offer the possibility to build on these beginnings.

Instigating Change: some teaching and learning initiatives in Britain

It has become a truism, in some circles, that more money is being invested in Higher Education, particularly into the enhancement of teaching and learning. While this is true to a certain extent, it is difficult to perceive what impact such investment is actually having in the lecture halls and seminar rooms of particular subjects across the country. For example, two recent initiatives established by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) - the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL) and the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) - are a case in point. Although this section argues that these initiatives potentially offer a context for creating change, there are also some negative points to be made about the possible place of Classics and Ancient History in the minds of the HE policy makers and institutional hierarchies. But it goes on to indicate some examples of change which are emerging from within the subject community itself.

Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)
CETLs are being established for two main reasons: to reward excellent teaching practice, and to further invest in that practice so that the funding delivers substantial benefits to students, teachers and institutions. The idea for the CETLs developed from a vague outline in the Government's White Paper on Higher Education. As there is potential to secure very substantial funding, up to 500k and not including significant capital costs, this initiative appeared to offer potential for development of aspects of concern. And it was heartening to see that some bids with a significant classical element coming forward. However, all bids had first to pass through an institutional vetting process before proceeding to the first round proper of the bidding stage. And, alas, none of the projects with a clear classical element made it through this institutional phase. (This surely suggests something about the status of classical subjects within institutions.) The CETL initiative is in the mid-point of the bidding process. It has passed through the first phase and the results of those bids which made it into the second round of bidding are available on the HEFCE web-site.[9] Unfortunately, few of these appear to have much bearing on our discipline. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that a great deal of bids concern aspects of generic educational interest or are related to science and business subjects. While it is, perhaps, best to reserve final judgement until the CETLs are established, it is, nevertheless, difficult to see how CETLs will feed into, and inform, subject specific activities. It will be important to find other means for developing the classically based elements of unsuccessful CETL initiatives.
Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL)
FDTL was another source of funding which offered some possibility for the subject.[10] This funding was made available through a competitive bidding process and was closely related to the Quality Assurance Audit (QAA). Bids had to address one of the six areas under which departments are reviewed and there was the possible to bid for funding up to 250k for a project over three year. The bidding process for funding from this initiative is now complete. Unfortunately, Classics and Ancient History did not fare particularly well.[11] In the first round, there were five bids which had an exclusive Classics and/or Ancient History element. The bids covered a wide range of skills, but it was not surprising to see that language teaching and learning were to the fore. Only one of these five bids made it into the second round of bidding, but it did not secure funding. A sixth bid, which was a collaborative one between three institutions covering Archaeology and Ancient History, secured funding. This project is called "CONTACT: Collection Networks for Archaeology and Classics Teaching" and will be led by Dr Roger Doonan from the University of Bournemouth. CONTACT has three main aims. The first is to allow Material Culture Studies to assume a central position within archaeology and to strengthen its role in Classics by removing restrictions associated with this area of curriculum design. The second is to increase flexibility in curriculum design within Archaeology and Classics by creating a virtual and actual network of exemplar objects to broaden the experience associated with artefact teaching. The third is to cement existing networks of co-operation and expand these through a program of initiative funding which centres on the development of an inclusive co-operative network. The successful FDTL projects are scheduled to begin sometime towards the end of 2004 or in early 2005 and dissemination of their progress and outcomes will be an important feature.

National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS)
Although Classics and Ancient History has not fared well on either of the two major national teaching and learning initiatives, it has had individual success in another - the annual National Teaching Fellowship Scheme.[12] In 2003, Dr Barbara Graziosi (University of Durham) was one of the twenty winners. Dr Graziosi will use her award to design a pilot undergraduate module on the Greek gods, which combines traditional seminars and lectures with opportunities for students to contribute to workshops for the local community. The pilot module is primarily designed to enhance student learning, but it is also intended to broaden participation in the subject of Classics and interest in Higher Education generally in the region. The project will link three aspects of the lecturer's work that are often disjointed: teaching, collaboration with colleagues in the field, and activities aimed at widening participation.

LTSN - Teaching Development Grants
Another source of funding for teaching and learning initiatives over recent years has been provided by LTSN through several rounds of what were called Teaching Development Grants. Although the funding for such development was on a much smaller scale than any of the national initiatives cited above, support ranged from 1k to a maximum grant of 3k, a number of excellent projects emerged from Classics and Ancient History. Details for completed projects to date are as follows:

Many of these projects have done presentations at either our panel at the Classical Association annual meeting or some other event. Reports on all completed projects are available on The Subject Centre's website. Naturally, there is a significant contrast in the length, detail and discussion among the reports. (The same is true for the projects in History and Archaeology.) Nevertheless, there is a very clear indication that all projects engaged in a serious pedagogical enquiry and have provided an excellent basis on which to develop further work on the scholarship of teaching and learning on Classics and Ancient History in this country. It is possible that 'Educationalists' might not view the reports very positively because they lack endless references to numerous publications in education. However, the forthcoming RAE, in marked contrast to the previous one, will allow any research submitted under teaching and learning to be assessed by appropriate subject panel rather than by a panel of 'educationalists'. This will allow the merit of such research to be judged by the subject community itself. This is a very important ideological shift, and it is one which makes my image of 21st century Classics scholar a real possibility and not mere fantasy. Of course, things cannot remain the same. Scholarship into subject teaching and learning must progress and, over time, develop a substantial repertoire of material. All the attributes which characterise good academic 'research' and scholarship must begin to manifest itself in the area of teaching and learning. These various projects discussed here and the ongoing support of the work started by the LSTN offer the possibility to secure change. Another important question is how and from what sources can alternative sources of funding for teaching projects be developed now that CETL and FDTL bidding has come to an end?

Establishing Change: The Higher Education Academy

The buzz theme within Higher Education policy circles over the last few years has been QE or quality enhancement. Its significance led, through the Teaching Quality Enhancement Committee (TQEC) report, to the establishment of The Higher Education Academy. This organisation, which is formally launched this month (October 2004), is an amalgamation of several organisations which include the LTSN and The Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE). While there are still many uncertainties about The Academy, it appears that the work of the various subject centres will be maintained and, possibly, with increased funding.

Although there are many uncertainties, The Higher Education Academy already has a number of clear priorities on its agenda and one of these is Professional Accreditation. While this item is a hangover from other earlier developments, it is something which is going to happen. Rather than see this as an imposition, I think that this offers the subject-community an opportunity to create a substantial forum and, in the long term, an opportunity to develop a meaningful literature on teaching and learning in Classics and Ancient History. At the moment, all new lecturers have to undergo an educational training course in their own institution. Such courses offer little opportunity to focus in any detailed way on pedagogical issues of a subject-specific nature. However, if the Classics team in The Higher Education Academy were able to facilitate a module which was recognised as an integral part of their training, and not in addition to existing institutional courses, it could potentially create the circumstances which will bring about my image of the Classics scholar of the 21st century. Although aspirations are tentative at this stage there is a real opportunity to take control of this issue. Obviously, the two key related questions here. What should a subject specific strand in professional accreditation offer to classicists and ancient historians? And who would want, and be able, to be involved in progressing this debate? At the Special Consultation Meeting which was hosted by the LTSN Classics team and CUCD in May, there was very positive response to such a move, especially from the younger academics who would be most affected. At any rate, it does offer a forum to the subject community to build on past initiatives and to share ideas and work on new ideas.[14] Undoubtedly, the issue of Continuing Professional Development will become an item on The Higher Education Academy's agenda. This is another area in which the Classics team should take the initiative. The opportunity to have a subject community of new and established professional sharing and working on pedagogical issues of real value to the subject community is a real possibility. Most importantly, it is likely that The Higher Education Academy will be able to provide financial support for such a development. As 'new' professionals share their ideas with experienced members of the subject community, it offers the possibility of establishing a meaningful Classics approach to many of the various themes which are being brought into Higher Education. It may also allow the subject community to influence educational policy rather than find itself reacting to external prescriptions. It offers the opportunity to build a genuine literature in teaching and learning on the subject. Admittedly, there is still not an obvious outlet for publishing such material.[15] But facilitating such an outlet ought to be a strategic priority of the Classics team in The Higher Education Academy.


Addressing, and eradicating, the dichotomy between the scholar as researcher and teacher must, I think, be a fundamental strategic aim in the work of the Classics/AH team in The Higher Education Academy. One of the most satisfying achievements of my role in LTSN has been the gradual establishment and recognition of LTSN as the forum in which to debate issues in the subject in Higher Education. The LTSN phase is now over and it is time to build on its achievements and to create, through increasingly close ties with CUCD, a permanent and influential voice for Classics/Ancient History within the (Higher Education) Academy. Rather than being some transient and/or aspirational concept, an altered version of the notion of the Classics scholar together with a strong subject team in The Higher Education Academy offers a very real way for Classicists to maintain control over their profession.

David Fitzpatrick

The Open University

The work in Classics and Ancient History in the LTSN has been hosted by The Open University's Department of Classical Studies since 2000. The existing team will be handing over the work at the end of July 2005 after the completion of their five-year term on behalf of the subject community. The Classics/Ancient History representative on The Higher Education Academy's subject centre steering group is Professor Lin Foxhall (University of Leicester) and she will be liaising with CUCD and the subject associations regarding the future. Please tell her your views.

As I was writing this piece, I learnt about the sudden death of Dominic Montserrat on 27/09/2004. In addition to his extensive publications on popular culture, gender and the cultural history of the ancient world, he was closely involved in the early development of The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology as its Development Officer. He will be sadly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

[1] The piece appeared in the edition of 20/05/04 and is still available on The Independent newspaper's web-site at the following URL,
[2] The piece appears to have been written in response to a UCAS publication, 'The value of higher education', a copy of which is available on their website ( in PDF format at Whatever the faults with and errors in this opinion piece, it is worth bearing in mind that humanist arguments for the study of Classics at university are not persuasive ones for every audience. There is an essential matter of getting the correct balance between the utility of the subject for employment, the issue of learning for its own sake, and outlining the significance of the subject content itself. These three areas are not, of course, mutually exclusive.
[3] Ongoing developments about this are available on the website of JACT (Joint Association of Classical Teachers, At our Special Consultation Meeting with CUCD and department representatives at the end of May (27/05/04), it was noted that OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations) Board is considering dropping Ancient History from its list of subjects.
[4] The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology and CUCD have been co-operating to gather information about problems associated with offering ab initio language learning at university to a class with mixed level of university students. The intention was to contribute something about it in this edition of the Bulletin. On the one hand, I do not have enough information to write an informative piece on this topic which would be an accurate reflection of the position nationwide. On the other, the information which I have shows quite a variation in practice. In general terms, however, many departments do not appear to have a great problem offering ab initio courses to students at different levels. If often comes down to outlining very clear and different intended learning outcomes for the appropriate levels. Most importantly, many departments use the benchmarking statement for Classics and Ancient History to support the needs to offer language teaching in this way. At the moment, this appears to carry sufficient weight to persuade appropriate committees within institutions, but it remains an ongoing problem with Quality Assurance Agency. There is also a continuing problem concerning the requirements of students who hope to take a Classics PGCE. The benchmarking statement is available, paradoxically, on the Quality Assurance Agency's website ( in HTML or PDF formats at the following URL,
[5] It need hardly be added that the notion of scholarship further privileges certain forms, or rather products, of research over others.
[6] This issue was addressed by Vanda Zajko in an earlier edition of the Bulletin. See her contribution to 'The Cutting Edge of Classics: Debates and Dilemmas' in CUCD Bulletin 31 (2002)13-23 at 20-2.
[7] These proceedings of the two conferences are available in hard-copy or online. They are Old Wine, New Bottles: Texts for Classics in a Changed Learning Environment at University, which is the proceedings of the 'Teaching and Learning with Texts, Commentaries and Translations' in 2002, and Practical Strategies in the Changing Environment of Classical Language Teaching at University, which is the abstracts and selected papers of the 'Teaching the Classical Languages at University' conference in 2001. The proceeding of the conference in January 2003,'Different Lights, Different Hands: Working with Translations', will be ready in the near future. The Subject Centre's website is currently, but it is likely that this will change in the future because of the move into The Higher Education Academy. At the time of writing, no detailed information about the change or the timetable for such change was available to me
[8] A recent example is a conference on the Odyssey and a similar one on Sophocles which is being organised by Seth Schein.
[9] One hundred and six bids made it trough the first part of a two-stage application process. Brief details of successful round one bids are available at
[10] This was the fifth and final round of the FDTL initiative. The four previous rounds were managed by the National Coordination Team, but they have now become part of The Higher Education Academy.
[11] The other humanities subjects involved in FDTL5 did not fare particularly well compared to other subjects like Education, Economics, and Hospitality. This general lack of success may, perhaps, point to a problem: the need to adopt the appropriate language for projects in teaching and learning. Finding alternative sources of funding to develop projects in teaching and learning in humanities is not easy. However, some progress has been made and funding for two of the projects with a Classics/Ancient History element has been secured through the Arts and Humanities Research Board and The Higher Education Academy.
[12] The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) was set up by HEFCE and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. It was initially managed by the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE), but it now operated by The Higher Education Academy. Further details about this scheme can be found on its web-site (
[13] The project has since been substantially developed and a booklet has now been produced which is intended a practical resource for university staff who teach ancient Greek in non-traditional classical degrees. It is hoped to distribute copies of this booklet to all departments in the near future.
[14] It is important to stress that the various subject centres within LTSN always had a great deal of autonomy in respect of their activities. Their success is one of the main reasons between the retention of the subject centre concept in The Higher Education Academy. This characteristic of subject centre work will undoubtedly continue in the future provided that subject communities demonstrate that they have a strong voice.
[15] There are some future possibilities. A forthcoming volume of Arts and Humanities in Higher Education journal will concentrate exclusively on Classics. This journal is organised by the Humanities and Arts Higher Education Network. The journal is published by SAGE publications who have also commissioned a book on Classics for their series on Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

CUCD Bulletin 31 (2002)
© LTSN Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology 2002

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