Chair's Speech at Reception in Parliament

The following is a lightly edited version of Graham Shipley's speech at the reception in the House of Commons on 17 March 2005. After thanking our host, Linda Perham, MP (a Classics graduate of Leicester), Peter Jones, and Jeannie Cohen, he continued:

We are here tonight because we believe it is important to study and celebrate ancient Greece and Rome, and because we in universities place great value on our parliamentary contacts. So this evening is first and foremost an opportunity to thank members of both Houses for their interest and support. It is also an occasion to exchange ideas about the present state, and the future, of Classics.

I believe our academic community can be justly proud of its achievements. Both in research and in teaching, Classics is one of the UK's greatest academic successes. Our work has a reputation equal to the best in the world. We attract many staff and students from abroad - there are many people here tonight who have come from other countries to teach and research here.

To this audience, I do not need to justify the study of the Classical world; but I would like to remind you how far Classics has changed in the past generation. We have put ordinary Greeks and Romans back into the frame; we have become more aware of our own reactions to Greece and Rome; and we have been enormously creative and imaginative in re-designing and re-thinking our subject. For example, there are people here tonight who could tell you about how a Greek farmer made a living in a poor landscape; how Alexander's successors in Asia and Egypt successfully ruled over their multi-ethnic kingdoms; what it was like to experience politics in Rome as a citizen; what the ancient Britons did with Roman art after the army left; who read ancient novels and what they got out of them; why the Greeks and Romans feature so often in Hollywood films, and what it tells us about ourselves; or the weird and wonderful realities (for both men and women) of being treated by Greek and Roman doctors. These examples illustrate how Classics today is creative,

evolving, and relevant. It reflects 21st-century concerns, as well as the search for a true understanding of the past.

A hallmark of Classics at university has always been its accessibility - the open door. Nowadays we are promoting ourselves in new ways: new BA degrees, new part-time modes of study, new master's courses, new kinds of outreach. To give just one example (a spectacular one) of success in widening participation: the beginners' language courses at the Open University recruit literally thousands of people. Across all our departments, there are nearly 20,000 students taking classical subjects in some form, and that figure has been going up for at least 15 years.

Yet despite the importance of our subject, and its success, it is under threat: from school curricula that squeeze minority interests out of the timetable; from exam authorities, forced by excessive adherence to bottom-line economics to close down small subjects, as the AQA did last year; and from regional government that fails to support Classical teacher training. Such derelictions are hard to square with our much-vaunted national commitment to equal opportunities and fair access.

But let me end on a positive note: everywhere there are green shoots. The Primary Latin Project, telling the story of Minimus, the little mouse who lives on Hadrian's Wall, has been adopted by over a thousand primary schools. The DfES has made the Cambridge Latin E-learning Resource available to every secondary school. Finally, the public is always thirsting for knowledge about Greece and Rome - look at the Radio Times programme listings. We will continue to build on that bedrock of public interest, to keep Classics in the forefront of media awareness and public policy.

We thank our supporters in the Friends of Classics, in the media, and especially in Westminster and other parliaments, for helping us achieve our goals.

Graham Shipley
University of Leicester

CUCD Bulletin 34 (2005)
© Graham Shipley 2005

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