An Inclusive Approach to Organising Conferences: ‘Visualising War’ with a blind participant

By Dr Alice König

The School of Classics recently hosted a two-day conference on ‘Visualising War: Interplay between Battle narratives across Antiquity’. As its title suggests, discussion revolved around images as well as texts. In fact, speakers had been specifically asked to explore interplay between different media and genres, so papers looked at Classical inscriptions, Hellenistic sculpture, Roman mosaics, engraved sarcophagi, triumphal columns and arches, Renaissance-era paintings and even modern photographs, alongside historical narratives, epic poetry and a host of ancient technical treatises – many of which included detailed diagrams showing battle formations and camp layouts. This was a conference with a heavy emphasis on sight, in other words.

I’ll be honest: my first reaction on discovering that we had a blind attendee was to gulp. How could we make this image-focused conference inclusive enough? Happily, I found several key sources of advice and support from around the University, in particular Paresh Raval, who manages the University’s Alternative Format Suite. His advice helped me liaise with our blind attendee to identify the best way of sharing handouts and presentation materials ahead of the conference: not via braille, it turned out, but via searchable pdfs and screen-reading technology. He also helped me put together a useful list of “do”s and “don’t”s for our conference speakers: e.g,, do announce and identify any foreign language material before it crops up; do offer detailed descriptions of images, diagrams, tables, etc; don’t say ‘as you can see here…’.

Also key was funding. One of our postgraduate students (whose mother is visually impaired) kindly offered to act as a sighted assistant during the conference. The Classics Head of School found some surplus in the School budget so that we could pay her for this work. That formalised the arrangement, making it easier for us and our attendee to discuss the support he would need, without worrying about imposing on our PG’s good nature. Having a paid sighted assistant made a huge difference to me as conference organiser: I was able to delegate many of the additional logistics (route-finding, food-guidance, care of the incredible guide dog, etc) and concentrate on the more routine aspects of conference management (missing speakers, IT malfunctions, the supply of biscuits…). Crucially, our postgraduate assistant was already experienced in this work; it was her expertise above all which made things work so well.

Of course, our blind attendee played a major (and very good-humoured) role in advising us, and he was generous in his praise for the efforts we went to: it sounds as if few conferences try as hard as we did to be inclusive. While some speakers struggled to provide handouts and powerpoints as early as requested, the majority made it; and all speakers took pains during delivery to embrace non-sighted as well as sighted listeners. In fact, many said that they had learnt a lot from the experience. I certainly confronted paper-giving habits of mine (e.g., the flashing-up of large chunks of text on screen, to be absorbed while I race on with the talk itself) which I would do well to overcome, whether or not my auditors are sighted!

What else did I learn? That there’s no advice like expert advice (having people like Paresh and our PG to turn to makes all the difference); that your first and last port of call for guidance should be the attendee him/herself; and that Universities should routinely make funding available for the kind of logistical support we were able to provide. It was a steep learning curve, as we evolved new procedures to make our conference more inclusive, but an important and rewarding one. It was also very much a team effort, involving administrators and School managers, as well as AV experts and academic staff. We did pretty well, I think; but we could always do better.


“Mapping Rome’s Destiny: Space, Time and Travel in Vergil’s Aeneid” – a Laidlaw Internship Project

For my Laidlaw Internship, I was studying the Aeneid and the way that time, space and travel are presented in the poem. The research part of my programme lasted for ten weeks, most of which I spent up in St Andrews looking through the secondary literature on Vergil.

Early on, I realized that I had to be selective about what I read. The Aeneid was the text by which the Romans defined themselves after the collapse of the Republic, and by which scholars of the period at times defined them too. What that means is that the amount of writing on the subject is huge. Too much to read in a lifetime. Part of the challenge of this internship was having the restraint not to get distracted.

The positive side of this, however, was that the amount of freedom I was granted for this project was incredible. To be able to spend ten weeks focusing on one topic without other commitments was unlike anything I’ve experienced at Undergraduate level so far. Likewise, the level of funding (with an additional grant for books) meant that I could afford to stay in St Andrews over the summer, buy my own copy of key texts, and make full use of the library resources. This internship really does give you the opportunity to take your time and further your own ideas, without the pressure of being graded on your work.

My topic was all about journeys, and the difficulties of carrying on when the end seems out of reach. The obstacle that Aeneas faces when he is told to found his new, great city is that he does not know where this city will be. His directions tell him to go west, but how far west, he doesn’t know. The third book of the poem was central to my project, as this is the section in which Aeneas is forced to use trial and error in order to determine if each land he reaches is the right one. For Aeneas, the journey is as much psychological as it is physical. The gods will not just pick him up and take him to Italy— he has to prove himself worthy by navigating his people there by means of his own determination, keeping the big picture in mind in order to achieve his potential.

The leadership weekends that I attended as part of the Internship picked up on a lot of these points about uncertainty and perseverance. As someone who would never normally volunteer for any kind of public-speaking role, the idea that I would have to lead a group and receive feedback on my style was nerve-wracking to say the least. These events do put you out of your comfort zone, but by the second weekend I can honestly say that I felt much more at ease both leading team and presenting to a group. Everyone at these sessions is in the same position; the support from other interns was one of the best things about the programme in general.   

I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to really test myself, both academically and at the leadership events. I am especially thankful to Dr Nikoletta Manioti for all of her help and support, to the CAPOD team for bringing the leadership weekends together, and to Lord Laidlaw for making the Internship possible. I would advise anyone thinking about applying to the programme to do it—you won’t regret it!

Katrina Drayton

Katrina Drayton, Classics and English 4th year

“Mad, Drunk, Diseased, or simply In Love?” – a Laidlaw Internship Project

During the summer I undertook the Laidlaw Internship in Research and Leadership, and spent ten weeks working on my own research. My project was titled: “Mad, Drunk, Diseased, or simply In Love?”, and it was a cross-cultural exploration of imagery used in love poetry from 1300BC to the present day, and from East to West. Originally, I had only chosen to examine imagery within Ancient Greek lyric poetry, the Latin love elegists, and the Sufi poet Rumi, but this later expanded to include Ancient Egyptian poetry, British poetry from Shakespeare, and contemporary British poetry, as well as other Persian authors. Similarly, I identified a greater number of motifs than previously anticipated: madness, disease, drunkenness, light or sight, fire, death or destruction, war and slavery. After I had selected the specific authors, and texts, which I was going to include in my study, I translated the Latin and Ancient Greek texts, and then proceeded to compile every instance of each motif together, so that I could explore how these motifs were being used, and evaluate the difference in usages, and prevalence, between each culture.

Disease, for example, was used as a motif in a number of ways. Firstly, the idea of disease was conveyed through love metaphorically consuming the body, which was especially manifest from the vocabulary which was used to describe this, (e.g. ‘edo’ – to eat), and the reference to body parts (e.g. ‘medulla’ – marrow, ‘ossa’ – bones, and ‘pectora’ – heart). Secondly, this was illustrated in the description of love as a wound, which connects with the motif of love being depicted as war, and the analogy of Love to a bee, which is used very ironically in a poem where Cupid complains about the pain caused by a bee sting. Thirdly, love is described as a disease, by virtue of the effects and symptoms caused by being in love. This is represented, most famously, in Sappho’s poem 51, and Catullus’ imitation of this, poem 31, where she describes how at the sight of her lover, she suffers from a loss of speech and sight, feels a flame run through her, has ringing ears, and becomes pale. However, there are many other instances of this, which also include other symptoms: sleeplessness, loss of appetite, sweating, feverish, and becoming haggard or woe-begone. This is also reinforced verbally through the use of very suggestive vocabulary: ‘semimortua’ – half-dead, ‘perdo’ – to destroy, lose, waste’ and ‘dolor’ – grief. Moreover, love is even explicitly referred to as an illness: ‘pestem perniciem’, ‘taetrum…morbum’ and ‘νόσος’ ‘ἀνία’ ‘πολύφιλτρος’, but one which, mostly, has no cure: ‘φάρμακον’ ‘ἔγχριστος’ ‘ἐπίπαστος’. However, in cases of love-sickness, or unrequited love, the presence of the object of your love is, in fact, the cure, as I discovered in the poetry of Rumi, and the Ancient Egyptian poetry, amongst others: “just telling me ‘here she is’ is my cure”.

Disease was one of the few motifs which was prevalent in every single culture, presumably because it was a part of everyday life for all, and so it is an example of love imagery transcending all boundaries of time and culture.  On the other hand, motifs such as war and slavery were primarily poignant in Latin elegiac poetry, which can be explained by the prominence of these factors in their society. Nevertheless, these same circumstances were also prevalent for the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, which indicates that the motifs of war and slavery were developed to a greater extent by the Latin love elegists.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience of conducting my own research project, which allowed me a great amount of flexibility and independence, and from which I honed several skills. As part of the internship your findings have to be presented in poster format, together with a short report, and attendance at two leadership weekends is mandatory; however, I hope to evaluate my data further from a cross-cultural perspective, and write an article for publishing later this year.

Elinor Bushell, Classics 4th year

The Iris Project Literacy through Latin Scheme at St Andrews

irissmalllogoThe School of Classics at the University of St Andrews is delighted to begin the Iris Project Literary through Latin Scheme for 2016-17. This year, we have 8 student volunteers who will visit local primary schools in Fife, Scotland, to teach P6 and P7 pupils Latin, Classical culture and ancient mythology.

This year, we are excited to be working with Torbain Primary School, Thornton Primary School (both in the Kirkcaldy area) and Rimbleton Primary School (Glenrothes). A wide range of P6 and P7 pupils (aged 9-12 years old) will participate in the Iris Project Latin classes, which our student volunteers will teach in pairs on a weekly basis for four weeks each semester.

The School of Classics would like to thank all of our student volunteers for participating in the Iris Project Literacy through Latin scheme this year.

The Iris Project at St Andrews

The School of Classics at St Andrews has been running the Iris Project Literacy through Latin teaching scheme since 2012. During this time, we have worked with more than ten local primary state-schools in the Fife area to introduce their pupils to Latin and Classical culture, enabling them to experience the the wonders of studying the ancient world.

More than 15 third-year and fourth-year undergraduate Honours students have participated in Iris Project, giving them valuable work experience in teaching, outreach and access work, and working with children and young people. This year, we have expanded the student volunteer base by opening up the opportunity to our postgraduate students and we have two PhD students among our cohort of volunteers. Our student volunteers from the School of Classics make the Iris Project work organised by the University of St Andrews possible. Many students volunteer for Iris Project work because they are considering a career in teaching in HE, FE colleges or the primary and/or secondary school sector; others volunteer because they are passionate about Latin and Classics and want to make sure that state-school pupils get to experience and enjoy these subjects as much as they do.

IRIS project volunteers 2012-2013

The History of the Iris Project

The Iris Project  is an educational charity which promotes access to classics in state schools across the UK. It is based at the Iris Project Classics Centre at Cheney School, Oxford. The project was founded by Dr Lorna Robinson, who has also produced an excellent text-book Telling Tales in Latin designed to introduce children to Latin through the study of mythology.

The Iris Project was the first organisation to run a scheme delivering Latin as part of the national literacy curriculum. This award-winning project introduces the nuts and bolts of Latin grammar, and demonstrates the connections between Latin and English; in this way, it instils a fascination for learning languages.

The project started life as a pilot in east London and east Oxford a decade ago. The first school to participate in the Iris Project was Benthal Primary School in Hackney, London, where two classes of Year 5 pupils (9-10 years old) participated in the scheme. By 2007, 20 state-schools in London were participating in the scheme. Since then, it has expanded to include many schools across London and Oxford, as well as schools in Swansea, Reading, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Internationally, we have provided guidance for schools in South Africa and New York to set up this scheme.

How it works

This project enables students from universities to deliver a year long introductory Latin course to pupils in primary schools. The project enables children in state-schools to learn Latin, Classics and ancient mythology, subjects which they would almost certainly not have access to without participation in the project.

Pupils are introduced to Latin using a series of lesson plans which incorporate hands-on activities and storytelling to give them a basic grounding in English and Latin grammar, and a taste of Latin myths and culture.

The Benefits of the Iris Project

The benefits of access to Latin and ancient culture in an educational environment include:

  • Improving literacy skills
  • Greater language awareness and enhanced language abilities
  • Stimulation of creative thinking
  • Introduction to ancient history, culture and mythology
  • Increased confidence

Learning Latin also benefits pupils’ capacity and study of a wide range of other subjects taught by primary and secondary schools (including English, History and Science) through the improvement of literacy skills, the stimulation of creative and critical thinking and enhanced language abilities.

As one of our previous student volunteers at St Andrews has commented, “The Iris Project is a fantastic initiative, invaluable to its learners, its student teachers and to Latin.”

By: Dr Crystal Addey, teaching fellow & schools contact.

Spotlight on… Ruaraidh Maciver


Salvete omnes! I’m Ruaraidh Maciver, and I am the current School of Classics president. I am a third year Ancient and Mediaeval History student, and very much look forward to getting to know you all as the year goes on!

In my time here, I have taken modules in Classical Studies, Ancient History and Greek. I was also the Class Rep for Ancient History in my first and second years, as well as the careers representative for the department at the same time. My primary aim for this year is to further improve student representation and inclusivity in the school. As Classics President, I act as the student representative for the School of Classics on several committees, so please do get in touch if you have any problems!

My own area of particular interest is political and military history of early Imperial Rome, and the Empire’s gradual transformation in the Late Antique period.

Outside of academia, I am involved in numerous societies and clubs. This year I am the Co-Editor in Chief for the St Andrews Economist, having previously been a regional editor and writer. I was also actively involved in the Investment Society here, being a regional analyst and frequently composing regional macroeconomic reports. I have a keen interest in archaeology, having been on several digs, and am also a part of the Student Archaeological Society here, having served as the Classics rep in my first year. I am also a Christian, and regularly attend Christian Union events as well!

I hope you all have a fantastic year, and if you ever want to talk, do not hesitate to email me or say hello if you see me around town!

Ruaraidh Maciver

Postgraduate Language Teaching Training

Research Postgraduates at the School of Classics often take part in the teaching of Greek and Latin at sub-honours level, but aside from the University provision of (non-subject specific) teaching training and the advice given them by the relevant module coordinator, they weren’t offered any further support – until 2015, when Emma Buckley and I came up with a training scheme to help them out, which focuses specifically on the teaching of classical languages. Now running for the second year, the training is based on our personal experiences (especially my own PG training at Durham) but geared towards the demands of undergraduate teaching in Classics at St Andrews. It consolidates the participants’ knowledge of ancient languages; acquaints them with a variety of teaching styles, methods, and approaches; and helps them become competent and confident language tutors.

So who is it for and how does it work? The scheme is open to all Classics Research Postgraduates who are interested in teaching languages at St Andrews. We particularly encourage first-year students to participate – but if you are further on in your study and haven’t taken part in it yet, you are very welcome too! You will need your supervisor’s permission as well as a very good level of either Greek or Latin – or both.

The training lasts a full calendar year and there are three stages to it: observation, workshop / preparation, and practice:

During the observation stage (in semester 2 of a given academic year), participants sit in a variety of classes in first and second level modules of the language of their choice, and experience as many different settings and teaching styles as possible. There are also informal meetings for the whole group to discuss teaching techniques, dealing with problems, etc.

“Observing grammar and literature classes provided me with practical knowledge on how to engage constructively students attending this type of class. Most valuable to me was to learn how to balance the time devoted to explaining grammar rules with that used to illustrate the literary background of a text. […] The Postgraduate Language Teaching Training has allowed me to acquire valuable skills and to include in my CV a training specific for the teaching of classical languages.”

(Manlio Fossati, 4th year PhD)

The second stage begins with a workshop after semester ends, in which members of staff offer short presentations on language teaching topics and discuss them with the participating postgraduates. They are then expected to lead a mock class on which they receive both general and personalised feedback. Postgraduates who took part in the scheme in previous years are also invited to attend, and share their own experiences with their colleagues.

“The workshop over two days provided lots of helpful advice and tips from staff members, and I greatly enjoyed giving a mock class – I was a bit nervous about presenting to incredibly experienced lecturers pretending to be students, but the feedback I received was really valuable and has helped me with all the teaching I have done, not just language teaching.”

(Matthew Payne, 2nd year PhD)

The second stage also involves a summer of preparation during which the participants are encouraged to reflect on the observation and workshop as well as prepare set texts ahead of the third stage (in semester 1 of the following academic year), in which they undertake the teaching of a support or reading class in either Greek or Latin. This is a unique opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt, with constant support from myself and the module coordinators. Apart from meeting them every week to check on their progress, I also observe them twice in the course of the semester, and give them feedback on their performance. At the end of the semester their students fill in a questionnaire and they too have a chance to say what they thought of the experience. We discuss these results in a final meeting in December which marks the end of the training scheme – but not the end of their language teaching, which is an essential part of academic life.

“My students were very engaged and enthusiastic about the material that we looked at in class, which was great. I particularly enjoyed the smaller class size of the support class as it meant that participation from the whole group was high. This really helped with gauging the students’ understanding of the material.”

(Ellen MacDougall, 3rd year PhD)

If you are a Classics Postgraduate and would like to take part in the Language Teaching Training in 2017, contact me via email (nm66) to register your interest.

Dr Nikoletta Manioti, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
S17, School of Classics, University of St Andrews

Classics joins BA (International Honours) Joint Degree Programme

By: Rebecca Sweetman

BA International Honours graduating cohort 2016
BA International Honours graduating cohort 2016

The University of St Andrews and College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA have recently announced that their Schools of Classics are to become part of the Joint BA International Honours degree.  The BA (International Honours) is a four-year undergraduate degree that combines the best of the Scottish and American educational experience.

Classical Studies students in the joint degree programme will benefit from the integration of the breadth offered by a William & Mary liberal arts education and the depth offered from a St Andrews degree. The departments have complementary strengths in the ancient languages, ancient history, and archaeology. In combination, students are able to craft a flexible program that allows them to investigate the cultures of the Mediterranean world in great depth.

  • For example, this joint degree will allow students to pursue coursework in Etruscan archaeology and Egyptology (in William and Mary) as well as modules in Late Antique and Bronze Age Archaeology (in St Andrews): that’s an unusual combination that would be hard to find in any single department.
  • It will allow Greek and Latin language students a more flexible degree, one which can be tailored more to their varying needs by providing a wider range of levels between the two universities (including intermediate-level teaching which is not available currently in St Andrews at subhonours).
  • Undertaking a Classics degree in both campuses will also allow students a wider range of postgraduate opportunities in the North American and UK: this programme will be the only one that bridges both systems, and students who have been through it will have the unique advantage of knowing the UK and US systems well when they come to make postgraduate applications.

Joint Degree students will be able to experience opportunities offered by William & Mary such as conferences and internships as well as opportunities for travel to and integrated study of the ancient world as offered by St Andrews. While one of these opportunities would be considered a bonus in any degree offered by a Classics School, to have such a wide range on the Joint Degree is an enviable USP. From September 2017 the universities will be accepting their first cohort of Classical Studies students (normally 3 per university). In the same year Film Studies will also be available for the first time as part of the Joint Degree programme adding to the existing four subjects, Economics, English, History and International Relations. The addition of Classical Studies and Film will enhance the programme and make it an even more flexible experience.