By James Hua
When people say Classics, many immediately think of a niche subject with some pretentious, high-class people who have little relevance to or interest in the world of today. My experience working with the Classics Society this past year has proved just how contrary this perception is to the aims and operations of the Society – and just how we’ve been working to open up to new ideas, viewpoints and voices.
The mission of the society is not to rant about Classical literature, history, art, philosophy, and archaeology as Socrates once might have done in Athens’ agora. It’s quite the opposite – turning the spotlight to you, we want to make the benefits and opportunities of the Classics accessible to everyone. Being on the exec last year, I had a unique opportunity to pilot this forward and appreciate how many people it helped.
We want to make the benefits and opportunities of the Classics accessible to everyone
Last year, I was Academic Affairs Officer, which means that I organised academic talks given by lecturers from Durham’s Classics Department and external speakers, for all Durham students. The primary goal was to choose exciting speakers who would talk on a wide range of subjects in an accessible way.
It was so fun. We had talks ranging from ancient maths, science, inscriptions, and the birth of languages to Ovid and the ‘Me Too’ movement, Homer, law and literature, ‘ugly’ art, and ‘unruly women’ in Greek sanctuaries. And Socrates. Controversial opinion – in some ways, I learnt more from this variety than my actual lectures. Prioritising accessibility, we introduced ‘Workshops’ to foreground the interdisciplinary intersections between Classics and other subjects: Prof. Cuomo’s “Chickens of the Sixth Indiction”, marrying Maths and Classics, was a big hit. The point is, we want to engage everyone: from the most academic-minded to the most casual listener.
We want to engage everyone: from the most academic-minded to the most casual listener
And as Socrates might posit, the party never ends. This year, the theme of our academic talk series centres on how we can use the Classics constructively today: ‘Classics and the world of today: Interdisciplinarity’.
My team has done so much more. We held a Classics University Challenge, sympotic socials and a ball in Durham’s
Cathedral, fresher drop-ins, LGBT+ month, movie nights, and so much more.
Hopefully, this has had some positive impact on our members. Our past Academic Affairs Officer, Arved, won
the DSU Award for Contribution to the Learning Society two years ago. The Classics Society was nominated for that last year. But that can’t come close to capturing the brimming enthusiasm in the air. Showcasing this, last year we created an online blog, Ostraka. It’s grown to the extent of being retweeted by multiple Classics personalities and has seen some frankly amazing pieces from both one-time writers to weekly bloggers. One of the most popular subjects is Classical Reception – how later cultures interacted with the Classics.
And that’s precisely what we want. It’s for everyone, for today. We’re not ivory-tower students. It’s student-run, for students. We want to hear your thoughts on Homer, on Spartan history, or (alas) BoJo.
And that’s a potion more dangerous than Medea’s when stirring some great opportunities this year. As the father of history, Herodotus, would say, we need you, not just boring Greek Classicists, to reach these humble hopes.
Photograph by Caleb Miller via Unsplash