Friday, 21 November 2014

Teaching and Learning Ancient Religion

This week I led a session at Senate House, London, for the Teaching and Learning Ancient Religion Network (TLAR). TLAR’s aim ‘is to establish an international network interested in teaching and learning about ancient religions. This reflects a sense that there is something distinctive about this particular area, even within the broad field of classics.’ A mix of academics, doctoral candidates, and BA students joined the session.

I began by describing some of the material that’s available on the Panoply site and how that relates to the teaching and study of ancient Greek religion. Some of our animations, such as Hoplites! Greeks at War, contain religious elements (such as a hepatoscopy and the erection of a trophy) that have been incorporated into a vase scene that has no religious features. Others animate religious features that already exist in the original artwork, such as The Love of Honour, in which a man receives a wreath and recounts his sporting victories. I also discussed an animation featuring Nike and a sacrificial bull which Steve is busy making now – more on that soon!

Watching Hoplites!

Other animations act out myths, such as Heracles and Persephone and the Sirens, while others animate scenes featuring well-known mythical characters, such as Achilles and Ajax in Clash of the Dicers.

All of these animations make a great springboard into discussions of ancient myth and religion. These could be directly related to the content of the animation, by asking questions such as ‘What are the objects that the characters have in The Love of Honour?’ or ‘What is the trophy’s function in Hoplites!?’. Alternatively, they can be less directly related, with, for example, Clash of the Dicers acting as a gentle introduction to a discussion of Ajax, Achilles, or the Trojan War.

The animations can prompt a number of other sorts of activities. To some extent these are activities that can be done just with vases, but the accompaniment of the animations seems to make students (young and older) more enthusiastic about the process and can also help people to look at the vases with more attention and more creative freedom.

One great activity is virtual curating. Set your students the challenge of creating a case that expresses the theme of ancient religion. They don’t need real vases, let them loose to pick artefacts from books and online catalogues. Ask them to write text for their cabinet and get them to pick (or plan) an animation to include in their display. This is a fun activity, but it’s also challenging and it encourages students to imagine themselves in a leading role using their knowledge to help others.

Another activity is review-writing. Ask you students to pick an animation to review and analyse, paying particular attention to the representation of gods, heroes, or religious activities. Alternatively, ask them to write scripts for the animations, working in groups or on their own. As the Panoply website has so much information about ancient topics, it’s also a safe place for teachers and lecturers to leave students to explore and research. Set them a question or a topic and let them spend time on the website putting together their response. The Panoply website can also be used for the curating challenge as there are so many images and links to ancient literature.

One of our favourite activities at Panoply is storyboarding. Storyboarding based on vases encourages people to pay close attention to the details within a vase scene and it’s a fun yet thought-provoking way for people to bring together and draw on what they’ve learned. If you’ve been covering Greek religion with a class for a few weeks, let them process some of what they’ve learned by putting together a story for an animation through a storyboard. This will really help them to make connections. By working in groups they can weigh-up different possibilities. If lots of animations are planned from the same vase, this will also help to release students from the tyranny of ‘one interpretation’ when they see the different directions their class-mates have taken their animations in. There will be an interesting discussion when the groups share and compare their work.

Towards the end of the session we created some storyboards ourselves. It was great how everybody got on board; ideas and a happy buzz soon filled the room. You can see a few here:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Every Soldier has a Story – Live Event

Hoplites! Greeks at War has had its first public showing at a celebration of the Every Soldier has a Story project. We’re delighted that Hoplites! was well-received and glad that all the different ideas and artworks generated through the project are now being shared.

Joining us at the Ure Museum for the day were pupils from the East End Classics Centre, who are based at the BSix sixth-form college in London. The pupils, aged from 16-18, got stuck into a day of ancient-world activities. They toured the University of Reading’s Classics Department and Archaeology Department, finding out what undergraduate study in those subjects includes and enjoying handling sessions with ancient vases and real human remains. They joined Sonya in the museum for a session on ancient Greek warfare, and after watching the Hoplites! trailer and studying its vase, they planned their own storyboards.

The EE Classics Centre pupils then took to the essential task of putting-up the exhibition for the evening’s launch event in anticipation of the public’s arrival. The exhibition included images of vases featuring scenes of ancient warfare, images of armour, maps, photos from the Every Soldier photo-film, a display about the Thiasos Theatre Company, one on hoplites in art after antiquity, and plenty of storyboards and artwork relating to the Hoplites! vase including work by pupils at the UCL Academy, Kelmscott School, Kids Company, and the East End Classics Centre itself. (You can see much of this material on the Every Soldier project page)

One the evening event began, guests heard an introduction to the Every Soldier has a Story project – about the concept, vase, and participants. They then enjoyed a video of the Hoplites! storyboard, accompanied by live music from composer John White and musicians MJ Coldiron and Jasmine Blundell from the Thiasos Theatre Company. Singing bowls and percussive bells created a memorable atmosphere evoking ancient Greece and the tense anticipation and excitement of combat. The Every Soldier photo-film was played next, with Thiasos accompanying and picking out themes through their magical sound-scape.

Hoplites! Greeks at War then had its chance to meet the public and it looked amazing on a full cinema-size screen. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss it! Every Soldier. After the first viewing, Sonya picked out a few details to discuss, such as the decisions made about representing formation and fighting styles, how the extra troops were created, and the use of existing vase images to guide the representation of elements such as the liver-examination and the postures of the fallen soldiers. This was followed by a second viewing of the animation, which received a warm response from the diverse audience of ancient historians, archaeologists, teachers, music-lovers, animation-lovers, and ancient world enthusiasts.

At the reception that followed, the audience enjoyed food and drink as they looked through the exhibition, visited the Ure Museum, and watched other Panoply animations on a giant TV screen. University of Roehampton student, Gabrielle Turner was on-hand to tell people how she went about curating the Every Soldier has a Story display-case (more on that here soon), and Steve explained more about his work creating the Hoplites! animation

Huge thanks to everyone who came. Special thanks to Thiasos for a wonderful performance. And very grateful thanks to our reception sponsors, the Ure Museum, the Department of Classics at Reading, and Bloomsbury Publishing. It was a wonderful evening that did justice to all the creativity that has been inspired by this wonderful artefact. Now we’re looking forward to Hoplites! Greeks at War appearing in any homes and classrooms around the world where there’s interest in ancient Greece.