Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology at Birmingham recommends
If you are thinking about studying a degree programme in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, here are some recommendations from lecturers at Birmingham to introduce you to theory and historiography, that goes beyond the introductory reading suggested for the Summer.
Maeve McHugh, Teaching Fellow in Classical Archaeology, recommends:
The archaeology of ancient Greece never ceases to fascinate, and for anyone who wants an introductory and engaging overview of the material culture of the ancient Greek world I recommend Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell’s recent A History of Greek Art. There are lots of introductory books on Greek art and archaeology, and I particularly like this one because the author places the developments of art and architecture in ancient Greece within its social and cultural context. Unfortunately, many books on Greek art and archaeology are quite expensive because of all the colour images, but this is a good investment if you are looking for a well written and informative resource.
Another great book is Christopher Mee’s Greek Archaeology. This book is aimed more at an academic audience, and so it does not give the reader as broad an overview as A History of Greek Art. However, it is a well written and essential book that introduces the reader to some of the key themes and ideas about the culture and archaeology of ancient Greece.
There are some great online resources too, and I cannot recommend enough the American School of Classical Studies’ website about their excavations of the Athenian Agora. The Agora is a fascinating ancient site that contains thousands of years of history in the very heart of modern Athens. The website includes information about the historical excavations at the Agora and the School’s ongoing research. More importantly for undergraduate students, the website has a wonderful synthesises of the archaeology of the Athenian Democracy including a brief chronological overview of each period, short descriptions of objects, and an explanation of the role the object or building had for the ancient democracy.
Finally and much closer to home, I would like to recommend CAHA’s own podcast series Stories from Objects. During each thematic episode, a specialist from CAHA discusses objects from the Department’s three teaching collections. Each object they discuss offers us an essential window into the ancient world and gives the listener a taste of what teaching is like at CAHA.
Dr Maeve McHugh is an archaeologist who specialises in the ancient Greek world. Her research focuses mainly on the archaeology of rural communities and the experiences of non-elite groups. Maeve teaches on the Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology, and Archaeology and Ancient History programmes, contributing to lectures on the first year modules ‘Rethinking the Ancient World’, ‘The Greek World’, ‘The Roman World’, along with her project module ‘The Archaeology of Ancient Athens’.
Gideon Nisbet, Reader in Classics, recommends:
I’m a classicist by training, working mostly in Greek literature (primarily epigram and Lucian) and in classical reception, which is the study of how the ancient world gets put to work in later times and in lots of surprising places. You can get a taste of some of the things that interest me through my academic blog on epigram, but if you are intending an undergraduate degree in classics or classical literature and civilisation, you’ll get more out of an aggregating site such as RogueClassicism. Here you’ll find regular updates on new publications and archaeological finds, announcements for conferences (not so many this year!), and links to classics-themed stories from the world’s media.
Like Jonathan Willis, I recommend browsing Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, a show with tons of ancient-world content. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to anything the host says – he’s helpless without his notes, which the guests supply in advance; but the guests themselves are often serious experts. From recent podcasts you can hear about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in which Varus lost Augustus three legions; Tutankhamun; Athenian state terror in the Peloponnesian War, and the mad, bad Emperor Nero. Going back a little further, there are treats such as the Latin poet Horace, the Persian capital Persepolis, Roman slavery – a whole buffet of ancient treats, including our own Professor Diana Spencer on Alexander the Great.
The ancient worlds of Greece and Rome are sometimes commandeered by fringe groups who appeal to the supposed authority of our favourite Dead White European Males to promote repressive agendas. Many of us classicists feel some kind of obligation to restore the balance, and some of our students at Birmingham are writing hard-hitting dissertations that take apart the extremists’ claims. One really good hub for activity of this kind is Eidolon, an online journal founded by classicist Donna Zuckerberg (yes, his sister) and packed with editorials, articles, and seriously funny in-jokes such as the ancient-authors dating page, Pindr, because being a classicist ought to be fun.
Studying the ancient world can raise challenging questions about the world and how we live in it, but it can also supply consolation; Comfort Classics is an ongoing series in which ancient-world scholars share the authors, sites, and artefacts that take their minds off the real-life stresses we’re all trying to cope with, this year.
If you’d prefer to unwind with streaming video, here’s one offbeat recommendation: Il Primo Re (2019), a gritty and madly energetic dramatisation of the founding of Rome. You can find it on Amazon Prime under the awful title Romulus v. Remus: The Last King. It’s Italian-made, low-budget but beautiful; the dialogue is in Latin (don’t worry, there are subtitles); and it’s properly savage. One of my colleagues is fond of kicking off a module about the Roman Late Republic by pointing out that, even at that much later date, Cicero’s generation was really only a generation or so away from human sacrifice; sometimes they said and wrote things that chime with us, but they’re not like us, not really. That combination of the familiar and the shockingly alien is a large part of what makes classics so exciting to study.
Try watching some lectures online
Listening to, digesting and following up on lecture material will be – for many – a new skill when they come to university. If you’ve never heard a lecture before there are lots available online where you can get used to this type of teaching. iTunes U is a fantastic resource where you can find free educational content from universities all around the world. We also have content from some of our own academics online, so their faces and voices can become familiar to you before you arrive!
Listen to these somewhere comfortable where there won’t be too many other distractions. Let the information wash over you at first: there’s no need to jot everything down. Instead, try to identify any major or particularly important points. See if you can follow the academic’s line of thinking. If there’s anything you don’t understand, write down your questions, and follow these up afterwards. Like any other skill, this is something that you will improve at with time. The more lectures you watch or listen to, the better at this you will get!