by Dylan Rudling & Giuseppe ‘Joey’ Ficocelli
If you are the head of an ancient-themed university society or club, looking for new ways to reach out to potential members in these trying times (very tired of using this phrase!), there are plenty of fun and ambitious projects you can still try out.
Classics outreach has taken on a new form in light of COVID restrictions, often leaving societies feeling empty without the usual communal atmosphere of sharing fondness for the ancient world. But fear not, clubs and societies do not have to be quiet and uneventful from lack of face-to-face meetups. Luckily, there are still many ways to engage with club members and attract newcomers while still following social distancing guidelines, many of which can be organised online.
Below you can find a list of potential ideas for keeping your Classics community going strong, from developing professional practice and skills to more laid-back opportunities to geek out on all things ancient. Take a look and have a go at some!
By the time students are moving into the later years of study, research interests become ever more refined and focused, with ideas for upcoming dissertations and thesis’ brimming from the mind. Many students want to express such ideas or have the opportunity to work on them further. One way to do this is by organising Student-led Articles, in which students collaborate to produce their own research based on individual interests, brought together in the style of an academic journal.
In the days of pre-COVID, such opportunities may have taken the format of Dissertation Conferences, involving a group of students presenting their own research to peers, mentors, and any other members of the department curious on developing their own presentation techniques. Fortunately, such activities can be translated to the online sphere, with individual research being presented in its full academic splendour with the introduction of student-led articles (and also Lecture Series, see below).
Aspiring researchers will have the chance to brush up on their academic writing skills, developing their own interests by presenting it in a professional format. One could develop skills in editing, writing, and presenting their own research – vital skills for budding academics, and valuable experience that would be a worthy mention on any CV.
As well as providing the opportunity to present your own favourite topics, there is the organisational side that may be equally as important to the whole process! Students wishing to organise such journals may garner useful experience with formatting and editing the articles, communication via social media in promoting them, and proactively engaging with the collaborative process alongside co-editors and keen students hoping to see their research submitted.
Publishing is a very handy skill to have in an academic’s repertoire and getting involved with student-led articles are a useful and respected first-step into the process.
Perhaps one of the more prominent forms of Classics outreach that came out of the new stay-at-home lockdown regime was the rise of Lecture Series, where organisations such as universities and other academic institutions began to run a series of online seminars for interested students, staff, and anyone else with the joining link who fancies popping in to listen. The setup is simple: all that is needed is an organiser on your platform of choice (Zoom, Meet, Teams, etc), a presenter with a handy PowerPoint and sharing rights, and of course an audience of hungry history buffs.
Similar to online academic journals, Lecture Series focuses more on the presentation side of research, giving keen Classicists a platform to brush up on presenting skills, communication skills, and the daunting-yet-valuable skill of answering questions in a post-presentation Q&A! Developing such skills are great assets to any academic’s professional toolkit; whether you are at a conference, preparing for a talk, or even networking, being able to pitch your research and show off your interests is an important skill to have.
It’s common for researchers drafting up presentation scripts to completely reframe and rephrase their research to suit a larger audience. Often one might think: ‘This is interesting to me, but what will be interesting for them too?’. Hurdles like these are great steps of growth for any academic and is a great way of familiarising yourself with your research in a new, exciting way. Especially now during lockdown and socially distanced working from home, we don’t realise how much our abilities to socialise begin to slip up, which when discussing your professional research could be a tad embarrassing! Getting the opportunity to attend, or even present in a Lecture Series can be a useful way of keeping your social skills up.
As mentioned, the practicality of organising a Lecture Series is paper-thin. To start, you will need an organiser and a suitable platform for your Series. There are a number of factors for choosing a platform, but it is recommended you have a secure space and presentation sharing capabilities. The organiser is responsible for hosting the meetings, giving out sharing rights, and controlling access to the room via invites. Ideally the room will be password protected, so the organiser should distribute room invites and passwords using a secure, reliable method like email circulation lists.
The other key component is the presenter, surprise surprise. Once joining the meeting, the star of the show will be given sharing rights by the organiser, after which they can begin presenting any prepared material for their seminar. This is usually done with PowerPoint presentations, but can also include slideshows, supplement documents, or even video links. As a presenter, you can have as much creative responsibility as you like when demonstrating your research, so be creative and make it memorable! (though the safe bet is usually just a PowerPoint, can’t go wrong with simple professionalism).
The final step that can really boost the experience is recording the main lecture. This is of course optional, needing the permission of both presenter and any other participants essential to the actual seminar, but recording the presentation and making it available to watch online can really play to your favour. It makes the Series accessible to more people, which you can do by setting up its own social media account (such as Facebook or Twitter) or appropriately linking the Series information on the relevant institutional website. Allowing interested people to join is another key responsibility for the organiser, usually by people emailing in requesting to be added to the circulation list, so make sure you are on top of communication!
Online media and outreach is always looking for short, snappy content to gain people’s interest as quickly as possible. To reach the maximum amount of people possible for engagement, social media platforms are on the lookout for content that is quick, memorable, easy to engage with, and fun to share to a wider audience.
One way to do this is by Micro-blogging, a way of creating quick and memorable content. It is a format of blogging that uses few words, and often has an accompanying picture for good measure. Why not harness that same wave of communication and give it an Ancient-themed spin?
It is often the case that smaller pieces of information seem far more accessible to the casual web-user, requiring minimal effort to engage with. In terms of difficulty and ease of access, micro-blogging takes up far less of your time than listening to podcasts, far less concentration than reading articles, and far less organisation than joining in a lecture series. On the right platform, micro-blog engagement can be as quick as a thumb-tap before scrolling down to the rest of your content.
This kind of fast-paced information is also arguably a much easier way to remember, as our minds often latch onto information that is quick to take in, and quick to recall. In the online world, we are constantly barraged by information from every screen, but most of the time it is the snappy content that seems to stick. Micro-blogging has the chance to be informative, digestible, but also fun in a very short space of time. Even our humour has hastened, as the rise in internet meme-culture has shown our hunger for humorous anecdotes of our historical heroes compared to lengthy volumes of their feats. Giving Classics-inspired micro-blogging a healthy dosage of humour gives it that extra edge of memorability, and also shareability.
Perhaps the most obvious platform for micro-blogging is Twitter, which hosts numerous accounts devoted to providing easily digestible information that can be shared almost instantly. The benefit of using Twitter for micro-blogging is that it is also a social media hub, where even the most senior of academics can share their love of their field in a short, digestible format.
Probably one of the most high-profile forms of online media over the last decade has been the rising popularity of Podcasts, made to provide easy-listening and low-effort consumption of ideas.
As platforms such as Spotify, Podbean, and Apple Music have shown, the rapid growth of Podcasts as a means of communicating to the online community has demonstrated just how much we enjoy listening to faceless voices chat about our favourite topics. Whether you want to listen to juicy debate between experts in your field, hear about the chronological narrative of empires and historical figures gone by, or just want to tune in to some waffling chatter, the Podcasting world has hundreds of options to choose from.
When creating your own podcast, there are a few essential things to plan beforehand. Although it may seem simple enough to find a topic to ramble on about, or better yet, ramble with another person, the key to a good podcast consists of two things: good communication, and an interesting topic.
Communication goes both ways; you need to have solid rapport with your podcasting team of choice (such as co-hosts and production team), and there must be a clear communicative link between you and your audience. The audience will need an easy way to access your content, so make your voice heard! Settling on a reliable platform with a user-friendly interface can strengthen this rapport with the audience, though it may take some minor investment for subscription-based platforms.
As for the interesting topic – this is where you can be most creative. This can be your own research’s time to shine! Not only do you have the opportunity to find your own niches and interests, but you can also express them to your heart’s content.
A top tip for this type of content creation is finding a suitable boundary to work within, setting out a clear definition for the direction of your podcast. Do you want to explore the history of a single empire, and cover it in as much vivid detail as possible? Or how about a collection of historical figures to tell the stories of? Perhaps there could be some link between them, for example they might be Generals, Writers, Social Innovators. Define your topic, and research to your heart’s content.
Of course, the difficult parts of creating podcasts include finding recording equipment, suitable space and the right time to record, and the micro-managerial process of editing. This sort of thing is often unique for each person, as we all have our own schedules, but it is all part of the learning process with this type of platform. Play around with the equipment, see what works best for you!
Another way to immerse yourself in the classics is through book clubs. There are a variety of websites and platforms where people create book clubs, from Goodreads to Reddit, from Discord to Medium. These clubs can produce inspiring environments that are both relaxing, casual, and fun but also an intellectually stimulating one. Nina Papathanasopoulou wrote a great blogpost for SCS (see link below) about how different mediums can present a fresh and nuanced view of the classical world. Naturally, because of the pandemic everything will be online, however this is not necessarily a negative as one can create a book club that includes members from all over the globe. People from different places, walks of life, identities, and so on bring different perspectives which makes for a more intellectually diverse and overall better experience. If one is serious about starting a book club, I would suggest using Discord as it provides a solid service. It is mostly used by serious and casual gamers, but it is more importantly for our discussion a user friendly and both web and app supported platform.
Now that communal video platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and Meet have become pretty much essential to our lives, we can now even move more of our social activities and pastimes to the screen. Although the atmosphere admittedly feels very different talking in groups compared to our usual social climate, it is the most suitable option for our COVID-riddled lockdown environment.
To ease the stress, however, there is a ray of hope to make the most out of these social situations. One such solution to spending a cheerful time with colleagues and chums is to organise Watch Parties. As simple as they sound, watch parties involve a group of people on video-messaging platforms all watching the same film from the comfort (and protection) of their homes. A simple solution, but very effective in combatting that sinking feeling of isolation one might get from minimal social engagement outside of work commitments.
Fortunately for us Classicists, film nights and watch parties are always a fun experience, providing ample opportunities to watch our beloved historical periods depicted on the screen, nerd out on our favourite minor details, and best of all to laugh at the inaccuracies that has plagued Hollywood and their creative decision process.
Admittedly, watch parties are far less academic than the other forms of outreach. But this does not mean they are unnecessary; watching historical films is a great way to bring a community together, as similar watch parties have always been a popular activity for pre-COVID society meetups. Changing it to fit our world of online communication isn’t a big leap!
We might as well give some fun suggestions for options to watch at Watch Parties, choose your pick!
- The Mummy (1999 film)
- Gladiator (2000 film)
- Alexander (2004 film)
- Troy (2004 film)
- Rome (2005 series)
- 300 (2007 film)
- Agora (2009 film)
- Barbarians (2020 series)
- Vikings (2015 series)
- Blood of Zeus (2020 series)
AWOL, List of Student-Led Journals: http://ancientworldonline.blogspot.com/2013/09/list-of-student-journals.html
Digital Classicist, Classical Studies Podcasts list: https://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Classical_Studies_podcasts
Herodotus Helpline, (online Lecture Series): https://twitter.com/hdthelpline?lang=en
Institute of Classical Studies, Seminars and Lectures: https://ics.sas.ac.uk/events/seminar-lecture-series
Society for Classical Studies, List of Online Journals: https://classicalstudies.org/world-classics/online-journals
Society for Classical Studies, Nina Papathanasopoulou: Blog: Classics Everywhere: Examining the Past with a Comparative and Critical Eye | Society for Classical Studies