The Ermine Street Guard have useful pictures

I happened to mention the Ermine Street Guard in my last post, as an example, and that reminded me to look at their web site again. There's a lot of good stuff there.

The index of pictures is here. There are 17 albums, arranged under topics. Particularly useful ones might be Equipment 1 and 2 and Artillery 1 and 2, but training and others may come in handy when teaching the Roman army under Roman Britain.

The Ermine Street Guard has been in existence for a long time (they have an obituary of a founding member at present) and they do their research thoroughly, so their equipment is as authentic as possible. In fact, there is an article deploring the lower standards of other, more recent groups (unnamed). 'Gladiator' is dismissed in an aside. (If you visit the linked page, scroll down to “Standards in Roman Re-enactment.”)

My one complaint about the site as a teaching aid is the lack of explanation or commentary to go with the fine pictures. In fact, the pictures do not even have an 'alt' tag, which would help, let alone a caption. But if you know enough to make your own commentary, they are a good resource.

Trojan Women now on the Classics Calendar

I spent an hour yesterday putting each performance of Trojan Women on its proper day in the Classics Calendar, and it seems a good opportunity to draw people's attention to this Calendar. You can always reach it via the arlt website, but I thought I'd add it to the permanent links to the right of this blog.

Expect to see the link any time now.

Meanwhile, if you have any Classics event that you'd like people to know about, send me the details and I'll add it to the Calendar. That can be a visit by the Ermine Street Guard to your school, your local ACT programme (Association of Classics Teachers), your Classics Department production of the Oresteia or anything. To go directly to the Calendar use this link.

Straight from the horse's mouth?

Add this rant to the last one from the same paper, about the exam system as the enemy of education, and you could begin the coming year's teaching in a thoroughly depressed frame of mind:

Although I don't want to belittle anyone's exam results and efforts, it is important that people understand why the current exam system can no longer be considered a benchmark for knowledge, skills and learning. I offer two reasons for this conclusion: firstly, the dreadfully low standard of students' written skills and knowledge and secondly, the use of a too basic, vague and unfair marking scheme.

In relation to the GCSE candidates' general standard of writing, as a part-time lecturer at a university, I had already become aware that many undergraduate students had abysmal reading and writing skills. However, even that did not prepare me for the written skills of your average GCSE candidate. The handwriting, most of the time, resembled that of a five-year-old toddler or a drunk (grotesquely simple or an illegible scrawl). A lack of basic punctuation, such as full stops, commas, capital letters etc, was commonplace. There were countless inarticulate, immature sentences, which did not make any sense to the reader. …

However, it was not just the very poor knowledge and written skills of the students that were at fault. After all, one would think that such poor responses would be marked accordingly low. Yet, the guidance given in the marking scheme meant that people with very poor knowledge and written skills were able to get reasonable, if not good, marks.

First, there was the explicit policy and encouragement of 'positive marking'. This was the first time I had heard this phrase but when it was explained to me in my examiner's training I was horrified that this was an official marking policy. …

Go on – indulge your masochistic side and read the rest here.

The 'better' the teaching, the more bored the pupils

There's a fascinating rant (that means I agree with it!) in The Education Guardian this week, in which Jenni Russell puts her finger on the bad effects of today's exam system on education. I hope you will have a moment to read it, but if you haven't the main point is this: to get good exam results, pupils must learn only what is specified on the syllabus; any extra knowledge will damage their exam marks. What is more, they need to be trained in exactly what the marking system rewards.

The result is that pupils do not read about their subjects for their own interest, and are discouraged from original thought.

They also, though the article does not say so, are deprived of the Classics, because the same exam regime pushes schools into offering the subjects in which the school will come out best in league tables.

O tempora, o mores! The article is here.

Girls, Boys and Computers

The Guardian reports a survey on the effect of computers on pupils – see the report here.

The first sentence is:

Computers are widening the gender gap in schools, as boys spend their spare time playing games while girls use them for homework, new government research has found.

Before the Luddites among us say: “I told you computers are a dead loss in education,” hear this:

It found that pupils who used computers for their school work scored higher grades in their GCSEs and national tests than those without access to computers at home.

Could that be because those without computers at home (only 11%) are the most deprived in other ways too? On the other hand,

But children – mainly boys – who regularly played computer games achieved significantly lower grades.

Glimpse of the obvious?

The 2006 London Festival of Greek Drama

The first clues about next year's Festival come from King's College, London, who are putting on Ecclesiazousae, And UCL, who are offering Medea.

The King's Greek Play site is here. They plan perfomances on February 8, 9 and 10 in the Greenwood Theatre.

UCL are using their Bloomsbury Theatre, but haven't given us any dates yet.

Actors of Dionysus on the road with Trojan Women

The Actors of Dionysus are touring The Trojan Women between September and December. Their web site is here.

I would like to add their list of dates and places here, but it is presented in Flash and cannot be copied/pasted. You will need to look here for it.

I'm hoping to catch the production in Millfield School on September 28th.

"Explorator" now even more Classics-friendly

Let me again commend David Meadows' excellent weekly roundup of internet items of interest to Classicists, Archaeologists and Historians. I call it “now even more Classics-friendly” because David has begun to gather all the items relating to Greece and Rome into one section. There are other sections on Early Humans, Africa, Ancient Near East and Egypt, Europe and the UK, and so on.

“Explorator” is yours for the asking, and drops into your in-box with a friendly 'ping' – or whatever noise your email program makes – every Sunday afternoon. Just the thing to go with your tea and crumpets!

To subscribe to Explorator, send a blank email message to:
Explorator-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

"Explorator" now even more Classics-friendly

Let me again commend David Meadows' excellent weekly roundup of internet items of interest to Classicists, Archaeologists and Historians. I call it “now even more Classics-friendly” because David has begun to gather all the items relating to Greece and Rome into one section. There are other sections on Early Humans, Africa, Ancient Near East and Egypt, Europe and the UK, and so on.

“Explorator” is yours for the asking, and drops into your in-box with a friendly 'ping' – or whatever noise your email program makes – every Sunday afternoon. Just the thing to go with your tea and crumpets!

To subscribe to Explorator, send a blank email message to:
Explorator-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

I'm not rushing out to buy satellite TV for this

The Radio Times on Saturday offered this less than overwhelmed assessment of “Empire”, the mini-series on Rome which started that evening on Hallmark (which seems to be a general entertainment channel):

Gasp at Caesar's assassination, marvel at the bloody conspiracies that follow, cower at the sight of Jonathan Cake as the all-conquering Tyrannus. Yes, it's history Hollywood style, showing the glory that was Rome reduced to squalor and cliche. The cast struggle to breathe life into this pap. Which is not to say that it's not highly enjoyable, for all the wrong reasons. Best thing is the shameless, bloodthirsty Gladiator imitation which runs throughout.

“Empire” was made, they say, as a spoiler for the real thing, “Rome”, which has now started in America and is coming here in November. It was made jointly by HBO and the BBC and cost a hundred million dollars, which seems to mean that the money was mainly put up by HBO and the BBC provided the actors, who are apparently British. I suppose that it was the money that meant that American viewers get it before we do, or perhaps it's because we shall get it free, on terrestrial television (BBC2), so the commercial broadcasters insist on recouping their investment first.

Reviews of “Rome” collected by Explorator say things like:

Of the six episodes that were released for press review, half a dozen put me to sleep by the end of the hour. It was a gentle, lulling slumber, punctuated with faintly overheard scraps of dialogue from one of the show's copious banquet scenes (“More tench? A dormouse, perhaps?”) or Senate-floor debates (“Caesar will have to accept or refuse the terms, because Mark Antony will immediately use the tribune's veto!”). – http://slate.msn.com/id/2125152/

Less perverse than “I, Claudius,'' more entertaining than ABC's toga twister “Empire,'' “Rome'' gets off to an uneven start. The debut opens with a bloody battle that could have been ripped from the deleted scenes of “Gladiator: Extended Edition.'' … Just when you think Comcast must have tripped a switch and zoned you into an episode of PBS' “Mastersnooze Theatre,'' “Rome'' introduces Atia (Polly Walker), Caesar's niece. The woman knows no boundaries, flaunting her nude body in front of her teenage son Octavian (Max Pirkis), the future Augustus Caesar, and throwing him into danger for political gain. … The violence in “Rome'' is sometimes shocking and always graphic. True to the day, slaves are treated as fleas, either ignored or casually swatted. The scenes of medicine, ancient-world style, will have you taking back every bad thing you ever muttered about your HMO. A less than subtle point of this 12-episode run emphasizes how much an average person can influence history. Give “Rome'' a place on your cable itinerary. (Three stars out of four) – http://theedge.bostonherald.com/tvNews/view.bg?articleid=99501&format=&page=1

“Rome” isn't so much a Sunday night diversion as a task, lacking the poetry that makes expletive-laden “Deadwood” sparkle with eloquence. Unlike HBO's western, you won't exactly be clamoring for the next week's episode at the end of “Rome” — not after hour one or hour six.

A co-production of HBO and the BBC, “Rome” lavishes us with spectacular sets and splendid acting, taking extraordinary pains to re-create the era down to the silks and rags everyone wears. If it doesn't hit, it won't be for lack of trying — which “Rome” does in earnest, only far less successfully than one would expect of a $100 million series.

Heavy attention to detail isn't enough to make up for the plodding, haughty pompousness threatening to rob the series of its potential to seduce. This is in spite of a plot saucy enough to be considered prime-time soap material even if the main events have been retold too many times to count. – http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/238056_tv26.html

Neither series to be shown uncut to Year 11, then. Or have schools changed so much since I ceased teaching?

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