25th – 29th July 2016: The University of Warwick held its first Sutton Trust Summer School in Classics and Ancient History
The Sutton Trust Summer Schools are free, subject-specific residential courses for Year 12/Lower Sixth (or S5 in Scotland or equivalent) students from UK state-maintained schools. The summer schools are designed to provide academically-able students from non-privileged backgrounds with the opportunity to experience life at a leading university.
In July the Department of Classics and Ancient History hosted a subject stream at Warwick’s inaugural Sutton Trust Summer School. The event saw nearly one hundred students from all over the country participate across five different subject streams; in addition to Classics, the departments of Law, Politics and International Studies, Economics and Physics also took part. The Summer School was a huge success, with Classics hosting a class of twenty-two pupils – the largest group of all the subjects on offer – for five days of rigorous university-style teaching.
The programme is aimed at bright students from underprivileged backgrounds, who – whilst clearly possessing of the potential – might not consider themselves eligible to progress to university after finishing secondary school. The aim of the week, therefore, is to challenge these students beyond their school syllabus, introducing them to topics, debates and theory they likely would not have been exposed to before, thus giving them a taste of what it is like to study at university whilst ultimately showing them that they do indeed have what it takes to be successful there.
The Classics and Ancient History offering was delivered by a team of postgraduate students. The syllabus was designed to give as broad an introduction to the discipline as possible, illustrating its many facets, whilst honing in on specific areas of research and debate. A wide array of topics was covered, including Numismatics, Literature, Philosophy, Art, and Reception Studies. A typical session incorporated a broad introduction to an area of Classics or Ancient History, and then moved on to a particular aspect of that area, eventually building towards a seminar-type discussion or debate on a specific issue. In this way, the students benefited from breadth and variety whilst simultaneously being able to get stuck in with interrogating more complex sources and tackling thematic issues.
For instance, the Philosophy session began with an overview of the subject as whole, which introduced different figures and schools of thought along with their geographical and chronological context. Students were given extracts from different types of Philosophy, and asked to identify the characteristics and key concepts of each one. Then, the session focused on a single aspect of Philosophy: the changing ways in which Philosophy has attempted to define Love. Students dissected several extracts concerned with the theme, isolating the various ways in which different schools and thinkers articulated ‘Love’, and investigating what it was that each Philosophical tradition prioritised or deemed important. The session concluded with a debate asking, ‘Can We Define Love?’ This debate was very impressive indeed, and the students postulated many different approaches and ideas. For instance, one student pointed out that if we believe psychopaths aren’t capable of feeling ‘Love’, then are we able to define precisely what it is that they are not considered capable of?
Two of the academic sessions – Numismatics and Art respectively – were based around artefact handling, utilising the Department’s own collection of ancient coins and vases so as to put theory into practice. The young scholars found these sessions really exciting, and the course leaders agreed that they provided the valuable opportunity to teach students how to ‘read’ an object independently and appreciate how it functioned in ancient society. Another highlight of the week was the day trip to the world-renowned Ashmolean Museum, in which the group participated in four seminar sessions. All of these seminars were highly interactive, introducing topics such as Epigraphy and Museology. The students were even provided with the opportunity to question and critique the very notion of a museum itself, learning about its origins and discussing its political and cultural significance. As part of the trip the group also attended a public lecture given by Professor Alison Cooley, Head of the Classics Dept. at Warwick, on her collaborative ‘Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project’. The students said they enjoyed hearing about the “active” side of Classics, in which academics are literally changing the face of museums and the ways in which the public learns from them.
Over the course of their week with us the scholars worked on a group project, entitled ‘Venus in the Ancient and Modern Imagination’, in which they investigated the different ways in which the image, meaning and mythology of this goddess has been deployed in an array of different contexts, both ancient and modern. Each group produced an academic research poster to present their findings, accompanied by five-minute presentations given to the rest of the cohort on the final day. The results were outstanding, often addressing feminist theory and cultural ideals of beauty, with groups discussing the Roman conceptualisation of motherhood or even deconstructing the ways in which Venus is used by companies such as Gillette in their marketing campaigns. The outcomes of this project illustrated well the continuing relevance of Classics to modern society, as well as its multifaceted nature. A number of the posters are now on display in the Department.
The students also enjoyed a range of social activities in the evenings, including sport, a ceilidh, a barbecue and a formal gala dinner celebration on the final night. The postgraduate team delivering the programme were delighted by the week’s events. Participants were proactive and engaged, with impressive analytical skills and an ability to grasp complex theories and apply them. The objective of the week was to provide students with an introduction to university-style learning, encouraging them to think independently and pursue their own lines of enquiry. We certainly feel that we succeeded in this: the group projects displayed an outstanding level of critical thought and teamwork, and seminars saw immense growth in students’ confidence, with everyone contributing assertively and thoughtfully to discussions as the week progressed.
We wish all students who came to study with us on the Summer School the very best as you embark upon your A-Levels and look forward to hearing about what you achieve in the future – do keep in touch!