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Thinking Audience: Highlighting Class in Classics and the Classroom, by Elizabeth Hayes

Have you ever felt lost in the crowd? There’s no place like university to feel like just another student. [PG - I like this start, but maybe needs to be a bit clearer about who the lost people are and why they are lost…] But in many cases this feeling starts in school. I want to encourage you to use your skills to share your passion for Sharing that passion is becoming increasingly important within universities. After all, Warwick’s new ‘Public Engagement in Classics and Ancient History’ module led to this blog.

Lost in crowd stock photo

Fig.1: Lost in the crowd


So, what is Public Engagement?


To hear it straight from the mouth of a university, the Warwick Institute for Engagement’ ‘[0.48 secs] defines Public Engagement as 'all about those of us working and studying at universities going outside of academia to share all that we do here, collaborate on new ideas, and make knowledge more accessible to more people. What that does is include more perspectives into the dialogues and discussion we’re having as a university. And in the long run we believe that will make the world a better and fairer place for more people.’

This sounds very philanthropic, but the catch is in the ‘two-way process’ which the NCCPE definition highlights- Universities use Public Engagement as a way to recruit younger people to study with them. It’s also a great opportunity for institutions to form partnerships with organisations like theatres, or museums. It’s not nefarious, but it’s not all give and no gain.


So, who should we engage?

A survey [PG A bit unclear – I know what you mean but if read quickly this is slightly confusing. Also, which survey? Bridges? If so, best to name within the main text] evidenced a good proportion would say the ‘general public’ treating everyone as an undifferentiated mass.[2] NCCPE gives a convincing argument for considering many ‘publics’ instead.

This survey also showed 83 responses [PG Needs to be a bit clearer. 83 is in fact the total survey group, with less than half saying there was a school-based audience] were directed at a school-based audience.[3] Even within this category, there are many sub-section- year groups, teachers, senior leadership, to name a few- it seems this audience is currently key to Classics. The reason? We might link back to the Higher Education recruitment process.


A Problem…

Boris Johnson in a toga

Fig.2: 2007, togated Boris Johnson making a stand for A Level Classics[4]


Data showed that the South-East of England and Greater London were the locations for most of these projects![5] Granted, it’s likely population plays a part in this, but even so, it brings Classics back to the age-old North/South divide.

For a long time, the subject has been stained with the perceived idea that Classics key audiences are elite Eton egos. Big characters like Boris Johnson and his acclaimed ability to recite the Iliad in Greek play directly into this assumption.[6] When Mary Beard got involved in the episode, Twitter showed us just how high the opinions of Classics were- full of “fetid toffs who have gone to Eton”.

What this shows is our need to redefine our key audience. A shift in attentions for encouraging Classical studies has already begun. The CUCD, established 2020, aims to ‘amplify diverse and marginalised voices within Classics’. They noted the 2010 Equality Act didn’t include class as a protected characteristic, but still 18% of the 294 respondents mentioned class-discrimination within the discipline.[7] We need to look to these areas where class plays a key role in educational opportunity in order to allow the definition of Public Engagement to live up to its full potential. And who is better to do that than a student who has been given the opportunity?



It can be too easy for projects to stop after the short-term stage- projects stopping after the workshops are done or the talks given. But to make a real impact we need the whole process. Classics For All, evidences this process in their Impact Report and advocate targeting teachers’ confidence by offering resources and training.[8]

Development of thought processes

Fig.3: Own diagram showing the development process of thoughts for project-planning[9]


The National curriculum for secondary school doesn’t include Classics, with history starting from 1066.[10] Even in the curriculum for primary schools, where Classics makes a brief appearance, it isn’t set in stone and topics choices are extremely flexible.[11] Curriculum change requires government change. But what our projects can do is make teaching Classics the obvious choice, building teacher’s confidence. And the best way… teaching resources.

Building lesson packs or plans means your work continues even after initial impact. Warwick University have good examples of this, supported by Classics For All. The ‘Travelling Museum’ resources, targeted as GCSE students, can be offered as a live session, led by the university, as well as providing thorough lesson packs for continued Classics teaching. Adaptation is easy. It’s the initial thoughts and facts you’ll be thanked for.

Thinking long-term is something to plan for now.

So, how will you make a difference? Public Engagement has the potential to make a change when targeted. But who will you impact?



Further Reading


  • How do I understand the break-down of the term ‘general public’?:

NCCPE, ‘Who are the public?’:

  • Where can I learn more about the current situation of class in Classics?:

Guisti, E. ‘Working-Class Classics: Myths, Stories and Experiences’:

  • What is the current state of the class-system in university outreach for recruitment more generally?:

Neon, ‘Voices/; What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme? Suggestions from NCOP Leads’:




ABC News Daily, ‘Video: Boris Johnson recites extracts of “The Iliad” in Greek’, 2019, Accessed 16th February

Beard, M. (2019) ‘Johnson and the Classics’, Accessed 11th February

Bridges, E. (2019) ‘Public Engagement with Classics Research in the UK: A Survey’, Council of University Classical Departments Bulletin, 48, Available at:

Canevaro, L. G.; Canevaro, M.; Stead, H.; Williams-Read, E. (S.n.d.) ‘If Class Were a Protected Characteristic’, 2021, Accessed 11th February 2022

Classics For All (2020) ‘Impact Report 2010-2020’, Available at:

CUCD EDI, ‘CUCD Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee’, 2020, Accessed 11th February 2022

Department for Education (2014) ‘The national curriculum in England Key stages 1 and 2 framework document’, Available at:

Department for Education (2014) ‘The national curriculum in England Key stages 3 and 4 framework document’, Available at:

Guisti, E. (2021) ‘Working-Class Classics: Myth, Stories and Experiences’, Accessed 9th February 2022

Higgins, C. (2019) ‘Boris Johnson’s love of classics is about just one thing: himself’, The Guardian, Accessed 11th February

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (2020) ‘What is Public Engagement?’, Accessed 10th February

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (2020) ‘Who are the public?’ Accessed 7th February

Neon (S.n.d) ‘Voices: What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme? Suggestions from NCOP Leads’, Available at:

The University of Edinburgh (2021) ‘Why we need to talk about class in Classics’, Accessed 18th February

Warwick Classics Network (2021) ‘Warwick Classics Travelling Museum’, Accessed 12th February

Warwick Classics Network (2022) ‘Public Engagement in Classics Module’, Accessed 12th February 2022

Warwick Institute of Engagement, (2021) ‘Introduction to Engagement’, Accessed 10th February 2022


List of Illustrations


Fig.1: Photo by RODRIGO GONZALEZ on Unsplash

Fig.2: Higgins, C. (2019) ‘Boris Johnson’s love of classics is about just one thing: himself’, The Guardian, viewed 11th February 2022,

Fig.3: Own illustration


[1] Photo by RODRIGO GONZALEZ on Unsplash

[2] Bridges (2019) 7.

[3] Ibid. 6.

[4] Higgins, C. (2019) ‘Boris Johnson’s love of classics is about just one thing: himself’, The Guardian, viewed 11th February 2022,

[5] Bridges (2019) 9-10.

[6] Higgins, ‘Boris Johnson’s love of classics is about just one thing: himself’, The Guardian, 2019, [Accessed 11th February 2022].

[7] Canevaro, Canevaro, Stead, Williams-Read, ‘If Class Were a Protected Characteristic’, 2021, [Accessed 11th February 2022]

[8] Classics For All (2020) 5.

[9] Own illustration.

[10] Department for Education (2014) 94-97.

[11] Department for Education (2014) 188-192