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Webchat with Mary Beard, Tuesday 9 October 12.30-1.30pm

(136 Posts)
PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 04-Oct-12 11:34:39

Hi everyone,

We are delighted to welcome the inimitable Mary Beard to Mumsnet for a live webchat on Tuesday 9 October between 12.30-1.30pm.

Mary Beard (who needs no introduction to many of you, we're sure!) is a Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, and the classics editor of the TLS. Her books include the acclaimed and best-selling Pompeii, The Roman Triumph, The Parthenon (in the Wonders of the World series of which she is general editor) and It’s A Don’s Life. She is the winner of the Wolfson Prize for History for Pompeii (Profile, 2008), writes a highly successful blog for The Times and recently presented a wonderful BBC TV series on the Romans.

Alongside fellow Classicist Emily Pillinger, Mary will be contributing to a lively 2-day Roman History course as part of the Mumsnet Academy, on 13-14 October at Faber and Faber, London. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet Mary while brushing up on the history of a society that, in many ways, shapes the way we live today. No previous knowledge of Roman History required. Sign up here.

Put 9 October in your diary or if you can't join us live, post a question to Mary in advance.

PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Oct-12 12:28:08

Hello everyone,

We are thrilled to welcome the inimitable Mary Beard for an hour of live conversation. Mary, welcome!

WingDefence Tue 09-Oct-12 12:28:51

Hi Mary!grin

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:30:06


Hello Mary!

You interviewed me at Newnham way back in 1994 and I was in awe of you then. I didn't make it to Cambridge in the end but I'm so glad you are still going strong in the field of Classics.

My question is:
Do you think that Classics is still a relevant degree for students to study at a time when more vocational subjects seem to be prefered because students are having to pay a lot for their courses and wish to be at their most employable once graduated?

I certainly hope so - when I studied Classics I remember seeing a statistic that showed that, apart from medicine and law, Classics graduates had the highest proportion of employability within a certain time. Not sure whether that has changed though...?

Hi nice to hear from you again (hope the course you did was good.. great that there are syill loads of good departments!). On the question... I do worry that fees will put of students who THINK that Classics is not vocational. It isnt in a strict sense of course, but employability is still very hgh. I think I am right that it has the best arts and humanities recird of within 6 months employment at my uni.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:32:17


Hello! I am very excited about this.

I would like to know: was there informal, domestic teaching of reading at any point during the periods you study? I'm really interested in how, in medieval times, it's women who teach children to read, at home. But the records are bad, so we know more details about formal education.

I find lots of books on Roman and Greek formal education (usually of boys), but were mothers teaching their daughters (or sons), too?

That's a really good one. We think that there must have been a lot of domestic teaching. Some people have argued fow very low literacy rates in the Roman world, because there were so few formal schools.. but we mustnt forget that you can learn to read at Mum or Dad's knee. And more women than we often imagine could read in ancient Rome. There are some great pics in Pompeii for example of women reading.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:35:15


Salve Mary
I loved the series, although I didn't manage to see all of it - (and to think this used to be thought of as a dry-as-dust subject!)

But I'm always intrigued by the glimpses we get of the different peoples the Romans had to contend with, and I'd love to find out more, for example, how were the Britons related to the Gauls? Were the Picts a Celtic group or something different? and what ever became of them? and so on.

So I wondered if you could recommend a book that would shed some light on all this, wwithout being too turgid!

Gratias ago.

The whole issue of the other populations of the Roman empire is a really fascinating one -- including the relationships between the different 'tribal' groups. There have been all kinds of fierce arguments about what the ethnicity of the early Brit's was... were they from the continent...

Most things I have read are (whoops) a bit turgid.. but I have something in the back of my mind. Send me an email (it's on the Cambridge Classics website) and I will dig it out.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:35:43


Have to go to bloody work but wanted to wave and say hello before I go.

<<wave, wave, hello!>>

Wave wave back!

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 12:36:00

Thanks! I shall look out the pictures.

So (if you have time for follow up questions later) ... how do you think it would affect how people read, and what they thought about reading, if they learned at home, as compared to schools?

I'm thinking as well about the way we're often encouraged to see 'the Classics' as such male-dominated texts, because they've often been taught to boys rather than girls. I'd love to know if little Roman girls were reading Latin poems just like their brothers, or if there was perhaps more literature that doesn't survive, because it was 'read to death' or - being female-oriented - not respected so well and so not kept so carefully?

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:37:03


Hello Mary, thank you for coming to MN.
Like others on this webchat, I would like to foster a curiousity about and love of history in my children. Can you remember your childhood and what it was which particularly turned you on to history, and specifically the period which you have chosen? Was it something you were drawn to at an early age, or later?
I'm going to be starting by taking DD1 to the British Museum exhibition about Pompeii and Herculaneum next year- so excited!!

It was going t see the "Elgin Marbles" at the BM when I was 5 that did it for me.. I had never imagined that people such a long time ago could be so brilliant at making things (I'd almost imagined people in the past were less clever than us)

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:38:53


Hello Mary, I see you around a lot as I work in one of the Cambridge institutions you frequent <cloak of mystery> grin

I think we're so lucky in Cambridge to have female academics like you and Athene Donald as figureheads for young female students, and schoolchildren, to admire and want to emulate. And of course boys, but girls in particular. How do you think we can encourage more children to consider academia as a career, valuable in its own right, at a time when the government seems to be destroying much of our capacity for our ongoing international academic success by removing so much funding (especially for non-STEM subjects) and, as FairPhyllis says, putting so much emphasis on the 'products' of research rather than the process of learning itself?

I think that probably more of us should get out there and show that academics aren't just absent minded professor types.. but we also have to stand up to the governemnt and argue again and again that education isnt just about products. It's about LEARNING TO LEARN

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:41:19


Hi Mary.

I was at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday and enjoyed the debate you took part in. I wish it had been longer! I didn't get to ask my question though so would be interested in your views. I graduated from a good university (Warwick) and went straight into state school teaching. I am now Head of 6th Form in a rural Gloucestershire school. I have aspirations for my students, and, according to Lord Adonis on Sunday, am the right sort of person for the job. However, my school has not sent a single student to Oxbridge for a number of years. The issue isn't that I don't have aspirations for my students, it's the culture of "not for the likes of us" which comes from home. What do you think can be done to break down these barriers? Thanks. ET.

I think that we just have to go on trying to get the message out there and not give up. Part of the problem is that we want to see very quick results... but we're talking of overcoming generations of ingrained attitudes on all side.

Why not bring some of your students over here.. sometime a tailor made day makes a real difference.

As I said on Sunday, we've made huge strides in gender (among undergraduates at least)... things can change.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:42:51



Is it really possible to study, say, Cicero (or Catullus!) without being able to understand Latin? Some translations are incredibly editing and censorious. I would feel sad if one preferred translation were to be fossilised because no-one knew the language anymore outside of the Vatican.*

Talking of which - Jo-Ann Shelton As the Romans Did, Yes or No??

*Gove disclaimer: not a fan at all.

I thnk that you can get huge amounts out of translations.... I think you get more out of the original, but it is stupid to say that to read in Latin is the only way of enjoying the classical world (Shakespeare read in translation after all!)
Shelton.. quite good I think

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:46:22


Hello Mary

Thanks for coming on MN

Just echoing this question: "Do you think that Classics is still a relevant degree for students to study?"

I did Classics and I do appreciate the help that Latin gave me with learning romance languages.

BUT when I graduated 13 years ago - I very much felt that I wasn't really prepared for anything, especially up against folk with more vocational degrees

I very much flailed around in my early career - employers didn't really know what I was capable of or really what value my degree had.

Luckily I found my feet, and now work for a phenomenal company and do work which fits around my family.

While I want my 2 DSes to study the classics I don't think I would be inclined to push them any further than GCSE (or whatever they replace it with).
Am I wrong?

I think that Classics is (oK an old fashioned view) but a great training for thinking, and intellectual adaptibility. Sometime my students go for interviews and the people interviewing them say... so what is the use of Classics then. They explain.. and often (not always!) it works a treat, as the interviewing panel really didnt know what classics entailed..
On the DSes I think it is great to expose them to Latin.. then if they choose to continue, that's good.. if not, it will always be with them. (At Cheltenham at the weekend.. we had people reasing Latin who hadnt touched it for 30 years)

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:47:29


Hello Mary, welcome to MN! I loved your series. When are you next back on screen?

My mum read classics at Durham and she still teaches Latin and Greek part-time, we both think you're such a fabulous presenter smile - are you planning to do any more MN courses at a not-beginner level at all?

Thanks. I HOPE we'll be doing a little something next year. So glad you enjoyed.
I'll pass on the MN courses request!

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:50:05


Hi Mary, my interest in Roman History began with Colleen McCulloughs Masters of Rome series, I loved your book on Pompeii and your TV series was fascinating, for both me, DH and DS2. My boys bought me a place on the course this weekend and I'm busy scanning books from the reading list now. DS2 is learning Latin, I'm trying to get him to teach me too so we can decipher those tombs when we finally make it to Rome.

My question is: How accurate are the historical fictions from McCullough and Lindsey Davis? I'd love for them to be mostly there.

I know L Davis books very well.. and they are pretty good on the day to day accuracy (she takes quite a lot of trouble on that.. have seen her researching in Rome). Of course the whole plot line and the character of the tec is fanstasy. But the backgroubd pretty good.
Have only read one Coleen M ages ago.. but she is supposed to have a team to make sure she is right (and I think she has sponsored some classics research with her cash).

S Saylor quite good too,

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 12:50:19

I am so glad to hear that people don't lose their Latin for not practising it! I use Latin pretty much every day (but I'm not a Classicist, so I suppose there is are jobs out there ...). But it's nice to think the Greek I thought had atrophied might be possible to get back.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:51:41


Hi Mary

Does feminism matter in the study of Roman history and Roman archaeology?


Yes indeed. What has changed over my career is that most historians and archaeologists now remember that the other 50% of the Roman human race existed and that is a change.
I think also feminsit theory has influenced Classics like many other humanities disciplines

PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Oct-12 12:52:07

Hi blondieminx,

We'll definitely look into doing more Academy courses (for all levels!) Hopefully we can persuade Mary to come back and do some more teaching for us too! In case you missed it, check out the course on Roman History this weekend.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:53:02


Talking of fiction...

Mary: Do you like historical fiction? I find some of it wonderfully enjoyable, and some woefully lacking in research.

I love L Davis... and I like I Claudius too , but the truth is that I preferred the BBC series (sorry!)

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:54:01


Scary - I've just finished the Labyrinth of Osiris and it's a great modern detective story written by a chap who knows his modern Eygpt and describes it well but also knows his Egyptology (he'd excavated there.) I'm partway through his first book now and it's very good - he very sadly recently died rather young so there's only 3 or 4 books I think.

I love it as a great romping read.

Gosh never read that.. but now on the list

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:55:52


Hello Mary,

Any advice to help my extremely bright 4 year old eventually get into Oxbridge- but preferably NOT classics I'd like him to get a job after he graduates. Thanks

Dont worry about Classics .. it has a great employment record.

Two bits of advice: let any kid expand their learning horizons beyond the 'target culture'

Then.. remember that there are happily loads of great uni's in the country not just Oxford and Cambridge.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:57:09


Hi Mary

If you had to choose one lesson from classical history for today's politicians, what would it be?

That if you ignore the will of the people things go to the bad.. even if it may take a while!

NotGeoffVader Tue 09-Oct-12 12:57:27

Hello Mary, I really enjoyed your series on the Romans, although my 20 month old DD was not too keen on my diverting attention away from her!
Are you pleased to see more women presenting the sciences on TV? If I think back to my childhood it was all old, fusty men. Are we likely to get a greater uptake of women studying history and other topics because they're encouraged by you? I hope so!

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:57:55


Hi Mary

If you had to choose one lesson from classical history for today's politicians, what would it be?

and PS.. that private contracting for public services is disastrous

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 12:59:32


If we're asking second questions then....

Have you seen Horrible Histories and if so what do you think of their Greek/Roman sketches?

(Issy - what a libel trial that would be!)

Seen bits.. but not the Greek and Roman ones... made by the same production company as Meet the Romans so maybe I'm biased.

Someone said (I think kindly) that Meet the Romans was Horrble Histories for Grown ups.

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:00:40

Hi Mary, I have been trying to make sense of the transition from the Roman Empire to the Holy Roman one, when centurions disappeared off, and popes came on the scene, as I have it all very muddled in my head. So far I have read Gibbons, but I am wondering if there are other useful things I could read about this period that might help be get a better understanding.

By the way I am a university lecturer in education not a million miles from you, and thought you did a cracking job on Jamie's School given what you had to work with.

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