The Poster and the PhD …

So I started to explain in an earlier post about a crisis brought on by a poster …

This is what happened.  I entered an Open University competition to produce an academic poster explaining my research topic.  It was going to be a practice exercise for taking posters to academic conferences, but it turned out to be much more important than that.  I started by thinking of images to use.  First, I thought it would be fun to use the ancient vase painting by Douris (c.500 BC), which seems to show a young man with a laptop and touch-screen stylus (really a wax tablet and good old fashioned wax-scraping stylus).

After spending a while looking at the young man writing and  smiling, it came to me that I also wanted to use an image of a recipient of whatever message the young man seemed to be sending.  I wanted this to be in some way a mirroring or inversion of the young man, partly because the receiver should be facing the sender but also perhaps because I had made some connection in my subconscious with being able to see though a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) or with Plato’s Cave Allegory.  So … I searched wikimedia commons for a suitable photograph without success, but the idea of the image had become so important to me that I eventually commissioned a photograph from my professional photographer son.  This is the image he produced.  You can read his blog about it here.

Now it occurred to me that the amount of thought and effort going into this second image was surprising and I began to wonder why it was so important and why I wanted the paired images to dominate my poster.  After all, my PhD proposal had led with the idea that I wanted to improve exam success for students beginning ancient languages at university level and the twin images don’t really represent that.  They convey to me the transmission of ideas from one age to another,  a connection between ancient and modern minds.  I realised that that was what I really want for myself – the ability to make a close connection with the ancient world through its textual legacy.  I want to hear what is left of the voices of Ovid and Aeschylus, without the intervention of translators and without wading through ancient writing with a dictionary in one hand and a grammar reference in another (or even with the amazing Perseus on my screen).  I want to read so well that I am not even consciously translating …  And so,  I want to explore what activities and experiences contribute to reading fluency and I want to make those activities and experiences as widely accessible as possible through technology.

But how does that coincide with exam success?  Is reading fluency the ultimate aim of a university education in ancient languages?  I tend to think it is, though I will be trying to confirm that by listening to the views of university staff and students.  Meanwhile do respond in the comments here if you have a view …

So, the poster and the photograph have turned my attention to a very specific theoretical area – that of developing reading fluency – and made me question whether the aims of my PhD need a bit of tweaking or a complete rethink …

2 thoughts on “The Poster and the PhD …

  1. I love the juxtaposition of the two images and it was fascinating to read Ivor’s response to your brief too – the care taken over the colours used and the positioning really makes the two images work together very powerfully. Isn’t it strange how something as seemingly simple as those two images has led your PhD thoughts in a slightly different direction? Your question about the aim of a university education in ancient languages is a thought-provoking one. I personalised it and asked myself why I wanted to study ancient languages – and indeed what makes me keep going in my quest to be better. For me it is the direct connection with the thoughts, hopes and dreams of the past which I think you can only get from reading the original language. A translation seems to put another layer between you and the writer and reduces the impact. And for me there is sometimes an astonishing emotional impact when I read the thoughts of someone written 2000 years ago and discover that they resonate with me now. To be able to read fluently and naturally would be wonderful.

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