Why classical myth and autism?

Why classical myth and autism?

The idea for this project started to take shape at a meeting in 2008 with a special needs teacher, who mentioned that, in her experience and those of her colleagues, autistic children often enjoy classical myth. I began to wonder why this might be the case, and whether – as a classicist who researches, and loves, classical myth – there was anything I could contribute. I started this blog to report on my progress which was often sporadic until the launch of the Warsaw-based European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood (2016-21) to trace the role of classics in children’s culture.

My key contribution to the project is an exploration of classics in autistic children’s culture, above all by producing myth-themed activities for autistic children. This blog shares my progress, often along Herculean paths.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Preparing Historians at Work for future professions via remote placements between Roehampton, Warsaw and Bar-Ilan

What a few weeks... The panel I mentioned in my previous posting took place last week - and the potential for follow-up is huge. I should even be able, I think, to share the link to the recording. For now, though, I'm blogging to share what's coming up next autism and myth-wise...

Next week, Roehampton University's 2021 Festival of Learning and Teaching takes place - in an earlier posting, I mentioned what I'd be doing during the festival. This was after the news arrived that the session I'd proposed had been accepted. 

The two-day festival includes, on day one (Wednesday 16 June), so a week today, the session in question:

"Preparing Historians at Work for future professions via remote placements between Roehampton, Warsaw and Bar-Ilan"

The session bears on the main theme for this year's festival, namely: "preparing our students for their future professions." I shall be presenting along with two current students, Erika Ruminaite and Adam Soyler, the "Historians at Work" of the title of the presentation and of this posting.

What follows are the session aims and abstract as submitted to the Learning and Teaching Unit at the university, along with other details, photos too, starting with the following two. Both show activities which took place at Warsaw, in a cafe staffed by autistic workers. The reason for the location, along with what's being coloured in, will become clear during the session - and to an extent during this posting...

First, and in large part quoting the proposal submitted to the event organisers, here are its aims:

  1. To present work of by second-year Humanities students in placements at Roehampton/Warsaw/Bar-Ilan for a European Research Council-funded project: Our Mythical Childhood.
  2. To consider the roles and experiences of the students including organising an online event and interviewing practitioners working with autistic students.
  3. To explore the impact of the placement on students’ learning experience.
  4. To reflect on the impact of the placement on the project, including the development of materials relating to lessons for autistic children.
  5. To map the experiences on the placements on Roehampton Enabling Strategies, QAA PDP recommendations, and Case Studies in Pegg et al. 2021. 
Here's the 'official' Our Mythical Childhood image of Erika:

And here's the same for Adam:

Here, now, is the abstract: 

This presentation will share, and reflect on, the work done in spring 2021 by second-year Humanities students on the Historian at Work module in placements at Roehampton, Warsaw and Bar-Ilan Universities for the European Research Council-funded project, Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges.

The presenters will outline the roles and experiences of the students as “mythical trainees” in tandem with students from the University of Bologna. As will be discussed, these roles included, for one student, organising and promoting an online event for practitioners working with autistic children in the UK, Poland, Italy and Israel. Meanwhile, the roles of another student included interviewing members of the network ACCLAIM: Autism Connecting with CLAssically-Inspired Mythology about their work using classical topics with autistic students.

The impact on the students’ learning experience will be explored, as will the impact of the students’ activities during their placements on the project, including the development of new materials relating to lessons for autistic children. As well as reflecting on their experiences, the presenters will map their experiences on the placements onto the University of Roehampton Enabling Strategies 2019-2025, especially 6, to: “embed research and knowledge exchange across the University.” Meanwhile, the role of the reflective assessment for the module will be discussed in relation to the QAA (2009) recommendation to use PDP to enable students to “plan, integrate and take responsibility for their personal, career and academic development.”

The presenters will, also, consider the potential benefits of placements by mapping their experiences in relation to Pegg et al (2021,) including in relation to aim 3 of the Redesign of the Learning Experience initiative at Birmingham City University concerning “embedding the ‘real world’ in the curriculum with work experience [and] placements;” and in relation to the PALANTINE project at Lancaster University’s study of “work placements and work-based learning” to “ensure real-world experience.”

And now for more photos! The first shows ACCLAIM as it was being launched, in Warsaw in 2019 (at one of the three universities listed in our presentation's title) by myself (from Roehampton - another of the universities in our title) and by Lisa Maurice (from Bar-Ilan, the third university mentioned)

Here's the initial ACCLAIM poster, on display during the conference where we launched the Network

And, next, here we are at the launch again, at the White Villa of the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw. Note the inscription on the wall above the windows, in Polish, Latin and English. Anyone recognise the source of the quotation?!

The first set of photos in this posting were taken during the same conference where ACCLAIM was launched. Here, participants at the Warsaw event are taking part in activities designed for autistic children.

Here are two remaining sections of the application:

Which conference theme/s will be addressed?

  • preparing our students for their future professions
  • preparing for work placements and internships (virtual or face to face)  
  • participatory and reflective learning
  • redesign of current modules /programmes to enhance employability (see Pegg et al, 2021)

5 key references that relate to the chosen topic:

ACCLAIM: Autism Connecting with CLAssically-Inspired Mythology Network http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/acclaim

Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/

Pegg et al (2021) ‘Pedagogy for Employability’ http://oro.open.ac.uk/30792/1/Pedagogy_for_employability_170212_1724.pdf 

QAA (2009) Personal Development Planning – Guidance for Institutional Polcy and Practice in Higher Education http://www.recordingachievement.org/images/pdfs/pdpguide2009.pdf

Concluding now... We have just between 14.20 and 14.45 for our presentation, and I think that the 15 minutes we have - to follow a pecha kucha format - includes discussion time. So a challenge will be to cover the key ground in a "talk less, show more" manner. Now I think of it, I might structure the presentation around the pictures included above, along with some others such as, perhaps, these ones, also from the cafe in Warsaw staffed by autistic people:

I'll report back on how the session goes...

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

What I'm doing today, tomorrow and later this month including participating in an autism and mythical hope panel tomorrow at the Israel Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies conference...

For a while, in the early years of this blog, there would be periods of non-blogging from me. These silences often reflected the progress I was making with autism and classical myth - that is, that there wasn't much, or at least not much I could put into words. In recent times, and this is one such, when I go quiet, it is often because I have been busy preparing activities, events, articles etc - even now a book - linked with the topic.

Page 1 of the Israel Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies conference,
including the Mythology of Hope panel - the red, including for my paper, denotes
virtual presentation... Screenshot captured as best I can manage after several attempts
each of which worked less well than this one!

Today, my key task is to prepare a paper for a classics conference in Israel tomorrow where I shall talk about my project as part of a panel on autism and classics - and how classical topics can resonate with autistic children, and how this engagement can be demonstrated by activities in Israel (by my fellow panellists) and the UK (by me).

I shall be zooming in while my fellow, Israel-based, speakers will be there in person. I shall use this blended format as an opportunity to say some things about the possibility for 'remote' activities for autistic children. Such activities need not, I shall consider, be a second best, but might offer a means of enjoying and exploring being autistic - through ways that in in-person activities cannot allow.

Before I get stuck into the paper, I shall be attending - at Roehampton, but again via Zoom - a planning meeting for a possible bid that might include an autistic dimension. I shall also be doing other activities in preparation for upcoming events including a panel in the middle of this month at this year's Children's History Society conference - again via Zoom. And I shall be preparing for a talk I shall be giving soon, with two Roehampton students - though Zoom again - during this year's University of Roehampton Learning and Teaching Festival. This presentation will be on the placements the students have been doing with the Our Mythical Childhood project, including around autism and mythology. 

I shall also be doing some followups to an ACCLAIM Network event last week - which was too wonderful to share easily here (so more will follow), and I shall be starting to look though the proofs that arrived yesterday for a chapter on Hercules and autistic "hope" for a volume coming out of the "Mythical Hope" stage of the Our Mythical Childhood project.

This sounds like quite a lot - and I've missed out a couple of things - and if this posting reads as a little breathless, that reflects how I'm envisaging the day. I'm going to get started now...

Monday, 17 May 2021

Acclaiming autism and mythology in children's education on 24 May - along with Hercules from Roehampton and London newly imagined...

It is my pleasure to share information - now with graphic! - of the ACCLAIM (Autism Connecting CLAssically-Inspired Mythology) Network event a week today, on Monday 24 May. The full poster is here along with a link to a pdf version. All very welcome - please share with anyone who might be interested!

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Why I'm planning to animate the Higher Education and autistic classrooms guided by Panoply

I didn't plan to blog today, but I've been inspired to by a session on animating ancient vases this morning with Sonya Nevin! 

This was the session I mentioned previously, when I blogged last week. It's the second of two sessions where the Myths and Mythology class I'm currently teaching at Roehampton joined the weekly Our Mythical Childhood seminar in Warsaw.

Vase animation-linked activities in action, from the
 Panoply vase animation pages on the
Our Mythical Childhood website here
What Sonya showed was just how far an animations approach to ancient vases can open up new ways to look at ancient art, myth and at contemporary people's own relationships with that material.

It is possible, as Sonya set out, to explore different perspectives on vases, to think in fresh ways about what people think they know or see - and the there is potential too for using vases in activities beyond the Higher Education classroom, for example with children and with displaced people.

Further examples of Panoply-inspired creativity
 - also from the Our Mythical Childhood website here

Sonya showed two of the animations she has created with Steve Simons, starting with Hercules capturing and bringing the Erymanthian Boar to Eurystheus.

I commented in the zoom chat that I could see potential for using the animation in activities with autistic children. At the same moment, independently, one of the Warsaw students said that she would like to use the animations with autistic children. We have arranged to follow up!

The possibilities, I would say, for dealing with issues like anxiety, empathy and emotions is huge. As Sonya set out, activities linked with the animations can include looking at vases from different characters's point of view. In the case of the Boar vase, this could be the queen, or Eursytheus, or as I suggested - on the day when new UK legislation acknowledging that animals can feel pain and joy has been announced - the point of view of the Boar.

For more on the Boar animation - and for other animations, including the extraordinary Sappho animation, visit the Panoply site here or the Our Mythical Childhood Panoply page here. The Our Mythical Childhood webpage is here

Coming back to the vase I have written about in my previous two postings - the one where Herakles is being brought by Athena to Zeus - Sonya mentioned during the session an activity I tried out in class several years ago where students story-boarded that vase. The side they story-boarded, however, was the other side, the side where Athena is coming out of the head of Zeus while a third figure - Hephaistos? Hermes? Prometheus? - moves away with an axe: 

Sixth century BCE lip cup now in the British Museum.
Image source and further details here

I know that, somewhere, I have the story-boards the students created. For now, here is one of them along with what I  wrote in a learning and teaching portfolio I was creating at the time, in 2015:

"To encourage students to think in fresh ways about evidence I have recently tried out an innovative learning activity, story-boarding in  a module I am currently convening for the first time – an introductory module on mythology for first year students. My colleague Sonya Nevin, the co-founder of the project Panoply: Animating Ancient Vases uses this technique in her workshops with school children and students and the story boards are subsequently animated by her partner. Struck that the storyboarding itself could have pedagogic value I asked the class to make storyboards for a specific artefact we were discussing in class: an archaic Greek lip-cup depicting the birth of Athena. I include here an example of the innovative, thoughtful resulting work that was produced – with students taking different perspectives on the mythological moment being depicted and the messages about divinity and mythology being asserted. This fed back into class discussion of the multiple ways of reading individual pieces of evidence and on the meaning created by each new user of a given artefact. The activity is helping to skill the students for one of their assignments: a report on a classical mythological artefact in the British Museum"

Actions for me:

1. Use animations further in the HE classroom
2. Use animations further in activities for autistic children

Sonya (left) and me (right) at a myth and education conference in
Cambridge in February 2020, the last time we met in person before lockdown...

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Liminality, heroism and a *possible* further perspective on why Hercules can chime with autistic experiences interrupted by news of a presentation acceptance

Like my current two postings, this current one is practising what I preach. I'm currently recommending that the students I'm teaching should blog each week for the Myths and Mythology module assignment - and my goal is, likewise, to blog each week in response to what comes up in class. 

Choice of Hercules chimney piece, Adam Room, Grove House -
collage of photos by Maria Vorovieba

I am motivated to do this blogging because I have tied myself into doing it. But I'm motivated, too, due how how lively classes this week have been due to the engagement of students and the guest tutors: yesterday Grace Page and Cristiana Lucidi on heroines and heroes and, today, Aimee Hinds on myth and reception.

This posting responds both to yesterday's exploration of how to make sense of hero myths. It also looks at what it means to create receptions today of heroes from classical myth.

One thing that each session was concerned with was what it is about classical myth that can "speak" to people today. As we explored in both sessions, classical myths are culture-specific but the cultures in question can be contemporary ones.

My initial plan had been to turn again to one of the images I looked at last week: the lip cup showing Herakles being pulled by Athena to Zeus - and to see whether if could fit Van Gennep's schema of initiation myth, which Grace discussed, of separation - liminiality - intergration.

But I'll put that plan on hold for now - beyond saying that I think it can - my thinking is that it can validate each term in turn, and validate all three at once...

Here's why I'm putting it on hold - as I was teaching the news came though that a session I proposed for next month's Learning and Teaching Festival at Roehampton has been accepted. Along with two Roehampton students, who have been doing placements with the Our Mythical Childhood project including for its autism "wing," I'll be discussing the impact the students have had. The focus will include a discussion relevant to the one we had in class today around why classical myths can continue. The presentation's topic will, also, be relevant to our discussion in class today around what the responsibility are of those who are creating the receptions.

I'll share session's goals and abstract soon,along with the references pulled from the application form.

And I'll get back to the initiation schema at a later point - but I'll throw out for now that Hercules is ever being separated, ever liminal, ever and being reintegrated, before being separated, liminal, and integrated all over again. And it's being stuck in what can be envisaged as an ongoing cycle that can help explain, I think..., what makes Hercules so appealing in relation to experiencing the world as an autistic person...

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

What happened when Roehampton and Warsaw students connected - via Hercules, Zoom and Our Mythical Childhood: 5th May 2021

In my previous posting, of last week, I mentioned a plan for this blog over coming weeks, namely to put out weekly blogs on issues relating to the Myths and Mythology module I am currently teaching at Roehampton. 

Having set myself the goal of blogging this week, I had a few ideas in mind. These ideas included discussions connected with the study of gods in mythological perspective, the topic of yesterday's class. 

What I am going to focus on is, indeed, one of the gods we considered yesterday. The god in question is one who is not generally classed today as a god though this was very much key to how the ancients could experience this figure. The figure in question is Herakles-Hercules who we met in class as one of the three interacting figures on a lip cup now in the British Museum

Lip Cup from around 560 BCE attributed to the Phrynos Painter,
B424 in the Museum's catalogue

Here, Herakles (on our left) is being led, or pulled, by Athena to Zeus. In an example of myth as a moment, where outcomes could go in more then one direction, Herakles could be a god already, or he could be one whose future status is dependent on how Zeus will respond to the introduction of this new arrival.

From being the figure on the left of three figures, I turn now to what happened today in class, in a special session with the Our Mythical Seminar at Warsaw. Here, together with University of Roehampton and University of Warsaw students, I discussed an instance where Hercules - at the centre of three figures - is again at a turning point. Here, however, the outcome is his own, rather that some else's, to decide.

Hercules between Hard Work and Pleasure
on the eighteenth-century chimney piece panel in Grove House,
Roehampton. The panel was a key focus of today's session.

The panel in its setting, in the Adam Room,
Grove House, Roehampton

Grove House, the home of the Adam Room
and its Herculean panel

Students from Warsaw shared - in their own languages - reflections about the Choice including how this choice is depicted in books for children. The result was something deeply moving which I'm still working though. The experience was  moving for me also because I shared responses by several cohorts of past Roehampton students about their experiences of being affected by exploring classical receptions including Herculean ones on campus. 

What came out was a sense of how different langues and different cultural contexts can shape how individuals responses to, or even create, myth - though very much in ways which can 'speak' to and inform the experiences of others. 

When, at the end of the session, Professor Katerina Marciniak asked whether Roehampton students might like to return to the Warsaw class next week, the answer was a uniform 'yes'. I can't wait...!

To end this posting, here is a neoclassial Hercules from Warsaw - in one of the neoclassical buildings that are part of the University of Warsaw. Beneath Hercules stand a collection of participants at one of the Our Mythical Childhood seminar, at least three of whom were present again at today's session! 

Hercules - above Our Mythical Childhood delegates - in the stairwell of the Tyszkiewicz-Potocki Palace at the University of Warsaw in I think (I'll need to check!) 2018

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Mything out in Reading and London... "Making classics better" while starting summer-term teaching at Roehampton

This week I began teaching a module I have taught quite a few times over the years. The module is Myths and Mythology - it's about myth in ancient Greece and Rome. It's about more than this too - the module uses myth as a vehicle for students, who are in the second year of their BA studies, to reflect on what it means to be studying antiquity at this point in their degree.

There are a few reasons why I am blogging about the module here - in a blog about autism and classical myth.

One is this - during the module we shall be thinking about how myth can resonate beyond "the academy" we shall look at various initiatives including what I'm doing, myth-linked, with autistic children. I've done this kind of thing previously in class, and the feedback each time has encouraged me to keep the session on the syllabus... 

Here are some of the outcomes of sessions with Myths students, starting with a few from 2018, where the students were working from the very initial drawings I had made linked with the artefact I shall mention below:

This second set, from 2019, meanwhile are using the high-quality vector drawings created by Steve Simons:

This time round, I shall be making the most of the remote delivery mode we are adopting due to covid by bringing in a guest tutor, a psychiatrist, based in Italy, who uses Hercules myth with his patients. I anticipate blogging on this session...

For now,  I want to reflect, from an autism-linked perspective on a key things we have been looking at this week. I am doing this because I have felt inspired to thanks to the engagement of the students. I am also doing it because the students are going to be blogging as their assignments for the module - and I thought that, by practising what i preach and blogging myself on something growing out of the session, I'd put out a few reflections,

The "key thing" in question is that shift that has been proposed for some time now away from myth as a thing, a noun, that can be classified, and defined, to myth as a process, or an act, or a moment - a verb, then, rather than a noun. Helen Morales, whose Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction of 2007, is a book I'm very much recommending to the students, is a key figure advocating this move from a classical perspective, while the touchstone work verbifying myth is Roland Barthes' Mythologies from the 1950s.

As I've just said, the shift involves moving from myth as a definable thing to a process, or a moment, or I suppose - fitting the whole ethos of this module, from its inception around 20 years ago - as a "vehicle."

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the University of Reading's summer term seminar series - as part of a set of papers engaged with "Making Classics Better." My focus was on the use I am making of a particular episode as depicted on a particular work of art - a chimney-piece panel in the Adam Room in Grove House at the University of Roehampton showing Hercules trying to choose - or perhaps unable to choose - between two different paths in life. The photos above, from Myths and Mythology classes in 2018 and 2019, show line-drawn versions of the panel. 

I shall blog on the specific things I talked about, and also on the super useful things that came up in the chat and in the questions - further down the road.

For now, I want to start thinking about what can happen when the work of art is seen as a act of "myth-ing." I am gong to throw out a few things here then return to them subsequently. Here goes (and with a note to any of the Myths students reading this blog namely that while not liked in essays, bullet points are fine - and possibly a good thing - when blogging):

  • Each time someone - anyone - engages with the panel they are creating their own meaning - their own act of reception.
  • No one owns the panel - or anyone can - as when the drawings of the panel by Steve Simons are coloured in - or adapted, such as though being animalised, such as in the creation below, by Anna Mik.
  • Back in the 18th century, being myth-ed were likely contemporary ideas, fuelled by the rise of capitalism and industrialisation, of what the right balance might be between hard work, one of the options for Hercules to choose, and pleasure, the other option.

I shall pause for now - and aim to pick all this up later. I have suggested top the student that they aim for a blog posting each week during the five weeks of the module. I shall plan to do the same...