Thursday, 10 August 2023: Students in the final years of their Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation) studies at the University of Wollongong (UOW) have participated in an immersive learning experience in Rome, Italy; a city which for many centuries stood at the heart of Western civilisation.
Twenty-seven UOW Ramsay Scholars and three of their academic lecturers took part in the ‘Reading Rome’ experience in June, based at the Rome campus of the Australian Catholic University (ACU). The Ramsay Centre supports UOW, ACU and the University of Queensland to offer Western civilisation degrees, as well as to offer generous scholarships, which include an overseas learning experience.
Famous Rome sites that the scholars visited included the Pantheon, the Forum, Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, and the catacombs of St Sebastian, among numerous others. On each day of their visit to Rome the scholars considered a different theme – including the themes of public spaces, violence, and death. These themes became the focal points of their site visits each morning, as well as of keynote academic presentations each afternoon.
In exploring public spaces, scholars were asked to consider how Roman architecture was expressive of cultural values, the ideas behind Rome as a city, and how sites related to historical and literary representations. Under the theme of violence, the students contemplated violence in ancient Roman culture, violence as a spectacle, and representations of violence and cultural identity. Under the theme of death, focal points included the aestheticisation of death, pagan and Christian commemoration of the dead, and preparation for the afterlife.
Bachelor of Western Civilisation/Laws (BAWCiv/Laws) student Zaynab Raad said she felt that when she studied the literary and philosophical legacy of Western civilisation in class, great works spoke to her, however, “…going on this overseas experience allowed the texts to speak back to us.”
“The power of witnessing the great and not-so-great aspects of Rome’s historical legacy inspired thoughts about my own generation’s legacy: What beauty do we have to leave behind? What will live on? Will we be proud of it? Will we inspire a generation? Visiting Rome allowed the texts to come alive in this way which couldn’t be achieved in the classroom alone,” Zaynab said.
Another BAWCiv/Laws student Phillip Gigliotti described the study tour as “one of the most authentic learning experiences” he had ever participated in.
“Throughout our studies we have read and discussed Roman classics, however, continuing these conversations as we walked across the stone-paved roads passing structures including the Colosseum created an intimacy and appreciation for these works that pen, and paper simply cannot,” Phillip said.
“Not only was it incredibly immersive to walk through the same streets as the authors and heroes we’ve studied, but to have such knowledgeable archaeologists and lecturers guide us through Rome brought the Ancient Roman world to life.”
“The lectures perfectly complemented our sightseeing experiences where we would immerse ourselves in the Roman ruins and sites and then discuss and explore the daily lives of the Ancient Romans. Being able to visit sites, like the Roman Catacombs, and then discuss the nature of death in Ancient Rome allowed me to really understand and appreciate the unique nature of death in Ancient Rome. This was an amazing experience to be able to share with our Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation cohort, being able to reflect on the relationship between archaeology and literature, the legacy of Rome to us as members of the contemporary world and the conversations that these classic texts and the civilisations they depict continue to inspire.”
Dr Julian Lamb, the International Program Coordinator at UOW’s School of Liberal Arts who designed the academic components of the event, said the relationship between the imagined and the actual, the speculative and the physical lay at the heart of the tour.
“Students were directly asked to consider this relationship when, on the evening before the first day of the conference, they assembled on the balcony of the campus and were asked “What can we learn from being here that we could not learn remotely?” ‘Reading Rome’ captures the dual sense that Rome is a place that one might read about, but also one which needs to be read in situ,” Dr Lamb said.
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