Professor Gerrard undertook an Ashmolean Faculty Fellowship which enabled her to work with staff at the Ashmolean Museum and the Oxford Internet Institute. She is an early adopter in the English Faculty at Oxford of the digital ‘Cabinet’ platform (designed to allow both staff and students to interact with museum collections in the digital environment, and soon to be launched as a University service). Cabinet brings museum objects to students in virtual form, reproducing the sense of being able to encounter and manipulate them. Professor Gerrard selected objects held at the Ashmolean, which were then photographed in high-quality 3D form and beautifully annotated to prompt students’ thinking and to encourage them to connect with ideas, arguments, themes, forms and styles they will be encountering through their studies.
As a result, Professor Gerrard prepared a new lecture course entitled ‘Democratising the Classics: popular literature, consumer taste, and material objects in the eighteenth century’. One student said: 'I absolutely loved these lectures! Professor Gerrard is fantastic at tying literature into historical context, particularly in terms of material culture - bringing in relevant objects that helped contextualise the texts we discussed.'
Prof Gerrard said: 'My aim is to revitalise the classical legacy for a generation of students who have never studied Latin or Greek and who tend to dismiss or avoid classical topics as remote or dull. This gap is particularly regrettable in the so-called ‘Augustan’ period in Britain (1660-1760), whose literature and culture is steeped in the classical past. My course is designed to help students see how the eighteenth century used the classical past to express and reflect its own preoccupations, and to show how this engagement also has relevance to the age we now live in. Topics addressed include Gender and Sexuality, and Slavery and Abolition. I wanted to show how classical influences permeated not only literature, but also art, architecture, popular culture and consumer objects.'
'The course is designed to demonstrate that the classical legacy is not lofty or remote, but tangible and material, and that it percolated down from highbrow to lowbrow culture,' said Prof Gerrard. 'Some examples I use are the famous Portland Vase, which inspired creations ranging from Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, to a Wedgwood-derived ceramic chamber-pot and Thomas Howard’s Arundel Marbles, dispersed in the high cultural enclave of the Ashmolean Museum and the courting booths of Lambeth’s ‘Cupid’s Gardens’.'
*Update - 31 May 2018 - Prof Gerrard has also won an award at the annual OxTALENT awards ceremony for her entry ‘Democratising the Classics: using the Cabinet to support undergraduate lectures in the Oxford English Faculty’, in the Innovative teaching & learning with technology category.