Jon Coulston of the University of St Andrews has been a visiting lecturer at SJR for the past five years; here he reflects on his experience of working with students and staff at his “favourite college.”
In 2014 the inspirational teacher of Latin at St John Rigby, Anastacia Holding, invited me to visit and give a talk to her students. Our connection was that I had taught Anastacia when she was an undergraduate in the School of Classics at the University of St Andrews. From small beginnings my relationship with the college has blossomed into a five-year programme of talks, at first to her Latin classes, but increasingly to other groups.
So far I have presented my core research areas with titles such as ‘Wondrous under the Heavens: Trajan’s Column and Forum in Rome’, and ‘Hadrian’s Wall: the Wall to End All Walls?’ My interest in the Roman metropolis and the 20th century city I was very happy to indulge for classes of modern historians, with ‘A Tale of Two Cities: the Romes of Augustus and Mussolini’. During my visit in 2018 I contributed to a religious studies course with ‘Many Gods or One God? How Did Roman Religion Really Work?’. The aim of these sessions is to present the students with up-to-date research in a form that they would not otherwise be able to access from the published literature. Setting Latin and ancient societies within an exciting real world of buildings, marble, technological struggles, and the lives of actual people, is very rewarding indeed.
In addition to talks, I have held open ‘surgeries’ in the college library to discuss university options with individual students, help with applications and advise on degrees and courses. This has been very satisfying not least because several students have gone on to university places studying Classics-related subjects, and have stayed in touch.
Two aspects of SJR have impressed me and kept me coming back. One is the sense of community and student support which is clearly so important to staff and students. I have been able to talk at length with the principal, Peter McGhee, senior tutor Andrew Taylor and the chaplain, Martin Malone, about a range of issues, including pastoral care. The second is the enthusiasm and engagement of the students, fostered keenly by the staff. Having given similar talks in a range of schools across Britain, some of them supposedly ‘elite’, I have found SJR groups amongst the most keen and inquiring. Throw in lunchtime pizza, Roman recipe cakes (memorably baked by Sheila Lowe), on one occasion me talking wearing an Italian fez (a history prop!), and the tremendously warm welcome I invariably receive from all involved, and I think SJR is my favourite college to visit in the country!