Sunday 31 January 2010

Interview with Guy de la Bedoyérè

Readers in Britain will know Guy de la Bedoyérè as a member of Channel 4's popular archaeology show Time Team, and from his many books on a wide variety of topics and periods. But Guy is also a life-long lover of Pompeii, and has just published a new and extremely useful student handbook on Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia. He agreed to answer some questions about it here.

Guy, how did you first get involved with Pompeii? What is it that you like about the site so much?
I first went to Pompeii in 1974 at the age of 16. I saved for weeks on a paper round and headed out for three days. I was already obsessed with the Roman world but back then travelling abroad wasn't as straightforward. What I remember most was the emptiness of the site and how one could walk freely round almost every building. I went back in 1982 and 1987 but then small children prevented much travelling and it wasn't till 2006 and Channel 5's Pompeii Live with PBS's Herculaneum Uncovered which I was invited to take part in that got me back. Since 2007 I've been teaching Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia to A-Level pupils and that has meant going back. I've been to Pompeii five times in the last year and I'm delighted to say I am going back at the end of May 2010.

As for what I liked about it, I think it's the completeness of an ancient environment: neighbourhoods, street corners, the evidence for the haphazard lives of real individuals. One of may favourite spots is the street of tombs outside the Herculaneum Gate, but the best moment is always walking up to the Porta Marina and knowing a day in Pompeii is ahead of you. I simply love the place and sometimes just sit for hours in one house. It's such a shame that so much has had to be closed, for reasons I entirely understand.

Can you tell us a little about the book? What is your intended audience, and what do you hope to achieve?
The purpose of the book is to provide a short introduction to themes about status and buildings in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia for school and university students and I was immensely grateful to Jo Berry and Roger Ling for their support and help. It's based around OCR's Classical Civilization CC6 paper 'Cities of Roman Italy' but should be of use to many other courses. There's so much available on Pompeii of course, but the other two cities are much harder to get started with at student level so I have tried to draw these themes together across all three. I've tried to look at how status worked in the provincial Roman town from the politics to trade, and all those extraordinary freedmen and their wives, and linked these to how status was expressed in public buildings, temples, homes, and tombs. The book is supported with a website and also with my channel on Youtube at KSHSClassCiv which carries walk-around films of a number of the buildings at all three sites: I have had contact from students all round the world who use that.

How do you think that Classics teaching, and teaching of Pompeii and other Roman cities more specifically, can be improved in schools?
Happily Classics in all its forms is increasing in popularity. One way to improve it is to broaden it out. I now teach Imperial Roman History from 44BC-AD69 for our A-Level History coursework - this brings the ancient world into the broader History curriculum and helps develop themes of power and authority which students study in their other papers in medieval and early modern contexts. It has proved very popular - who after all can really resist the glamour of Rome? I'd like so see more basic Latin taught too - it pays so many dividends in other subjects with vocabulary.

You've been involved with 'TV Archaeology' as part of Time Team for many years. Do you have any thoughts about the relationship between archaeology and the media?
TV archaeology has really helped awareness of the subject though like anything in a media context it makes huge compromises. Time Team involves a lot of research and post-excavation work that doesn't get shown, so it is rather simplified. But it taps into a really instinctive fascination most people have with who we are and where we came from. Time Team films are excellent ways to show the processes of archaeology and I make regular use of them in lessons. Now that Time Team America has come into being, using a totally different line-up of people, there is the potential for this to become more widely appreciated.

Cities of Roman Italy: Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia is now in shops in Britain and on, and can be advance-ordered in the US.

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