Interview with our Latin tutor Tom Olding on Wednesday 5th December 2012 at the University of Winchester


Having interviewed much of the history staff at our university, we thought it might be interesting to get an idea of what other History related staff there are in Winchester. In this interview Joanna and I aimed to discover the significance of Latin to the study of History, as well as some of the reasons for teaching it.

1. Where and what did you study at university?

Tom studied Classics; Latin and Greek at Southampton University from 1969 to 1972 and went onto to do a PGCE, in 1973. He taught in various schools until 2010, including Portsmouth Northern Grammar, Bournemouth Grammar, St Mary’s College in Southampton and part time at New College, which was part of Southampton University, in the 1990s. He is now an associate lecturer at the University of Winchester teaching Latin to beginners and more advanced students, both undergraduates and graduates alike, on Wednesday evenings. Tom told us how his current post at Winchester came about through teaching Latin to a member of the Winchester History Department about ten years ago.

2. What are you currently researching, if anything?

Having worked on the Brokerage books of Southampton for 1477, in the 1980s, which is now part of the Overland Project which Win Harwood is working on about the trade in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Southampton. He has also published a study in 2009 on the Downham Piepowders (‘dusty feet’ in French) court in Southampton. Tom has now moved onto his sequel, which is a translation from medieval (not original) Latin to English of the sixteenth century records.

3. What do you most enjoy about your job?

As a teacher, Tom said he enjoys the ‘classical tradition’, as he calls it, of ‘passing on information from previous generations’ and generally being part of the ‘tradition of passing on knowledge’.

4. What has been most challenging in your career?

Tom has found ‘teaching French to reluctant fifth years on a Friday afternoon’ and teaching IT, as he was head of IT when he finished teaching at his last school and had to learn this from scratch, quite a challenge. As well as this he taught archaeology, which he also had to learn from scratch. Tom also told of a particular archaeological challenge which involved the excavation of some stables, which he was involved in, at an eighteenth century school.

5. What do you feel is the most common misunderstanding in the study of languages?

Tom hit the nail on the head with his answer to this question, arguing that in order to learn foreign language; you first must learn the grammar of your own language, which is often something quite new for English speaking people. Therefore, he believes the most common misunderstanding is that most languages are not constructed in the same way. Something the next generation of language students should know!

6. Why do you think Latin is a useful discipline of study?

Tom seems to like the idea of comparing and contrasting languages which one has an understanding of, and he believes that basic grammar helps people to learn the grammar of other languages, so they can compare and contrast them. Indeed, he also pointed out that Latin has a resonance in many modern European languages, particularly Italian, Spanish, Romanian and French.

7. What is the most difficult part of teaching Latin to non-Romance speaking students?

As you could probably guess, Latin grammar is similar but different from English, as Tom said; ‘in fact it’s the English that is the difficult part, as there are so many more exceptions to the rule, than there are rules.’ Whereas; he believes the vocabulary is easier to learn.

8. How do you feel about the Possibility of Latin being bought back in schools and how do you think this might be significant?

Tom seems rather keen on this and even told of one scheme, whom he knows the co-author of, which is being brought back into primary schools as a course called minimum, which is Latin for ‘little mouse’. When we asked whether he thought Latin should be included in the national curriculum he thought it should, but that it depends on how the curriculum is structured and is better for students who are good at English and other languages.

9. How is studying Latin significant to the study of History?

Now this is one of the most important questions to us as History students and as Tom said; ‘If you’re doing Medieval History or Roman History, you can’t get away with not studying it, you’ve got to look at the sources… the medieval stuff hasn’t been translated.’ He also gave a fascinating insight into the difficulties of translating Latin documents, such as the abbreviations and almost illegible handwriting caused by the use of tiny crow quills. In order to overcome these issues, apparently historians must be armed with a magnifying glass and an ultraviolet light because of the extremely faded ink.

10. If you had a time machine where would you go and why?

Finally, our most exciting question: When asked, Tom said he wanted to go back to Ealing in Southampton, in 1734, to find out where his ancestor Peter Olding came from, as he has been researching his family tree. Tom says the earliest record of an ancestor he found, using his skill of translating Latin, was a John Olding, who appeared in the court records in 1490.


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