I have just got back from the Classical Association annual conference, this year hosted by the department at the University of Exeter. For those who were not able to attend, you can read all the abstracts of the papers presented at the meeting online, and there was also a fair amount of live-tweeting going on (including my own modest efforts); I’ve been informed that the CA Secretary intends to archive the tweets alongside the abstracts as part of the records of the conference, and I’ll share the link to that archive when it becomes available. It’s the first time I’ve live-tweeted an event, incidentally, and overall it was a very positive experience; I was asked to stop once, in a session which was very popular and thus didn’t let me find an isolated spot where I could tap away at the netbook without disturbing anybody, and that’s pretty good going. I should add that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the superb wifi provision throughout the venue, which meant I could tweet without relying on a smartphone vel sim (a form of modern technology I continue to vehemently resist).
I should also note that the Classical Association has worked out that if you want to sell merchanise to academics, you come up with groovy cloth bags and bears. I purchased my own Percy bear, pictured on the right settling into his new Birmingham home; apparently the plan is to fill a gallery with images of bears enjoying themselves around the world. Which, I think, says an awful lot (mainly positive) about British academia, including the gentle echoes of Brideshead Revisited‘s Aloysius that it invokes.
The format of the CA conference also makes a very positive statement about British academia, in that the format is so very different to the megaconferences of the American academic world which are the only national opportunity for academics to gather together. The CA maintains the practice of communal meals and, even better, the celebratory disco at the end of the Gala Dinner on the Friday night. Never before have I seen so many classicists in one place doing the Macarena. (It helps that the air is not saturated with the nervous terror of people interviewing for jobs, which puts a heavy damper on the atmosphere of the APA conference.)
But enough, I hear you say, of all this frivolous social nonsense – what of the academics, Gloyn? First, I am delighted to report that the efforts of the Birmingham contingent were all very successful. The panel convened by Polly Toney, one of our graduates, on Classical Reception and Contemporary Women’s Writing, was extremely well received, and raised the important point that we must deliberately include writing by women in reception studies, as otherwise the field is overtaken by the Seamus Heaneys and Ted Hugheses of this world. Polly gave a powerful paper on the misuse of Lysistrata in modern performance; her graduate colleague Holly Ranger spoke about Ali Smith’s lesbian reworking of the Iphis and Ianthe myth for the Canongate Myths series; and Elena Theodorakopoulos gave an overview of issues in the field. They were joined by Fiona Cox of Exeter, who spoke on Jo Shapcott’s poetry, which takes Ovid as a starting point – not something I’ve read, but something I now want to read.
Our two other Birmingham graduate representatives did very well too. Francesca Sapsford proposed a new way of reading Martial that thinks of the text as coherent and allusive, bringing together themes that emphasise orality within the context of reading. Sarah Wilkowski spoke about the beginnings of her Ph.D. research into the genre of Philippic invective, building on her M.A. work into Cicero’s Philippics, that will both look back to Greek models and look forward to the modern use of crisis rhetoric. I also gave my paper on reading as consolation in Seneca, which I’ll blog about soon – watch this space.
In terms of my own research, there were some fascinating panels that got me thinking, particularly the panel on brothers in the ancient world convened by Gwynaeth McIntyre and the panel on Roman ethics and exemplarity. I also enjoyed a couple of panels on the Greek novel, which is a bit of a side interest, particularly a challenging re-reading of Chariton’s Callirhoe offered by William Owens that argued for a freedman author writing for a freed audience. Finally, my monstrous interests were satiated by the panel on Monstrous Appearances which means that (among other things) I now know far more about the Lamia than I did when I started.
So, all in all, this was an intellectually stimulating and rewarding CA meeting – an experience that was shared by pretty much everybody I spoke to. There were lots of ways in which papers I heard over the conference made interesting and unexpected connections with each other, providing a really well integrated set of ideas and intellectual prompts that I hope I can make something of in my future work and teaching. I find myself eagerly anticipating next year.