Classically Inclined

January 16, 2017

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus – Tony Harrison

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 2:26 pm
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Last weekend I was very lucky to get to a very rare performance of Tony Harrison’s Trackers of Oxyrhynchus at the Finborough Theatre. I’d never heard of the Finborough before, and before I get any further in this post, the performance is running until the 28th and there are still tickets left at the time of writing.  If you can get there, do. The cast are superb.

Trackers has been performed precisely three times – once at Delphi in 1988, once at the National Theatre in 1990, and now at the Finborough. It is, as we are reminded, almost thirty years since it was last staged. You’d expect it to have aged. It hasn’t. Given the specificity of its targets, this is rather worrying.

Trackers begins with the dig of Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, the city of the sharp-nosed fish, from whose rubbish dumps we have recovered amazing amounts of papyri and otherwise unknown texts. Grenfell is nervous and unwell, searching desperately for fragments of a lost Sophocles play which he says the god Apollo is urging him to find. He retires to his tent, overwrought – only for Apollo to possess him, and for us to segue, unexpectedly, into a satyr play of our own, with satyrs led by Silenus tracking down the play , discovering the god’s lost cattle, the baby Hermes and the discovery of the lyre. Apollo is delighted at this find, and pays off the satyrs in gold while promising that they will never have access to the sort of high art that he can now create. Having come to the end of the satyr play structure, the shift into a fearful messenger speech from Silenus about the flaying of Marsyas for daring to approach ‘high art’ is, frankly, harrowing. So is the remainder of the play, as the satyrs wander, outcast, wondering what to do, how to live, how to survive, until they end up as the homeless on the South Bank. Silenus makes a final appeal to the audience, asking if there is anyone who can help interpret the scraps of papyrus… before finding a voice and standing up on the ‘tragic’ stage, where no satyr has stood before, to shout. And curtain.

Is there a doctor…some don from Queen’s
who can tell the rest of us what all this means?

As is probably clear, Trackers is about high art and low art, about who gets to make art and who has access to it. It is also about the British class system. Apollo speaks with obvious received pronunciation, the satyrs have broad Yorkshire accents and clogs. It is also about the politics of classics, although that strand is obviously woven into the concern with class – white scholars from Oxford have access to the papyri and say what it means, the Egyptian fellaheen are the ones who actually get their hands dirty; Apollo’s high tragedy gets preserved safely while the mass culture satyr play gets dispersed into scraps; the satyrs aren’t allowed to go ‘outside’ their genre, which gets pushed down, down, down, while high art not only gets pushed up, but also becomes sanitising.

Wherever the losers and the tortured scream
the lyres will be playing the Marsyas theme.
You’ll hear the lyres playing behind locked doors
where men flay their fellows for some abstract cause.

Who gets to do classics? Who gets access to culture? Who gets the privilege? The context that generated this play, the Britain of the late 1980s with the closure of the coal mines, the rise in unemployment, the rise of the City and the fall of the working class, seems to be one reason that this play first of all didn’t get performed more, and secondly why it didn’t get performed again. But watching it last week, it still felt frighteningly contemporary and relevant – not least because of the current battleground in classical studies over whether the subject is an enabler or a limiter in terms of race and class. We know we have problems with both these fields in terms of what academic professors look like; the wider implications of the abuse of the subject are more frightening. Questions about who gets to own classics and who gets to play the lyre are, it seems, still very much up for heated debate. As they should be, given that the stakes are as high as they are.

There is, of course, the slight disconnect at a play which was only ever performed at Delphi and the National (and now the Finborough) castigating people for limiting access to things. Harrison knows his Greek drama, which is why I have come away from the performance with a much richer sense of how an ancient chorus might have worked – this production features some inspired clog-dancing sequences in hobnailed boots on board during the satyr play section which are glorious to watch. Yet for this message, this message, to be stuck inside the pages of the scripts and not to be seen, even now, unless you are one of the lucky fifty who can get a Finborough ticket on a given night or even know the Finborough exists? It feels as if there is something vaguely fitting for Trackers to be experiencing a similar fate to the fragments of the Oxyrhynchus piles, although I hope that this revival leads to it being staged much more frequently than it has been. The language alone deserves that.

October 20, 2016

The Cambridge Greek Play 2016

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 5:16 pm
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It’s been that time of year again – when hoards of classicists descend upon the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see whatever is being presented as the triennial offering of the Greek Play. Since I wrote about the 2013 playthe Greek Play website has been given a revamp to include a lot of material from the Greek Play archives, all the way back to the performance of the Ajax in 1882. I should also note that the first production to include more than one woman seems to have been the 1950 Oedipus at Colonus, which is really quite late if you think about it, particularly since Bedford College had been putting an all-female Greek play (starting with Iphigenia in Tauris) since 1887. The single outlier was Janet Case, who played Athena in the 1885 Eumenides, but no other women appeared on stage until the 1950 production. But I digress.

This year’s offering followed the format of the 2013 production by bookending a tragedy and a comedy; my thoughts on gender come a little from the choice to stage Antigone and Lysistrata, plays which both revolve around female protagonists. The pairing of tragedy-comedy is meant to try and capture something of the spirit of the Great Dionysia, where the audience would be given the blessed relief of a satyr play after a thematically linked sequence of three tragedies. I have to say that there is something to this, the idea that after being plunged into gloom, the responsible dramatist pushes down hard on the other side of the seesaw. There’s also something very rich in the demands made of actors shifting between modes so quickly, and it allows the comedy to make jokes using the audience’s knowledge of what happened in the tragedy. Helen Eastman, the director of the Greek Play since 2010, has spoken about the improv/workshop approach she takes in the seven weeks before the performances, which allows the plays to develop organically and in dialogue with each other. This relatively short window is particularly important for the comedy, which needs to keep pace with current events; I think the team deserve a small round of applause for managing to keep on top of political developments over those seven weeks without completely loosing the will to live at the number of rewrites they must have needed.

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August 24, 2016

What would Cato have made of the Great British Bake Off?

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 2:11 pm
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It’s a Wednesday towards the end of August, and that can only mean one thing – the British viewing public are gearing up for the return of the Great British Bake Off to their screens this evening. If you have missed this landmark in British cultural history, it is essentially a baking competition where twelve bakers compete in a marquee over who can bake the best version of whatever fiendish concoction Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have come up with to vex them, while Mel and Sue (now so well known they no longer require surnames) try to get as much smut into their commentary on proceedings as possible. One evening this week, after I reminded my husband that the annual baking fest was about to revisit our screens, he came up with a great test of true cultural value – what would Cato the Elder have made of it all?

For those unfamiliar with Cato the Elder, who lived during the middle of the Roman Republic, there were two things he was particularly famous for: his unabated hatred of Carthage and his commitment to traditional Roman virtues, exemplified by his personal behaviour and his actions when he held the office of censor. During this period, a pair of censors were appointed every five years to review the membership rolls of senators and knights, and remove those who were deemed unsuitable; the review of Cato and his co-censor Valerius Flaccus was particularly severe. One good source we have for Cato’s life is the Parallel Life that Plutarch wrote about him; while it was written many years after Cato’s death, and in all likelihood a lot of popular stories about Cato less than completely grounded in fact have found their way into the narrative, it’s a good way to think about how the Romans defined quintessentially Roman behaviour. Even though a lot of his behaviour seemed unpopular, taken together they created a figure who was respected for his “wise leadership, sober discipline and sound principles” (Life 19). So what would Cato have made of Bake Off?

Why are these people cooking? Our first instinct might be that he would disapprove of freeborn citizens baking at all – ancient Rome was, after all, a slave-owning culture, and surely that’s what slaves were for. Cato was, however, a bit different in that respect. Despite his own position of authority, he worked alongside the labourers at his farm (Life 3), and bought the fish and meat for his own dinner at the market (Life 4). So perhaps the idea of people wanting to demonstrate their grasp of skills his fellow Romans might have deemed below them would not have shocked Cato.

The ‘new men’: in an odd sort of way, Cato may have found himself having a love-hate relationship with the particular genre of reality television that Bake Off belongs to, where one wins based on actual hard-won talent and skill rather than popularity. As a new man, or novus homo, Cato himself had no prior familial advantage to give him a leg-up into public life, so he may have found the ability of someone to enter the public eye through demonstrating mastery of a particular skill (and so gain glory within the state) weirdly appealing. At the outside edge of possibility, I can almost imagine a scenario where he might argue that given the debased state of our political system, finding alternative ways to demonstrate one’s excellence was the only possible route for a sensible person to take, but I’ll admit that’s pushing it. (more…)

August 15, 2016

Classics and the #manel – some preliminary thoughts

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:00 pm
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I’ve been thinking about the manel lately, and talking to people on Twitter about it. If this term is new to you, it’s the phenomenon of the all-male panel at conferences, or indeed an all-male line-up at a smaller conference. For a flavour of what I mean, there’s a Tumblr dedicated to chronicling the all-male panel; there are also various pledges doing the rounds on the interweb for people – well, men – to promise they won’t appear on an all-male panel. The issue is pretty well aired on the fan convention circuit, and also in the STEM subjects and technology fields. It is less a thing in classics.

There are people in the field doing things about this. Sarah Bond, after attending this year’s meeting of the SCS-AIA, felt troubled by the presence of all-male panels on the program at the same time as she was being told that sexism wasn’t a thing in academia any more; her response was to put together a fantastic list of Women in Ancient History so that panel convenors could find a woman working on the relevant field and invite her to participate rather than throwing their hands in the air and saying there aren’t any women working on this topic (which is rarely if ever true). She’ll be talking more about this issue on a panel at this year’s CAAS meeting (link to .doc file). Melissa Terras recently tweeted about raising the issue of the manel at a digital humanities conference, and the kick-back she got on this. Her experience shows that it’s hard to do these things as an individual. You’re dealing with big organisations as well as individual researchers organising symposia; sometimes you need an institutional level policy, like the advice that the Society of Historians of the Early American Period is giving to panel proposers to display diversity in their speakers if they want their panels accepted. So, in an ideal world, what would the Women’s Classical Committee do about it? I should add that these are my musings about the shape that a campaigning organisation’s response might take and don’t in any way reflect WCC UK policy.

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June 3, 2016

The Women’s Classical Committee UK

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:18 pm
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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to make a proper blog post about the Women’s Classical Committee UK, but it has, and here it is.

Partially, the reason I haven’t posted anything is because when the WCC UK was getting off the ground, I was coming closer to the start of my maternity leave, and then (quite naturally) my focus was elsewhere. The impetus for the WCC UK came from the feminism and classics sandpit that I wrote about a while ago, where there seemed to be a lot of energy bouncing around for something like a UK-based equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus, and it seemed criminal not to capitalise on it. The organisation and set-up and prep have all been happening behind the scenes, but in April we held our launch event, and are now recruiting members. We are planning our AGM event for next year, as well as a pedagogy event for later this summer targeted at ECRs and graduate students, and we’re thinking about what else we could do based on the suggestions and ideas we had at the launch. I Storified the livetweeting of the launch, so if you missed it there’s plenty for you to catch up on.

The point of the WCC UK is to support women in classics in the UK, and to bring together people taking a feminist approach in their scholarship (there’s a fuller statement of aims here). I thought the UK needed something like this because of my very positive experience of the WCC US as a graduate student, and I felt the void when I returned to the UK. Obviously the organisation is still embryonic, but already I feel as if I’ve got to know some more women in the field and as if people are ready for an organisation doing this kind of work. I’m currently helping get the pedagogy event organised, but I’m very keen to start thinking about the research front and what needs to happen there in the next couple of weeks.

I get to think about these things because I am the Administrator of the Committee, which feels like an appropriate place to be given in a sense it’s my fault the thing exists. Quite what the Administrator does is still a work in progress (as one would expect), but I’m enjoying finding out as we go along! We’re also going to be running our first set of elections to the Steering Committee pretty soon, so do keep an eye out for that.

You can follow the WCC UK on Twitter and on Facebook, and we have a temporary blog where we’re posting news about events and other things of interest. The launch event was a very exciting place to start, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the journey goes now. Any suggestions or ideas that you have, please shout – the plan is to support the community, so we need to know what the community wants!

February 13, 2015

Feminism and the academy: resisting tradition in academic research

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:12 am
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When I said I had a week of feminism, starting with the sandpit, I meant it –  on Wednesday evening last week, I took part in a very exciting event at Royal Holloway titled “Feminism and the academy: resisting tradition in academic research”. You can see the program of the event here; at the request of some of the sandpit participants, I livetweeted the event, and the Storify of that is now available if you’d like a more detailed look at what the speakers said.

This was a little bit of an anxious event for me, because I’d never done the job of a ‘respondent’ before. For those of you unfamiliar with academic habits, this is where somebody is asked to give five minutes’ worth of immediate reaction to a speaker’s paper, or to a panel of papers. Sometimes people circulate the text of their paper (or what they think is the text of their paper) before the panel, which makes it a bit easier to construct a response. Wednesday’s event was a bit more flexibly organised, so while speakers pre-circulated the general topic they planned to talk on, the actual bulk of the argument was not revealed until the talk itself. On the plus side – less preparation for me. On the minus side – having to stand up and give an improvised response immediately after the speaker. No pressure, then. Thankfully, Laura Doan gave me plenty of material to bounce off about the closing and expanding gap between the past and the present, so I think I got away with my extempore observations, not least because I was able to borrow a modern example that Helen King used at the sandpit and has now written a proper blog post about, which you should all go and read. But I digress.

The event once more generated a significant amount of energy in the room, very similar to that generated at the sandpit, but with a slightly different focus – many of the attendees were members of the college’s Feminist society. You may have heard of the RHUL Feminist Society because of their Ugly Girls Club campaign, which hit the mainstream media in December last year. They’re a very active, very lively group, and it was fantastic to have so many people in attendance who were clearly interested and engaged with the issues that the speakers were raising. One thing that came through very strongly in each speaker’s talk was the connection between the personal and the political – a well-trodden feminist aphorism, but one worth returning to – in the way each speaker’s individual career embodied the conflict they encountered between the traditions of their field and the need to push beyond those conventions to achieve different kinds of goals and reveal different truths. This came home for me in particular in Lizzie Coles-Kemp’s talk, where she explored her choice to totally abandon normal information security models of the weak user, powerful attacker and infallible technology in order to explore more fluid, ambiguous and community-based models of how people interact with electronic systems. She gave both a very personal talk about her research trajectory, and a fundamental challenge to the way that research in the field was being done, seamlessly woven together.

All of which got me thinking a bit about how my work resists tradition, if indeed it does. In some ways, it resists tradition in a rather surprising way – as we discovered at the Women as Classical Scholars event, women traditionally Don’t Do Latin Prose, and yet here I am, plugging away at a book manuscript on the subject. Part of resisting tradition is resisting the tradition that women only work on certain kinds of texts, or indeed do certain kinds of work – Jackie Labbe raised this in terms of female leadership within academia, and the tendency to assume women will take on roles dealing with teaching and pastoral issues, where men will go for grant applications and research-related posts. Keeping your eyes out for the ‘service traps’ is something I’ve been told about again and again as an ECR – yet the assumed division is still there and still happily in play. The other thing about my research is that it challenges what classics has assumed it is about for centuries – that is, pure philology. Sure, I do a good bit of philology, but my work is much broader than that, incorporating lots of other evidence, and indeed challenging the idea that the only important things to discuss when looking at a text are the grammatical constructions – and not, as in the example from Ovid that Ika Willis used, the deeply problematic content. Given that yesterday was the second iteration of the Problematic Ovid Lecture, at the moment I’m feeling very aware of the need to use the traditional lens of close reading responsibly to see the whole of a text, not just the parts of it that we are pushed to value by tradition. That’s an idea I think I need to pick over a bit more, as it seems fundamentally important for all sorts of aspects of my work and teaching.

The evening was part of RHUL’s broader research theme on Society, Representation and Cultural Memory Research Theme, whose champion is classics’ own Richard Alston. Richard is pulling together a general program of events dealing with feminist research at Royal Holloway, which I’m sure will expand and grow over the coming months. While the forthcoming infant might make it a bit difficult for me to participate fully, I’m thoroughly looking forward to More of This Sort Of Thing.

February 9, 2015

Classics and the new faces of feminism sandpit

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 10:01 am
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On Saturday 31st January, I spent the day at Senate House in London attending the Classics and the New Faces of Feminism sandpit, organised by my RHUL colleague Efi Spentzou and Genevieve Liveley from Bristol. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have been very aware of this because I was livetweeting the event, using the hashtag #classfem – thanks to the marvellous Lucy Jackson, the various livetweeters have been gathered together into this ‘ere Storify, so if you weren’t able to make it, you can catch up on what went on. I was there to chair the panel on Classics, feminism and pedagogy (which given my recent outing with Cloelia felt very appropriate), but there were all sorts of other reasons that this event felt timely – not least, of course, that of entering the third trimester of my first pregnancy, and wondering how that is going to affect my future.

The reason this post has taken this long to appear is because it’s taken me this long to catch up with myself! It was an incredibly stimulating day, and my heartfelt thanks go out to Efi and Genevieve for organising it. The downside, of course, is that I spent most of Sunday half-asleep, and it’s taken until now to get myself on top of ‘normal’ jobs to have five minutes to write about the experience – but again, that’s one of the effects of doing a full-on extra work day in the third trimester, and a price I don’t begrudge in the slightest.

Some observations. First of all, the atmosphere was amazing. I’ve personally experienced the kind of buzz and enthusiasm in the room before – but that was at Feminism and Classics conferences, not on UK soil (although women as classical scholars came close). The fact that such an atmosphere could exist at an academic event seemed to be something of a surprise to some attendees, particularly the very high number of graduate students in attendance. The mood was also largely shaped by a very constructive and nurturing approach. Not that you could get away with saying anything (for instance, there was some lively debate about waves of feminism and which, if any, participants identified with), but the general mood was one of building connections and offering support. For instance, in the sandpit discussion section of the pedagogy panel, some grad students who were facing teaching for the first time next academic year aired their nerves about teaching potentially difficult and sensitive subjects – and had an entire room of more experienced teachers respond with advice, strategies and general cheerleading.

That buzz was partly generated by the international flavour of the day. The last panel on the program was to publicise the Eugesta network, and to encourage participants to engage with its events and submit to its journal. This meant we had representatives in the room from at least the US, France, Italy and Greece. The US contingent was particularly strong, as it included people like Nancy Rabinowitz, Barbara Gold and Judith Hallett, who were all involved in the founding and early years of the WCC and as such have been critical in creating the kind of environment I found in the US as a graduate student (and for which I am eternally grateful). I suppose that this is one of the so-far unsung benefits of globalisation – while there are still local or regional conditions which will only affect academics in a particular geographic area, there are wider issues of feminist practice, research and pedagogy where we can learn from each other’s distinct cultures and build cooperation for the future. The Eugesta network is a fantastic example of this, and I hope that it continues to build connections between academics and institutions.

More than buzz, the day produced a surprising amount of energy. Energy to do things. Given that one concern raised in the early sessions was how there seemed to be a diffusion of activism around the feminist project, particularly if compared to the second wave, the thirst for suggestions of what action we might take was palpable. Suggestions for action came in both little and big forms – deliberately choosing translations by women for classes and hand-outs; seeking to act collaboratively rather than competitively with women colleagues; seeking out international collaboration; using classical material to address contemporary issues like rape culture and as a tool for social justice; seeing ourselves as intersectional and thus tackling the problem that classics still has with supporting non-white students and academics; continuing to engage with feminist theory as it develops; reshaping the reception canon so that women’s writing won’t need to be reclaimed in future; and reconsidering where feminism happens on our course syllabi and in our students’ degree paths. There was something there for people at every career stage, both in terms of practical action in the coming weeks and months, and in aspirational or strategic terms.

One of the massive things for me to come out of the sandpit is the final push to do something that I will either be very proud of or profoundly regret, and quite possibly both. At the last Feminism and Classics conference, I expressed a desire for a body similar to the WCC in the UK. In my head, as I realised on Saturday, I had conceptualised this as something that I would do, as a sole heroic individual (hello, ivory tower model of scholarship), and that it would thus have to wait until I had the stability of a permanent position. At the sandpit, I mentioned this idea again – and was gently shocked by the level of enthusiasm and support for it. So I’m now starting to make some moves towards getting this actually set up and going, which is both terrifying and exciting. On the plus side, I do at least know that I can’t afford to overcommit myself – the impending arrival of a small infant rather precludes that – so while I can do some of the initial work in getting the ball rolling, I have an in-built reminder that I can’t take on too much. This, too, is quite important – there’s such a tendency for labour to land on those in the least stable conditions (PhD students, ECRs on fixed term contracts, independent researchers to name but a few), and I’m very keen to try to structure things so that we don’t end up with one or two of the usual suspects being overburdened.

But this is all in the future. For the time being, I’m delighted to have discovered the amount of enthusiasm and positivity around feminism within UK classics that was on show from all career stages at the sandpit, and I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning of things to come.

 

12th January: Now crossposted to the Arts and Humanities in Higher Education blog.

November 25, 2014

Book review: The Ancient Curse – Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:21 pm
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I understand Manfredi has written a number of classically-inspired works; this is the first I have read. It roams a little outside the usual realm of these things, because it decides to play not with the Romans but with the Etruscans, the civilization which preceded the Romans to the north of their city. The Etruscans are notoriously tricky to get a handle on, not least because reading Etruscan is a nightmare (helped mainly by texts written in parallel with Latin versions), and very little of it has survived. Manfredi builds his story on an actual bit of Etruscan culture, a thing called a Phersu which appears most famously in a tomb painting from the so-called Tomb of the Augurs. (If you’re interested, there’s a recent article about the state of Phersu research freely available here, and some reasonable photos of the frescos here.) Manfredi does not restrict himself to the scholarly consensus (or whatever its condition was in 2001 when the book first appeared); instead, he takes the nuggets of scholarly work and builds up a story that suits himself – one which he can then use to build up a plot that mixes supernatural terror with a police procedural murder whodunit. The Ombra Della Sera statue also plays a significant role in unravelling the mystery of what happened centuries ago and how it is connected to a modern case of tomb robbery.

I will freely admit that the Etruscans are not my home turf and so I can’t really comment on Manfredi’s manipulation of the ancient sources. However, a couple of things stand out. The first is the way Manfredi makes the fragmentary knowledge of the Etruscans a feature rather than a bug – part of the problem faced by his investigators is that they know so little of Etruscan culture, heritage and language that they are often groping in the dark for hypotheses. Yet at the same time, Manfredi’s authorial voice allows him to claim knowledge of what Etruscan life was really like, particularly in a flash-back at the end of the novel to the events which ended in the tomb around which the plot revolves. There’s an interesting interplay between the supposed ‘lost’ world of the Etruscans, the contemporary characters’ lack of knowledge about it, and the author’s imaginative reconstruction of what fills in the gaps. It’s actually a really nice illustration of why fiction can help us think about academic subjects with a freedom that we don’t have in rigorously formal academic writing (although obviously the usefulness of that depends on how much attention is paid to the things that academics think can’t be ignored, but that’s by the by).

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November 18, 2014

Good news from the Swedish Institutes

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 8:31 am
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It’s always nice to be able to share good news when protests against unjustified cuts to the humanities are successful, so it was with no small delight that I saw this e-mail on the Classicists e-mail list yesterday:

To all of you who signed the petition against the closing down of the Swedish Institutes at Athens, Rome and Istanbul we want to express our sincerest gratitude. Today, to our great relief, the Swedish government officially announced that they will NOT cut our funding. The massive protests from the international scholarly community certainly contributed greatly to this result and on behalf of the Swedish Institutes at Athens, Rome and Istanbul we thank you all deeply.

Congratulations to all our Swedish colleagues who have been working so hard to explain the work of the Institutes to hitherto unaware politicians, and credit where credit is due to the politicians for listening, however belatedly. Fingers crossed this is the last we hear of this sort of thing for a while.

(The text of the formal announcement is here, in the original Swedish.)

 

 

October 27, 2014

Departments under threat: the Swedish Institutes at Athens, Rome and Istanbul

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 7:25 am
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Technically these are not departments under threat, but the impact on the classical scene will be significant nonetheless. On Friday, the following e-mail was circulated to the Classicists list by Dr. Jenni Hjohlman, the editor of Opuscula, the Annual of the Swedish Institutes at Athens and Rome:

Yesterday the Swedish Government announced that they will end all state funding for the Swedish Institutes at Athens, Rome and Istanbul from 2017. Our research Institutes have no private funding and will therefore have to close down and terminate their work within two years.

The decision has been made without any prior consultation or investigation of the consequences: the Institutes will not be able to fulfil their responsibilities of taking care of archaeological material or sites in the Mediterranean and providing education with the fields of Classical Archaeology, Classics, Art History, Architecture and Social sciences, nor to conduct and publish research, give conferences, host cultural activities, take part in heritage management or run our research libraries in the Mediterranean countries.

The decision would be a huge tragedy for Classical research and education in Sweden and we ask you to consider signing the petition against it:

http://www.namninsamling.com/site/get.asp?Medelhavsinstitut#.VElipDs-IkA.facebook

Please enter through “Skriv på listan” (Sign the list). Add your “förnamn” (name), “efternamn” (surname), emailadress (for verification only), “postort” (city), and “ämne/titel” (title/subject). Press “spara” (save) and sign through the verification email.

The Swedish Institutes work in much the same way as, for instance, the British Schools at Athens and Rome do – they are research-focused institutions which provide fantastic resources for scholars working in each city to use while on site, as well as creating a community of scholarship within the national context and reaching out to the other international institutions in each city, facilitating a broad intellectual and cultural exchange of ideas. Basically, if these institutes close, then we lose a vital and significant group of talented scholars working in a wide number of classical fields.

I have two particular colleagues in mind as I post this petition. The first is Ida Östenberg, a wonderful Swedish academic who thinks very interesting things about the Roman empire – she’ll be debating the relevant minister on the radio today (good luck!) and has a long history of working with the Institute for her own research. The second is Mary Harlow, who has again worked with Swedish research teams on ancient fabric and clothing, with some fascinating results. Both of these scholars have generated work that’s directly fed into my own research – and I’m somebody who works mainly with text. I can only imagine the impact on colleagues working in archaeological fields (where the Swedish team have, for instance, done sterling work on the Prima Porta site).

Do sign this petition, and let the Swedish government know there is an international strength of feeling in support of the wonderful research and collaboration that the Institutes support.

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