Last week was very much a week where all sorts of things seemed like very good ideas on their own, but in aggregate started to look just the tiniest bit over-optimistic. One of those things was attending the conference Between Words and Walls, organised by April Pudsey and Jen Baird of Birkbeck. I don’t think I have ever been to a conference before where I have had to explain why I’m there quite so often – and, let’s be honest, perhaps it’s not immediately obvious why I was there. The conference wanted to examine the study of ancient housing, how to combine the archaeological sources with the literary sources without privileging either, and consider new methodologies for studying the ancient house. It is an entirely fair question to ask how all that links in with what I do.
However, there is actually a very nice link between my stuff and ancient housing. A lot of the study of ancient housing has started looking at what, for want of a better term, you might call the sociology of living – that is, how the shape and layout of houses reflects the hierarchies of the families living in them, and what we might extrapolate about kinship relationships based on the space that families inhabit. This is where the link with my research comes in – although my work on Seneca’s concept of the family is currently based on his representation of the idealised philosophical family, I can’t discuss that without a good grounding in the social history of the Roman family, of which the study of housing forms a part. I told you it made perfect sense.
From mthat perspective, there were a couple of very interesting papers. Jen’s paper on houses at Dura-Europos included as a case study the records of a house which was given to four brothers as an inheritance, and the process of splitting one oikos into four oikoi - but within the same building. This is kind of mind-exploding from an ancient housing point of view, because when we think about houses, there’s a tendency to assume that one family unit inhabited one building, and that each building was a single oikos. If you have the sense of multiple households living in a single structure, that changes a lot of our assumptions about life in the ancient world – population density, the hierarchy of shared spaces within the shared structure, the practicalities of living in such small quarters, not to mention the difference between what the legal document says and what may have actually happened. The paper given by Heather Baker offered a brilliant counterpoint with evidence from Hellenistic Uruk, with tablet documentation of parts of houses being sold off to family members, or records of habitation that suggest multiple households in a single building again. Heather also bought out the evidence this gives us for female economic activity in this period, which for various reasons is not as well documented in other spheres of life.
Some of you may remember that I wrote a post back in January last year about pedagogy research and reading rape in Ovid. I’m delighted to be able to share that the article I wrote about then has finally appeared in print - the PDF and the bibliographic reference are on Project Muse, and the journal is Classical World. You will need an institutional subscription to read through that link, but if this is of interest and you don’t have such a subscription, do get in touch.
This piece has taken its time to turn around – it was first given as a conference paper in January 2009, and since then has been working its way through the long process of peer review and journal scheduling that’s a bit inevitable in these things. However, I’m really pleased that it’s now appeared along with two of the other papers from that conference panel. Together, they make a well-proportioned suite of papers offering sensible resources for coping with teaching difficult topics.
A number of other workshops and publications around these themes (looking more broadly at difficult topics rather than specifically at rape) have now started to surface, and it’s getting some air in the pedagogic discussion in our field. I’m really pleased that this article is now out there and part of the conversation. There’s been a very positive reaction to it over Twitter and Facebook, including from people who have already had their copy of the journal in the mail, and I can only hope that everyone who reads it finds it practical and helpful.
Oh, where to begin with this one. Let’s start with some basic data. This conference was organised by the Science Fiction Foundation; it also has a conference blog which will keep updating with topics of interest. The programme and abstracts are available online. The conference was well live-tweeted, and a Storify of the relevant tweeting is available . The conference’s aim was to bring together various folks interested in the cross-over between science fiction, fantasy and classical reception, and essentially to give things a good shake and see what happened. Which is all a very prosaic way of saying that it was bloody brilliant. I had an excellent time, met some lovely people, and came away feeling all energised and cheered up. I know that a number of other people went away with brains fizzing and popping with ideas for future research; I’m afraid my brain is so settled on my summer plans that there’s not much space for anything new (and, incidentally, how come it’s July?), but I still got the benefit of the academic adrenaline buzz. Even if I did occasionally forget which day of the week it was.
Now, any conference write-up has to be selective, especially one trying to deal with a conference that has over eighty papers, so let me say up front that I didn’t hear a single duff paper. I heard one or two that could have done with a little more preparatory work, but every paper had an interesting idea that it tried to get across, and that itself is worth celebrating. So, if I don’t mention your particular paper and you know I was in the audience… sorry. I’m sure Tony Keen will have picked up what I said at the time on the Storify. Because I was pretty heavy on the livetweeting, and all my Twitter followers are either interested in the sci-fi/fantasy/classics cross-over or very, very patient people. What I’m going to try and do instead of summarise every single paper is sum up some of my take-homes from the conference and things that jumped out at me. Beyond, of course, the fact that I now have a very long list of things to add to my already very long reading list.
I want to start the impact of the conference on my research, as I gave the first paper of the parallel panels on Saturday. The panel hung together with a remarkable coherence considering that we had all submitted our papers individually, and I’m fairly sure that at least one person will be picking up Lud-in-the-Mist to take on holiday with them as a result. There were some really strong resonances about walls and borders and Roman Britain as a creative space and identity and all that good stuff. I couldn’t have been happier with the company I kept, and with the intelligent and helpful questions from the audience. So many thanks to Sandeep Parmar, Cara Sheldrake and Stephe Harrop, and Penny Goodman for chairing the panel.
I decided to take an afternoon trip up to Leeds one Friday to attend the first of a series of events designed to commemorate the bimillenium of the death of the emperor Augustus. (I’m a bit late writing this up, as the colloquium actually happened at the beginning of May, but this is what happens during exam term.) The Commemorating Augustus project has its own website which explains its aims far more elegantly than I can, but suffice it to say that it is being run by Penny Goodman (she of Penelope’s Weavings and Unpickings), and seeks to take a good look at what the last two millennia have done with Augustus and his image. There’s also an official report of the colloquium available here.
I have only a humble delegate’s views to add, but I wanted to make some observations about the colloquium. I’m afraid the first is rather mundane: if I’m ever in a position to do so, I’m replicating the format. Starting with lunch, then having four papers broken by a tea break, made the whole thing far more convivial, and meant that those of us coming from a bit further afield could arrive in time for lunch and not miss anything (especially handy as I had to subject invigilate a Latin exam that morning). Let my hearty noises of approval inspire others!
More importantly, the papers at the symposium began the countdown to the big conference scheduled for 2014 which will mark the actual anniversary of Augustus’ death. They formed two well-matched pairs – Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence’s paper on Augustus’ old age and Valerie Hope’s paper on Augustus’ funeral both looked at events very close to his death, while Penny’s paper on commemorations of the bimillenium of Augustus’ birth in 1938 and Martin Lindner’s paper on representations of Augustus in the novels of Günther Birkenfeld brought us closer to the present day, and provided a structure for how we might look at more contemporary approaches to the first emperor.
As well as being an afternoon of listening to interesting scholarship, I also had an alternative motive behind attending – I’m planning to pull together an abstract for the 2014 conference myself, and I wanted to listen in to what other people are doing with the subject. It’s always nice to see how other people are framing what they’re looking at, especially if you’re dealing with something as thematically unified as this topic. I’m planning to use some of the work I did in my PhD on Augustus as an exemplum (an improving anecdote told to Romans for the purposes of emulation), and seeing how Seneca uses Augustus for the purposes of moral exhortation. There are plenty of reasons this is an interesting question to ask – Seneca was alive when Augustus died, and lives a little over fifty years more himself, but within that short time span there’s a noticeable calcification in the way that Augustus is handled. That said, Seneca also uses a number of devices to point out the shortcomings of the emperor, despite his exemplary role – so it will be interesting to see whether that flexibility of working around the established image continues as the distance from the actual death increases.
What was particularly helpful for me at the colloquium was to see the sorts of themes and ideas that I think will emerge from what I’d like to say, and how I might make the most of those intersections with the work of others. It was a fascinating afternoon, and I hope that the conference next year will be equally as rewarding!
I know I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately – this is mainly due to the end of term (which I should write about at some point) and the general pile-up of work that seems to hit everyone at the end of the spring teaching season. However, before I go on holiday next week (yes, a proper holiday!), I want to take time to comment on the conference I was at last weekend, which was titled Women as Classical Scholars. The honouree was Jacqueline de Romilly, who would have celebrated her hundredth birthday on 26th March; she was a well-respected Hellenist, the first woman nominated to the Collège de France, and the second woman to enter the Académie Français. However, the conference served as a springboard to think about women as classical scholars more broadly, starting with Carmel McCallum-Barry’s paper on Italian and English women in the early modern period and moving on from there. I should take this chance to give my thanks publicly to the conference convenors, Rosie Wyles, Edith Hall and Lottie Parkyn, for organising such an excellent and intellectually rewarding event. As I said at the time, it was just what I needed after a long term of teaching – a chance to get my brain back into research mode, and to be among people who were thinking of me primarily as a researcher rather than a colleague in teaching.
I went to the conference partly to see some friends and colleagues from the US who I knew would be presenting, but mainly because I was interested in context. One of the eternally on-the-boil projects I’m contemplating is something to do with classical reception in the work of Hope Mirrlees, who is known to history as the woman who was Jane Harrison’s companion in the last years of her life. I’ve written a little about this before in an article for the CA News, which is available here if you’re interested, but it’s an on-going process of research, and I thought the conference would be a good way to get some broader context into what academic women were doing around her period. Well, I got far more than I bargained for – thanks to Jacqueline Fabre-Serris, I also got Renée Vivien’s translation of Sappho (in comparison with Anne Dacier’s). Vivien was part of the Paris South Bank movement, with which Harrison and Mirrlees also had connections, and was apparently bought the Greek text by the notorious Natalie Barney.
I’m delighted to share that I have my conference abstract accepted to Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World in Liverpool in June! I’m really quite excited, as it’s going to give me a chance to develop some of the monster theory ideas that I’ve been working with in the Harryhausen paper, and try to look at some of the same sorts of phenomena in a different context. For those of you who are interested, I’ve put the abstract below the cut. It should be a very exciting conference, and I’m already looking forward to it.
At the end of last week, I had the pleasure of attending Ancient Greek Myth and Modern Conflict in World Fiction since 1989 at the British Academy, ably organised by Edith Hall and Katie Billotte. The aim of the conference was to examine the use of myth in modern fiction since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War; to examine what ways authors have used to engage with Greek myth; to see if we could identify what in particular about Greek myth helps people think through conflict; and to ask how Greek myth operates in the post-colonial world, where the classics were once the curriculum of imperialism.
We enjoyed a packed schedule of papers spread over two days covering a gleefully broad geographical range – I now know more about New Zealand Maori fiction, German Holocaust fiction, contemporary Japanese fiction, the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Arabian political fiction and Iranian short stories than I had any chance of discovering by myself. The glory of it is that authors from such a wide arena are choosing to use the Greek myths to explore contemporary issues of conflict, and that classicists can speak to their appropriations in interesting ways. Each paper offered powerful observations on the use of myth in cultures with which I am unfamiliar. Running through the papers was a concern with the intentionality of the author and the deliberateness of allusion (and, indeed, how much this mattered); the tensions of appropriation and repurposing of myth; and the way in which myth seemed to be a way of thinking through things as an interpretative framework rather than a source of plot.
As you will have picked up from my last post, I spent the week before the Jubilee weekend in Canada, at Feminism and Classics VI, held at Brock University in Ontario. I think I have already mentioned elsewhere that I attended Feminism and Classics V, where I presented the paper which recently came out as the Fortunata article, so I knew what I was letting myself in for – four days of really good intellectual discussion, some forthright but supportive and helpful criticism of my paper, and an opportunity to see a lot of the people who I hadn’t seen since I left the US.
I’m delighted to say that my expectations were wonderfully met, and I had a fabulous time. You may have caught some of the live tweeting I managed to do before I lost my conference folder in which I had carefully stored my username and password for accessing the university wifi. I felt less happy livetweeting Feminism and Classics than I did tweeting the Classical Association – not because of participant hostility to the technology (there were far more people taking notes on laptops, iPads and so on in each panel audience), but because the content didn’t seem to get such a strong positive reaction from the Twitter audience. I don’t know if this was due to all those nebulous things-outside-the-internet which mean predicting response to livetweeting is very difficult to do, or whether the conference’s subject matter was perceived as somehow ‘less interesting’. But as I was finding it less rewarding than the CA tweeting, I didn’t chase up a fresh log-in when I mislaid my original one.
If the reason for lower Twitter response was a sense that this material was ‘less interesting’, then I can only say that I fervently disagree. When I saw the first draft of the conference program, my immediate reaction was ‘brain candy’. The vast majority of papers were pushing some interesting theoretical and content boundaries, reading things in new ways, proposing new theories, opening up new frontiers of knowledge to me. The environment of the conference was also exactly as I remembered it, although this time I had the benefit of knowing a lot more people, having the PhD under my belt and feeling a lot more confident that I knew what I was doing. The atmosphere was much more like that of the Classical Association than the APA, but even then there’s an extra level of collegiality and general friendliness that I certainly really relished the first time I attended. This is the sixth Feminism and Classics VI, which is held every four years; there’s a little history on the Women’s Classical Caucus webpage, but I think there’s something about the origin of the meeting as an independent movement that has contributed to its unique feel.
I promised that I’d link to the livetweet archive from this year’s Classical Association conference when they were available; if you are interested, you can find them here.