Classically Inclined

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.

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.

October 13, 2014

New publication: Show Me the Way to Go Home: A Reconsideration of Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Polybium

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:02 am
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Those long-time readers of this blog will be very familiar with the Ad Polybium article, which started out life as the Stoic exile article and went through various changes of shape in its journey towards completion. (If you’re interested in catching up, have a look at some of the stuff on the ad Polybium tag.) After many incarnations, starting as a carbuncle on the side of chapter two of the dissertation, I’m delighted to announce that “Show Me the Way to Go Home: A Reconsideration of Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Polybium” has appeared in the latest issue of The American Journal of Philology.

This is the classic example of what can happen when you have good research ideas that don’t fit into an argument you are trying to make yet still deserve airtime. Exactly the same thing happened when I wrote the new chapter four for the book manuscript – I now have the seed kernel of an article on Seneca’s use of paternal imagery in his political philosophy which will be interesting but isn’t in and of itself particularly helpful for the argument I’m making in the book. In “Show me the way” I’m entering a pretty well-worn debate about whether the ad Polybium is a text we can take seriously or not; I argue that it is, and that we do not need to tie ourselves in knots with questions of sincerity and intention to get there. I also argue that what has been read as some of the most outrageous flattery has a parallel function in the text if we start thinking about it from a Stoic perspective rather than getting caught up in those issues of flattery and sincerity which get prioritised when dealing with this text.

My hope is that this will move some of the conversation about this really quite fascinating wee text forward from where it’s got a bit stuck; whatever happens, it’s good to have this particular idea out there, and hopefully getting some people thinking about the consolation in a new way.

August 6, 2014

New publication: My family tree goes back to the Romans

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:57 pm
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As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, at the minute I am elbow-deep in assessing the revisions needed for chapter six of the book manuscript. I have just realised that I haven’t officially announced that a version of that chapter is already out in publication, as of a few months ago!

“My family tree goes back to the Romans: Seneca’s approach to the family in the Epistulae Morales” appears in Seneca Philosophus, a volume that came out of a conference in Paris about Seneca as a philosopher which I was unable to attend because – cheerful irony of ironies – it took place on the weekend of PhD graduation, so I kind of needed to be on another continent. However, I wrote to the conference organiser because I wanted sight of the paper she’d given, explaining what my interest was – and, lo and behold, she asked whether my book would be finished in time for consultation for the conference volume. As that was totally out of the range of possibility, I said so and sent her my Epistulae Morales chapter in PDF form instead. She then invited me to contribute it to the conference volume as it would make a good addition to the range of pieces talking about the letter collection.

Given that I had no idea how long it would take me to get the PhD into a book manuscript shape, I jumped at the chance to get some of my research out, and in a volume that contains some of the most significant scholars currently writing on Seneca, no less. So it’s out there, and in a book! Which is very exciting.

Of course, this now leaves me in a slightly perplexing place with what is now chapter six of the book manuscript. There are several discussions that didn’t make it into the Family Tree chapter, not least because of reasons of length, and because the argument that chapter makes had to stand alone rather than finish off the dissertation as a whole. I got some very good feedback on the Family Tree chapter as a stand-alone piece that I’m incorporating into the revised chapter six, but I’m also realising just how much I need to do in order to make sure that it does what I need it to do in terms of the overall book’s direction. It says a lot about the progress I’ve made over the last few years that I’m seeing so many different things I want to change and improve compared to the first time that I revised it – the only downside is that I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. Never mind – the chapter is out there, if anyone wants to read it and get a head-start on the book!

June 6, 2014

The rara avis of research

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:09 am
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I realised a month or so ago that there had been very little content on here about my research lately, so this post is an attempt to fill in that gap. There are several reasons for the sudden hiatus – as I mentioned in my end of year round-up, the spring term was full with teaching preparation, which didn’t leave a lot of time for doing much else. The other main reason for there not being much to say is that the biggest chunk of my work over the last year has been editing three of my dissertation chapters and writing a new chapter, beginning the process of putting together a book manuscript; there are still two chapters left to edit before the whole thing is done (or at least, done until I get more peer review feedback). While this is important and serious work, it’s not terribly bloggable – I’m not thinking out new ideas, I’m making sure that I’m communicating existing ideas as efficiently as I could be. Similarly, there’s been quite a bit of editing/finessing work on other projects, like the Ad Polybium article, which is again all very important but not as exciting as classical reception at Eurovision. However, alongside this worthy stuff, there have been a couple of new projects quietly bubbling away – here are the highlights.

Grants, grants, grants: yes, in the new and exciting world of academia, even those of us in humanities have to bring in grant money. Thankfully, the AHRC has a scheme that makes that seem sensible rather than daft, namely their Early Career Researcher grant linked to their ‘Care For The Future’ subtheme. The lovely thing about these grants is that they are designed to be collaborative projects between ECRs which have grown out of a workshop that took place earlier in the year – it’s an example of coming up with new interdisciplinary ideas that fit people rather than trying to squeeze something you already want to do into guidelines and claim it’s interdisciplinary really. I’ve been involved with developing two proposals as a result of the workshop, which were submitted today. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on both of them one way or another, so I hope that they will do well in the funding call; whatever happens, it’s been a very useful learning experience even to get this far.

Women as Classical Scholars: I wrote a little about the early stages of this project back in November; it’s an investigation of the women who taught Classics at Newnham College between 1882 and 1922. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have been seeing the occasional burst of archive-related tweets as I’ve been working through the data gathering stage of the project. I’ve got a first draft written which needs quite a bit of work, but the archive work is done. There is far more research to be done here, but this will be a beneficial first stage for a bigger project.

Public speaking: I may have overdone this a bit this year – I’ve committed myself to five academic talks or seminars in as many months, plus an outreach talk at the end of this month. Which means they all need writing. (Incidentally, if anyone fancies coming to RHUL’s School Teachers’ Colloquium on Roman culture on 20th June, there are more details here.) In fairness, most of these are either projects I’ve been mulling over for a while or spin-offs of existing work, and I’m giving one of the talks twice in two very different venues. However, I think I’ve paid my conference dues for this year and the next, and unless someone offers me something absolutely irresistible, I think I get 2014-15 off from submitting abstracts.

So that’s what I’ve been doing – quite bitty, quite difficult to pin down in any coherent way, but all adding up to a not-at-all bad picture. I’m wondering whether doing a summer goals post this year is actually a helpful thing or not – quite honestly, meeting all my deadlines and getting on with editing the final two book chapters would be more than enough for me.

April 25, 2014

The Classical Association Conference 2014 – Nottingham

Filed under: Uncategorized — lizgloyn @ 9:49 am
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Last week classicists from around the country were hosted by the University of Nottingham for the annual Classical Association conference; long-time readers may remember my conference report from the 2012 event. I had been referring in jest to my break in sunny Nottingham, but the weather took me at my word – we had glorious sunshine, and were able to enjoy the beauties of University Park campus, including a wonderful lake for strolling around. For the academic side of things, those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen that the hashtag #CA14 was getting good traffic, and not just from me – we’ve been praised from many different quarters for the quality of our livetweeting. (This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that on Wednesday evening I decided we probably needed a livetweeting protocol, and lo, by Friday we had a livetweeting protocol.)

From a social point of view, the difference between my 2012 experience and last week’s was huge. It seemed I could hardly turn a corner without seeing somebody I wanted to say hello to, somebody whose work I knew and I wanted to introduce myself to, somebody I’d heard speak, somebody I’d sat with during dinner, somebody I knew from the States… it felt good to feel as if I have now got enough of a UK network to be able to feel as if three and a half days isn’t enough to talk to all the interesting people I know. There was also a good chance to meet new people, created by the CA’s policy of sitting everyone on communal tables for dinner; you can sit with friends on one side and new friends on the other, which is a great way of breaking down all sorts of unhelpful hierarchies. Nobody can think about hierarchies while there is dessert on offer.

And what of the academic side? (more…)

September 4, 2013

Reading Rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A Test-Case Lesson

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.

August 2, 2013

Archive diving

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:52 am
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Last week, I had the treat of visiting the Newnham College archives. For a classicist, this is an unusual pleasure – most of the time, particularly for somebody like me who works on Seneca, the relevant material has been available in various editions for many years. The joy that most historians get from uncovering new snippets in archives isn’t something that we get, unless we are working with fragments of papyrus or neglected inscriptions (which, as regular readers have probably gathered, is not where my research interests lie). However, I’ve got myself involved in a new project which means that I get to actually look at the handwriting of real people rather than the printed word for a change.

You may remember that just before Easter, I went off to a conference on women as classical scholars. An outcome of that conference is that Edith and Rosie are now putting together a collected volume of essays concentrating on women philologists in particular. And because I observed at the time that it was a shame that there was no coverage of the woman at Oxbridge in the fin de siècle, that means I volunteered myself to write the relevant chapter. Of course, there’s no way that one can do justice to all the varying environments of women’s education at Oxbridge in that period – each college really was its own closed city, with its own attitudes and customs – so I’m narrowing it down to the classicist women at Newnham from the late 1880s to the early 1920s.

This has meant reading an awful lot about the general atmosphere of higher education at this period, which is a fascinating subject in its own right, but there’s only so far that reading will get you – at some point you have to actually look at documentation. One thing that I particularly wanted to find out was how extensive the records are about who’s doing teaching when, although I have to admit that the main purpose of my trip was to test the water and see how much stuff there was to get through. A project like this, in a way, will take as much time as you give it – I can prioritise my archive activity to pick out certain things that are important, or decide how much time I actually need to work out what’s there.

(more…)

July 5, 2013

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:09 am
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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.

(more…)

May 3, 2013

Freud, the uncanny and monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:34 am
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I have finally got around to reading Freud’s essay on the uncanny [link to PDF]. I first decided I wanted to read it when I was thinking about monsters for the Harryhausen paper. My thought process then was concerned with trying to work out what anxieties the Clash of the Titans monsters were expressing, particularly those from the 1981 film which seemed to miss the usual flashpoints of the Cold War or Nuclear Winter. I’ve been dwelling on this, because there’s another way of reading monsters, which is as a way of symbolising psychological fears. For instance, every alien film can be seen as expressing fear of the unknown, either in terms of what might come at us from it or what happens if we start exploring it and venturing beyond our natural limits. Slasher films and horror films in general also work well with this sort of model, particularly those which have monstrous female protagonists like Carrie, The Exorcist or The Hunger.

My observations about reading monsters psychologically were formed mainly by Barbara Creed’s excellent book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, which identifies seven archetypes of the monstrous feminine found in film: archaic mother, monstrous womb, vampire, witch, possessed body, monstrous mother and castrator. These ideas primarily focus on horror films and their kin, so despite a reference to Medusa symbolising the vagina dentata, there wasn’t much to play with on the Harryhausen front. (I also found the analysis of the films lacked any consideration of the effect of these monsters on the female spectator, but that’s a bugbear I have about a lot of film studies literature.) Creed relies heavily on Kristeva’s idea of the abject, the sense of repressing the horrific and writing out the rejected and abject from our semantic system, but Kristeva built her ideas on Freud’s essay on the uncanny. So I thought I would go back to source and see whether those ideas have anything to offer in terms of explaining classical monsters.

(more…)

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