Classically Inclined

April 16, 2012

The Classical Association meeting 2012 – Exeter

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:10 am
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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.)

(more…)

February 2, 2012

REF – Release the Guidelines!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:53 am
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This week’s big news in REF-land is that HEFCE have released the final criteria and working methods for the assessment panels. For those of you not living in acronym-land, this means that we finally know what the ground rules are for the big assessment exercise which will look at the work produced by UK universities since the last one, judge its relative worth, and use those judgements as a way to allocate research funding from the government. The process has been long and drawn-out, since the REF is the successor to the RAE (Research Excellence Framework rather than the Research Assessment Exercise, don’t ask me why they decided to change it, I think I was still an undergrad when that decision got made) and they’ve had to work out how precisely it’s going to differ.

The working criteria that interest me are those for Panel D, which covers the subpanels of Modern Languages and Linguistics; English Language and Literature; History; Classics; Philosophy; Theology and Religious Studies; Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory; Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts; and Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management. So it’s sort of a broad church humanities panel. Each subject has its own specialist subpanel (so a ballerina won’t have to deal with the work of an Egyptologist, for instance); the central panel is, as far as I can tell, responsible for doing overview work and coordinating everything, which is reasonable enough.

One very important change from the original proposals not included in the Panel D guidelines, which I feel particularly strongly about, is that the REF have now decided that researchers may submit one fewer output per period of maternity leave taken – so basically, as opposed to having to submit four outputs (articles, books, chapters in books, etc.), if you’ve had a baby you only need to submit three. This is a vast improvement on the original proposal, which suggested that in order for an output to be waived, a researcher would need to have taken fourteen months off. As numerous researchers pointed out, that’s enough for two pregnancies, and very few academics take that amount of leave or are able to do so. I have to say, as one of the people who wrote in to point out the problems with the latter approach, I’m really pleased that common sense has won out here, given the opportunity it had to go horribly wrong. It’s nice to have something to be optimistic about. (more…)

January 16, 2012

Politics, pedagogy and research: “Reading Rape in Ovid”

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 2:18 pm
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January is turning out to be quite an exciting month, research wise, as (on top of everything else) I’ve had back some suggested edits for a paper that I hope will eventually  appear in the Paedagogus section of Classical World. I first gave this paper as part of a panel at the 2009 American Philological Association conference [link to PDF], so there’s some pleasing poetic balance in getting the revisions at around the same time as this year’s conference.

The panel and paper came out of a conversation at Feminism and Classics V about how we deal with the topic of rape in our classrooms, both as a social phenomenon and something that’s normalised in the texts we teach. If you have ever read any Greek New Comedy or the works of the Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence, you’ll know that rape is an almost ubiquitous plot device, and that the problems it causes are often resolved by the rapist marrying his victim (a state of affairs which is normally accepted as a perfectly sensible solution). Dealing with this sort of thing by anachronistically reading modern interpretations of rape onto ancient texts is not the way to go, but it seems to me that there’s a place for thinking about how we approach and present this material in way that is both historically appropriate and socially responsible.

The article that I’m tweaking at the moment is about a class I taught during my time at Rutgers-Newark that aimed to do just that. I tried to use a single class meeting as a properly researched and well-planned experiment in whether it was possible to deal with this material responsibly in such a short period of time. I think I found a way of creating discussion and awareness that actually worked, although it was far from perfect. But what seems to me to be the central point is that when this sort of material turns up in our classrooms, we can’t turn a blind eye to it and its impact on our classroom community. The usual statistic invoked in these circumstances is that at least one in four American college women have experienced rape or attempted rape. Those statistics may not transfer to a UK classroom, but I’m willing to bet that the numbers aren’t so very different. The responsibility remains ours to work out how to talk about this  material in a way that’s productive and open about the unacceptable behaviour it represents.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more on this topic, the first issue of EuGeStA includes an article by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz titled “Greek Tragedy: A Rape Culture?”, which is freely available and well worth a read.

December 28, 2011

Thinking about monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:20 pm
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I type to you from the British Library, where I have taken cover for the day in order to do some more reading for the Harryhausen article. The thing I’m currently trying to get a handle on is monsters and the monstrous in film. The problem is that the two Clash of the Titans films both appear in just the wrong eras for the usual social matrixes to apply, and I’m having trouble working my own way through the implications of historical context.

To back up a little. Film has to be understood as part of its historical context. It’s one of the things that creates a film’s production conditions, that emphasises what contemporary social and cultural concerns a film speaks to. The big player in this game is American society exploring its anxieties about itself through representations of the Roman Empire, normally through empire films like The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) or Gladiator (2000). Here, the historical context is set either in the Cold War, in which case there’s obvious historical interpretation about the anxieties concerning Russia and nuclear annihilation, or it’s a question of America’s new role in the world as the lone superpower, questions of modern empire, that sort of thing. (Monica Cyrino’s Big Screen Rome has a good intro to this sort of thing if you’re interested.) The monster analysis I’ve found so far fits into this pattern – 1950s monster movies work out the social anxieties of the Cold War period, and the danger of the end of humanity, through a dehumanised vehicle that allows fear to be fully represented without coming too close to home.

Here’s the snag. The two Clash films are neither set in the right period, nor are they about Romans. The non-Roman kit isn’t such a big deal, but the chronology is more of a problem. Even given the time delay involved in producing a Dynamotion picture, the 1981 Clash is a product of the late 1970s to early 1980s, but before the 1980s egotistic boom gets under way – Perseus is, in some ways, the last of the traditional film heroes before the anti-hero craze kicks in. The Cold War is over, more or less, and the biggest national incident is the Iran embassy hostages (now, this may be a lead worth following, but I digress). 1980, interestingly, is the year Mount St. Helens erupts, which may link into concerns with landscape and danger, but only tangentially. As for Clash 2010, it too falls in an interesting half-place – it’s too late to be all about the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan (or indeed quite properly about the global financial crisis), and while it’s obviously more interested in the individual hero narrative, I don’t quite see Hades as Goldman Sachs or the collapse of the Eurozone.

So I’m trying to work out the historical context in which these two films place monsters, and which anxieties and fears those monsters express (and why the question of landscape is then relevant to how those monsters are thematically expressed). If you can see something I’ve missed or have any ideas, please do put them in the comments!

November 15, 2011

Thoughts on Animating Antiquity

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:28 am
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Last week’s conference on Ray Harryhausen, Animating Antiquity: Harryhausen and the Classical Tradition, was a really good experience, both personally and intellectually. I should start out by thanking Steve Green and Penny Goodman of the University of Leeds for all the hard work they put in to making the day a success, and to the National Media Museum in Bradford for providing excellent facilities, including a great space, efficient tech and very tasty refreshments.

The conference day was split up into three panels of three papers each; you can see a full program here. I have to admit that I started off the day rather tired, as my sleeping patterns had for some reason been shot for most of the previous week, but I soon woke up as I listened to the stimulating ideas and perspectives of my fellow speakers.

I don’t want to give a complete summary of each paper, but I’ll give a quick outline in case you’re interested (more detailed abstracts
are here
). Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones gave us a framework for understanding the gods in Harryhausen’s films, while Dunstan Lowe argued for a shift towards narratives of gigantomachy in modern films rather than unquestioned divine authority. Eleanor OKell gave a persuasive and amusing account of how Harryhausen’s Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has influenced other filmic depictions of the creature, while Helen Lovatt continued the ancestor narrative by exploring the place of Jason and the Argonauts in the Argonautic mythic tradition. Tony Keen made the case for reading the Harryhausen myth films in dialogue with the contemporary Sinbad films, and Brock DeShane provided an overview of Harryhausen’s use of ancient ruins throughout his oeuvre. Stephen Trzaskoma wondered what happens if we read the gods in Clash and Jason as animators in Harryhausen’s own mould, and Steve Green closed the conference by considering Perseus’ negotiation of his identity as demi-god in the 2010 remake. (My post summarising my paper is here, just in case by some wild chance you’ve not already seen it.) (more…)

November 8, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to conference we go…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:56 am
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Things are a bit quiet on the blog at the moment, at least in part because I’m off to the Animating Antiquity conference this afternoon and have been putting elbow grease into getting my paper properly shiny. I’ve also been trying to get the next stage of my current major research project off the ground, which has involved re-reading the Senecan philosophical corpus – this has been an unexpected pleasure, as I’ve had about six months off from it, and I’m coming back to it with fresh and keen eyes that are looking for different types of passages. However, I’ve committed to giving a bit of a preview at a departmental research seminar in a fortnight – so while it’s a good spur to get me going, what with one thing and another, I’m not quite sure how everything is going to get done. Like all the marking that is already starting to appear in my inbox as students return from reading week with essays and essay outlines.

So! If the blog appears to have gone into hibernation, it’s because I’m busy getting on with teaching and research, and don’t have enough time to write about the process of doing it (a common but under-reported problem, I feel). I’ll be back with a write-up of the Animating Antiquity conference, and hopefully also a review of the ENO production of Castor and Pollux that I’m going to see at the weekend.

Incidentally, if you’re interested, you can see the outline of the paper I’ll be giving tomorrow here – no slides, I’m afraid!

November 2, 2011

Reading as Consolation in Seneca – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:11 pm
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My good luck with abstracts continues! First it was Animating Antiquity (which is now, um, next week…), then it was Feminism and Classics VI, and now it’s the Classical Association 2012 conference! There are a couple of reasons that I’m really excited about this one. It’s only the second paper I’ve had the opportunity to present that will be based on my thesis research (the first was at the Oikos-Familia conference, link leads to PDF), although technically it’s a further offshoot of the Ad Polybium article. The important thing is that it’s an opportunity to talk about Seneca, who is supposed to be my author of special interest and as yet is a bit underrepresented on the CV. The other major reason I’m very pleased about this is that the CA conference is the major classics conference in the UK, so I’ll have the chance to present my work in a nationally significant arena. It’s the first time it’s been possible for me to talk about my research to this large a group since I returned to England, and thus it will be the first time that I meet many of the people who are now my peers in the profession. It’s great that part of that process will be a chance to share what it I work on.

(I should mention that it also looks like it’s going to be a really good CA meeting for Birmingham – so far I know of one graduate-organised panel and one graduate paper that have been accepted besides me, and I’m sure more will appear on the program.)

So, what is this particular paper about? Two of the themes that this year’s CA hosts at Exeter highlighted as a suggested topics were the ancient book/material text and reading in antiquity. While I was working on the Ad Polybium article, it became increasingly clear that I needed to think about how Seneca was presenting Polybius in relation to literature and scholarship (especially as part of my argument hinged on the fact that Polybius had to be able to understand any Stoic arguments that Seneca might include in his consolation). When the CFP for the CA conference came through, it struck me that this might be a good place to begin thinking about what Seneca does with the topic of reading in his consolations – after all, he makes a similar recommendation in his consolation to his mother, so there’s a bit of a theme going here, and as yet it doesn’t seem to have been discussed much in the secondary literature on the consolations. (Not that there is that much secondary literature on the consolations in the first place, but I digress.)

The paper I will give at the CA is a chance for me to unpick these ideas of consolation and its connection to reading in a little more detail than I had the chance to do in the Ad Polybium article – it seems like it’s an important strategy, and deserves more consideration than I could give it in the article (and indeed in the thesis). I want to focus on the fact that reading seems to be viewed as something that the addressee needs to work at, really get their teeth into, in order to get the most out of the process. I particularly like the comparision Seneca draws in the consolation to his mother, where he makes a distinction between the comfort that comes from reading and the temporary distraction that comes from mathematics!

I also want to look at the kinds of literature that Seneca recommends people should read. It’s obvious in some cases that he’s referring to what we would classify as ‘literature’ (that is, Homer and similar authors), and in other places that he’s thinking of philosophical writing. I want to see if there are differences in how he conceptualises reading and the sorts of benefits we get out of it, and if what we read matters more than how we read. And that, I think, remains a live question in the cultural discourse that surrounds us today.

October 11, 2011

Experimenting with Google Scholar alerts

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:52 am
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I recently realised that I might be missing a trick by not using the Google Scholar alerts system. Someone on #phdchat mentioned that they found setting up well-targeted and sensible alerts kept them informed of research relevant to their interests, and I wondered whether they might be on to something. My current way of keeping on top of things after the initial trawl through the literature is a combination of a half-hearted glance through the titles of articles in new journals and browsing reviews that appear on BMCR, and this is perhaps not the most efficient way of keeping up to date.

So, on 22nd August I set up five Google Scholar alerts. Setting up an alert was very easy, although the system did decide (perhaps unsurprisingly) to send them to my not-particularly-active Gmail address by default. I set up five alerts to see how useful they would be. I initially thought about setting up one for Seneca, but apparently there is a very prolific scientist publishing in biochemistry of that name, and all the search results came back with his publications. So I set up a search alert for Seneca Stoic and Seneca Latin, to see how that did on keeping me up to date on relevant scholarship. (I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my own thesis came up in the search for Seneca Stoic – at least I’m out there!) I also put in a search for Polybius – risking false positives dealing with the work of the historian Polybius, but I wanted to see whether that risk was worth taking in order to get anything that might mention Seneca’s ad Polybium. Finally, I set up searches for Petronius and Priapea, one for an old project and one for a project-in-the-works, to see what (if anything) turned up. (more…)

October 6, 2011

Success! An article off to seek its fortune

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:40 am
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I am quite chuffed with myself this morning, because I have finally got the Ad Polybium article out to the journal I wished to submit it to. I feel very much as if I am sending it out to seek its fortune, stick with a knotted handkerchief on the end and all. It’s been quite a rough process; I had hoped to have this over and done with by the start of September, but fate and events conspired against me and my optimistic opinions of my own ability to do everything all at once. The process this week was more about making sure the minutiae were in place – checking that the document I intended to submit met all the requirements of the journal’s submission guidelines, for instance, which included writing an abstract and fiddling about with page numbers. When you’ve engaged with chunky arguments and argumentative approaches, coming down to small-scale formatting feels like rather a bump, however necessary it is.

In fact, it was fiddling about with page numbers that means this post is going up today rather than yesterday. At the moment, I don’t have access to a printer at home, so wanted to print the article at work. There is some Greek in the article, and thus I created a PDF at home so as to not risk the problem of the font getting garbled. Unfortunately, when I opened the file yesterday, the first thing I noticed was that the page numbers were out of sync… and there was no way for me to edit the document at work without garbling the Greek. (My attempts to install the correct font were, alas, unsuccessful.) So I had to create a fresh PDF with the correct page numbers at home before printing it all out this morning – but it’s done now!

I am hoping that this small hurdle will be apotropaic and spare me from other indignities of the article submission process, but it’s a vain hope. I know that my reading group have been over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb and have made it an infinitely better product, but I also know that guarantees nothing in the world of anonymous peer review. Obviously I’d like the article to be accepted, but more realistically I’m expecting at least one more round of significant revisions. The article has already changed its shape quite a lot since I wrote about it in May, and I expect it will change more before it finally appears in print. However, it’s out there, and I can now turn my attention to my paper for Animating Antiquity next month – it’ll be a nice change of pace to spend some time in front of my freshly ordered Clash of the Titans DVDs!

August 22, 2011

Dealing with referees’ comments on journal articles

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:26 am
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I meant to write this post a while ago, after I read this post by @evalantsoght on dealing with peer review comments on articles you have submitted. I’m currently in the process of putting an article together and I’m sure I’ll be blogging a bit more about the process of going through review when I’m in the thick of it again, but I thought it might be worth sharing how I worked through the comments I had on my last article.

In my field, you usually get reports back from two peer reviewers; each report starts off with a summary of what they think your article is about (always a good way of finding out if you’ve said what you thought you were saying), an outline of their general reaction to it and its arguments, and then page by page specifics on the article, which can range from picking out a typo or infelicitous phrase to pointing out the weakness of the argument in a particular section. I developed the following system for coping with my readers’ reports:

1. Don’t look at them. Whenever you first read a reader’s report, you get caught up in a wave of emotions – fear, despair, anger, distress, a sense of inadequacy and so on. The best thing to do is to read the reports as soon as you get them, assess what the next step is, and then put them away for at least a fortnight. The editor will have told you whether the article has been accepted, whether you’ve been asked to revise and resubmit, or whether you’ve been given an outright rejection, so you already know how urgent it is for you to do any further revisions. Get a sense of the work needed, let yourself have the emotional reaction, and then give yourself a couple of weeks to get over your sense of injustice before coming back to the comments with a clearer mind. They never feel so dreadful the second time around. (more…)

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