Classicising Crisis: a new publication

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Some important modern political movements call on us to ‘decolonise’ the discipline of Classics and reframe it with less of an emphasis on ‘dead white males’. This is a positive way forward, but we should not forget that the literature and culture of antiquity, in all its diversity, has repeatedly been used to to explore […]

Towards a more inclusive Classics – update on the June workshop

[Update: a nice external writeup of this event has now been published by ‘Mixed up in Classics’ at mixedupinclassics.wordpress.com/2020/07/22/inclusive-classics-conference/]

(Posted on behalf of Professor Barbara Goff)

Well, the event exceeded all our expectations.  150 participants registered, including about 30 students and 30 school teachers, and also including colleagues from New Zealand, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Greece and Belgium.  It was a remarkable meeting, and my co-organiser and I are so pleased we went the online route – without that, we would never have met so many inspiring classicists.

The Zoom format was a bit daunting at first to manage, but we had excellent technical support from Reading’s very own Dr James Lloyd, and our confidence did grow over the two days.  We adopted a new format for this workshop which we can highly recommend.  Speakers’ materials were precirculated online, and then speakers’ actual presentations were very short – only 5 minutes.  Subsequent to that, questions were posted in the chat and moderated by one of the hosts, after which the workshop went into breakout rooms of about 7 people each, for smaller group discussions.

The chat was astonishingly rich, as people did not only post questions but also numerous suggestions for each other, with links and recommendations of books and websites.  All the chat was saved so it can form part of our final report to the Council of University Classics Departments (CUCD) who will publish it in their Bulletin.  I loved reading all the exchanges, although it was hard work to winnow them when it was my turn to moderate and feed pertinent questions to speakers.  I also loved being in the breakout rooms, where I met a huge range of people interested both in the ancient world and in how to promote new ideas about its diversity.

All the papers were stimulating and many dove-tailed with each other in very rewarding ways.  Highlights of discussion included: how to decolonise the teaching of classics in schools as well as at universities; what role reception studies can play in reconceptualising our relations to the ancient world; how to factor a greater range of texts into teaching in order to understand the diversity of antiquity; how the move of teaching online has enhanced some opportunities, and encouraged people to rethink resources; whether we can rethink Classics without rethinking other aspects of the university and higher education generally; and whether we should consider renaming our discipline.  This was all in addition to more specific discussion generated by the variety of papers.  We closed with a panel that included a teacher, two students, and two academics from South America, who debated specific suggestions towards more inclusive teaching, which will also form part of our report.

Work is now afoot to convene a steering committee who will make the workshop an annual event.  Meanwhile, one of our participants has come up with an ‘Inclusive Unseens’ project, which is crowdsourcing new passages for the Latin GCSE unseen.  Teachers and academics are collaborating to provide passages from a greater variety of places, cultures and social classes across the Roman world. 

It is great to know that there is so much energy for the project of making our discipline more welcoming and better suited to our multicultural world.  If you would like to be part of a new Working Group which links the Department of Classics at Reading with the Department of Archaeology, to investigate the inclusivity of our courses and scholarship, please do get in touch.

Towards a more inclusive Classics

Last autumn – it seems a long time ago! – I was very honoured to be invited to speak on ‘Classics and Race’ at an event hosted by St Andrews.  The organisers were aware of my research on Classics in West Africa, and I was pleased to be able to share that, plus I spoke about books that had recently inspired me, like Superior: the return of race science and Afropean: notes from Black Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afropean reminds readers of the persistent presence of people of African descent within a European continent that people sometimes think of as ‘white’. Superior starts with a visit to the British Museum, where the neoclassical architecture shows us that ‘Britain framed itself as the heir to the great civilizations of Egypt, Greece, the Middle East, and Rome’.  This cultural power and entitlement expressed itself in many ways, including the domination of non-white people throughout the world.  The legacies of this hierarchical attitude beset us still today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both these books invite reflections from classicists who are keen to site our discipline firmly in the twenty-first century, and to foreground a history that need not be one only of exclusion. Although these books address questions of race (even while they query the term), other recent work in Classics has shown how the marginalised populations of women and the working class have laboured to build meaningful relationships with the art, literature and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  This is an important reminder about what our discipline can be and do, at a time when numerous communities across the world are protesting the fallout from centuries of racism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The move to ‘decolonise’ Classics take place in a context when disciplines like History, Art History, and Mediaeval Studies have all had similar developments.  All of these disciplines want to rethink their history and make themselves welcoming to more diverse populations of students and scholars.   The ‘Classics and Race’ workshop was part of this, as was the ‘Decolonising Classics’ workshop organised at Reading by Katherine Harloe and Rachel Mairs, in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All these intellectual currents came together at St Andrews, and I was delighted when Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis suggested that she and I collaborate to organise a seminar series on inclusive Classics at the Institute of Classical Studies.  Alexia has long been involved in outreach events that promote diversity within Classics, and has a special interest in how material culture can be used in such contexts.

Events quickly overtook us and we found ourselves organising a big one-day workshop instead of a seminar series; our call for papers produced 12 contributions that range widely over topics like how to teach the ancient Persians, how to teach Latin to students with dyslexia, how to make the Parthenon Marbles accessible to blind students, and how to negotiate a career in Classics as a person of colour.  When Covid-19 struck, we realised we had been even more overtaken by events.  We wondered whether to cancel or postpone, but decided the issues were too urgent.  So we agreed to take the event online, and spread it out over two afternoons, so as not to have too much ‘Zoom fatigue’.

The wonderful thing that has now happened is that instead of getting 30 scholars and students from the UK in a room at the Institute in London, we have 106 participants from 11 countries.  Needless to say, we are terrified, but wildly excited too. It is a sign that these discussions are timely and are what people want to engage with.  We are very much looking forward to intense and fruitful conversations, and we must cross our fingers that the new technology can keep up with the ancient discipline.  Have a look at our programme here.

And please feel free to get in touch for further information.

Professor Barbara Goff (b.e.goff@reading.ac.uk).

Call for Papers: Rome’s Forgotten Poetry

Rome’s forgotten poetry:

Poetic production between community-based art, folklore, and avant-garde entertainment

 

Panel in the 13th Celtic Conference in Classics, Lyon 15-18 July 2020

 

Poetry was an omnipresent element of cultural practice of the Roman world. The corpus of ‘published’ (literary) poetry that survives until the present day, to a very large extent, was the product of individuals who, as members of Rome’s ruling classes or their protégés, would find a medium for personal expression and declaration of feelings and beliefs in their poetic compositions, a way to demonstrate artistic skills and aspirations, a ticket to the limelight, etc. Persius’ first satire, for example, is abundant in references to this role of literature in the 1st c. AD: the satirist finds in his little book the way to express his innermost thoughts (1.120), whereas the majority of poets publish their work in the hope of public attention (1.26-77). 

Not all of the poetic activity of the Romans was made public, however. Poetry was written also casually and shared among friends, either expressing affection or wittiness, as Cicero (Fam. 12.16) tells us about one of his friends. And although the surviving remnants of published evidence is more easily accessible to us, poetic activity was documented more conspicuously in everyday life in the Roman world. For one, messages conveyed in verses inscribed in the walls of Pompeii testify to this, whereas verse inscriptions are visible and tangible reminders of poetic compositions that belonged to the people outside the educated elite and beyond the city of Rome.

Beyond its production, poetic activity was also apparent in recitations and manifold performances that are not necessarily best described as examples of dramatic or performing genres. In a notorious passage, Livy (7.2.1-8) explores the development of what one might loosely describe as forms of scenic entertainment in its various manifestations before the paradigmatic shift associated with Livius Andronicus. However, performances of this type with casual verse composition and exchanges between actors have survived until much later, with the participation and active as well as passive involvement of people regardless their social class. Petronius (Sat. 90) reports such a poetic recitation without the expected results, whereas Persius again in his first satire gives examples of poetic recitations that provoke his criticism (1.15-23, 88-90). All these examples elevate Latin poetry from compositions that were merely produced for publication, recitations and performances with specific settings, and artistic products associated with an educated upper class, to a predominantly cultural activity which was inclusive, with the engagement of people that we do not need to understand as historically or socially determined communities.

Disentangling the widespread, shared cultural practice  from dogmatically imposed social and spatial constraints, we propose to examine the poetry of ‘the people’ in its own right, while including its social dynamics, with a view to how poetry as a cultural activity interacted with society, which role(s) it played to its heterogeneous audiences, and how the Romans construed poetry by perpetually interacting with it. Thus, we will look into the poetics of these compositions and enquire into the extent to which people complied to traditional norms and genres. From a different angle, it is also possible to investigate this evidence and examples as parts or variables of ‘popular culture’, exploiting the framework that has been developed recently by Horsfall (2003), Toner (2009), and Grig (2017). Finally, research on literary developments and poetic compositions as cultural activities will contribute to a better understanding of the Roman poetic landscape, as well as of the Roman literary culture (Fantham 1996). Overall, we believe that this approach is designed to bridge the gap between composition and activity in our studying of Roman poetry, considering literary production across social, ethnic, and linguistic groups.

Within this context, we would like to invite proposals for a panel in the 13th Celtic Conference in Classics (Lyon, 15-18 July 2020). Proposals can address themes and answer questions related, but not limited, to:

Evidence

  • Evidence for documented but not survived poetic activity and its reception in the historical, social, and literary context.
  • Poetic compositions shared within communities and networks without any intention to be published can be examples of this.
  • Poetic compositions publicly displayed (e.g. inscriptions), but not published.
  • Testimonia of oral composition.

Poetics

  • Poetics of the poetry of the people: stylization; metres and canons; compliance with or divergence from the traditional forms?
  • Themes in the poetry of the people: love, death, wittiness, satire.
  • Short poetic compositions that cannot be defined in terms of genre.

Poetry as cultural activity

  • Forms and contexts of poetic recitations and performing acts in their historical and literary contexts; the evidence for mime.
  • Literary production that is deliberately associated with or disassociated from social classes and its implications. Poetic composition beyond the city of Rome.
  • Poetic production and/against consumption; different compositions in private/public spheres of cultural activities; was the consumed poetry the same or correspondent to the poetry they composed and/or published?
  • Poetry of the people and interaction with the historical, social, and political contexts. E.g. Suetonius (Ner. 39.1) reports the short compositions against Nero that people circulated or posted.

 

Confirmed speakers:

Yelena Baraz (Princeton University)

Hans Bork (Stanford University)

Maria Jennifer Falcone (University of Pavia)

Jan Kwapisz (University of Warsaw)

Marie Ledentu (Université Lyon III – Jean Moulin)

Luke Roman (Memorial University)

Christoph Schubert (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität)

 

Please, send your abstracts (300 words) to either of or both the organisers: Dr Andreas Gavrielatos (a.gavrielatos@reading.ac.uk) and Professor Peter Kruschwitz (peter.kruschwitz@univie.ac.at) by the 28th February 2020. We aim to complete the selection of papers by the Ides of March.

Due to some secured funding, a limited amount of money will be used to support participants towards travel expenses and/or registration fees. Priority will be given to those without a permanent post, independent researchers, scholars from under-represented groups, etc.

Fear in Ancient Culture

The 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature 2020 University of Reading, Department of Classics
Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th of June 2020

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading is delighted to host the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) in 2020. The theme for this year is Fear in Ancient Culture.

This year’s AMPAL includes a tour of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, our departmental museum founded by Percy and Annie Ure. In addition to the museum’s permanent display, we are proud to present two temporary displays: the British Museum’s Spotlight loan on the theme of Helen and Achilles: beauty, heroism & the fall of Troy, and an inaugural student exhibit, Fear Beyond Words.

We are delighted to announce that the AMPAL 2020 Keynote Speech will be delivered by Professor Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton). The speech will be open to all university members and the general public.

Fear is a driving force behind human action that can push people to exceed their own expectations or prevent them from acting at all. As a powerful motivator and emotion, fear has a pervasive presence in ancient life and thought, which is also reflected in literature in multiple ways relating among others to motivation, social interaction and power dynamics. Furthermore, as early as Aristotle’s Poetics, fear had already been understood as a ruling force and a powerful notion even for the construction of literary genres, especially of tragedy. While evaluating the ancient literature as an integral part of understanding such a concept, the diverse influences of different fields of study, such as literary criticism, political theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, can add valuable insights.

In this context, AMPAL 2020 invites presentations on fear from literary or interdisciplinary approaches. Questions as to how fear can be defined, who, how and why, causes fear, how fear is related to other aspects of ancient thought, how the sense of fear grows or fades, how this notion forms the interaction among humans or between mortals and gods,

and the role of language in the creation of a fearful or fear-free context, are all considered to be substantial aspects of this year’s theme.

Suggested topics on fear may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fear and literary criticism, meta-poetical or reception analysis
  • Fear and other emotions; fear disguised as other emotions; fear and the sense of respect; fear and related notions and experiences; fear and the five senses or other body reactions
  • Cognitive and behavioural approaches to fear, and emotions in general
  • Fear and the manipulation of memory
  • Fear and the construction of myth and heroic profiles or/and social or political identity
  • Fear and power play; the control of political dynamics; the promotion of political agendas and ideas
  • Psychoanalytical approaches to fear; gendered fear; fear as a significant aspect of rites; fear as anxiety
  • Fear of the other (Orientalism, Amazons etc.); philosophical approaches to fear; fear and the fundamental existential questions
  • Depictions and illustrations of fear in ancient art and material culture
  • Aspects, perceptions and depictions of fear in late antique and early Christian literature and thought; reception of the ancient concept of fear in early modern literature

The Department of Classics at Reading invites postgraduates of every level to submit an abstract of 250-300 words for a 20-minute paper followed by 10-minute discussion by the 21st of February 2020. Abstracts should be sent as an unnamed PDF to readingampal2020@reading.ac.uk. Please include your name, university affiliation, programme and year of study in the body of your email and not in the abstract.

AMPAL 2020 is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students in any relevant discipline as well as to the general public. Details on the registration fee, the conference dinner and other relevant procedures will be announced in due time. All welcome!

Further information on the exact location of the conference and other events attached to AMPAL 2020 can be found at its website.

Please keep an eye on AMPAL 2020 website and to AMPAL Facebook and Twitter for further announcements. Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and spread the word!

Ure researchers show Cyprus in 3D

Through the “Cyprus: 3D” project Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology researchers are highlighting the Ure’s Cypriot holdings and investigation their research and pedagogical value. From among its 100+ artefacts from this Mediterranean island, 19 terracotta figurines of the Kamelarga style from Kition have been chosen for this project. The figurines, which date from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC), represent worshipers holding food, animals, shields and musical instruments. Such figurines have been interpretedTraditionally as ex-votos, but the loss of their archaeological context leaves many questions yet to be answered.

We captured these figurines through photogrammetry to get virtual 3D models, which we later edited and 3D printed. We printed them in different textures, sizes and colours, as some of the original terracottas were found fragmented, with and without traces of paint, etc. Our goal was to encourage the handling of these replicas and to analyse our audience’s reactions. Cyprus: 3D was the common thread throughout our calendar of educational activities for 2018-2019: we have incorporated our figurines in many events to promote the collection as part of our outreach programme and audience development, in which older teenagers and families had the chance to play with our prints as a way to have a better understanding of Cypriot ancient culture. We encouraged responses from the participants with questions about what the figures looked like, who they might represent, what genders they might reflect, what each figure was carrying, with follow-on questions such as why they might be carrying these attributes.

Claudina Romero Mayorga

Learners from different backgrounds, ages and learning abilities engaged with our resources in similar ways: they overlooked the printing quality in some of the replicas and embraced the opportunity to touch and “play” with copies of fragile artefacts that are usually safeguarded inside our cases. The sense of touch provide us with a “tactile reality”, sensations capable of generating mental images that are important for communication, aesthetics and concept formation. Audience interpretations of the artefacts —in terms of gender, status, attributes, etc.—largely matching the theories of the excavators and scholars that have been studying Cypriot material for decades. Learners “played” with the replicas, allowing us to create different slow-motion animations that tried to evoke ancient rituals and behavioural patterns from a civilisation now long gone. With these animations #TheVotives, our team of Cypriote musicians, has developed quite a following on twitter.

 

[i] Calendar of activities in a slide

A Reading student on the island of Chios

(By Naomi Miller, third-year undergraduate in the Department of Classics)

Those who live on the island of Chios will tell you that is the island where Homer was born, lived, and composed the legendary epics. Whilst this in itself may be highly debated among the Classical field, it is easy to be blown away by the landscape – sitting in the hills, overlooking the Aegean Sea, you can easily feel the magic and inspiration that could have inspired such great works.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time in Chios over the Summer and had plenty of opportunities to see the island for myself. If you get the opportunity to visit it, there are several sites to visit (for both the Homer and non-Homer fans!):

The south of Chios is the only area of the world in which mastic is produced. Surrounded by the fields that farm these trees are many picturesque medieval villages. Pyrgi is one of them, known famously as the painted village. Almost every house in the village is covered in carved with geometric designs, and it is a beautiful place to enjoy a cold coffee and spend an afternoon wandering around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another site worth visiting is perhaps the largest archaeological site in Chios, part of it believed to be a Mycenaean settlement. Interestingly, the Temple of Athena is argued by some academics to be similar to that of a temple described in Iliad, perhaps further adding to the idea that Homer actually lived on Chios and was inspired by what he saw there. Certainly, the views from the top of the settlement could inspire any poet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the site of Daskalopetra, otherwise known as Teacher’s Rock, the rumoured site where Homer sat and composed the Iliad and Odyssey. Although it is now believed to be a temple dedicated to Cybele, it is definitely still a cult site for those who adore the works of Homer. Over the years it has played host to many readings of the epic poems, and dramas in Ancient Greek still are performed in the summer. And if this isn’t enough to interest you, then the Homer Taverna next to the site does wonderful mezze dishes!

I feel very privileged to have had the chance to explore Chios, meet the incredibly hospitable people, and bask in the Homeric world. Whilst I was there I not only was able to further my own learning and understanding for my own research and dissertation, but also learn a great deal about what Homer means to the modern Chians, and experience Greek xenia for myself.

 

(All photos by the author.)

Reading Classics doctoral student takes part in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii

(Written by Jessie Feito, PhD student in the Department of Classics, UoR)

In June of 2019, I was fortunate to participate in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii, a joint enterprise between Cornell University and the University of Reading. The project aims to combine the results obtained from modern technological techniques and excavation practices with data from much earlier excavations in order to investigate domestic material culture and historical change.

Modern excavations of the elite residence, now referred to as the Casa della Regina Carolina (VIII.3.14), began with a small team in the summer of 2018, and were greatly expanded in 2019. The 2019 season focused on trenches in the garden area, and, rather than excavation, I was primarily involved in the archaeobotany.

Archaeobotany refers the study of plant remains preserved in the archaeological record, often by processes including carbonisatioin, mineralisation, or, more commonly in wetter environs, waterlogging. In studying plant remains, archaeobotanists are able to shed light on many aspects of ancient life, including (but not limited to) diet, agricultural practices, past environments and environmental change.

In order to obtain seeds, or ‘macroremains,’ archaeobotanists employ a technique called flotation. During flotation, a soil sample is submerged in water and gently agitated. This allows the plant remains, which are less dense, to float to the surface, while the heavier material such as rocks and pottery, sink to the bottom. The floating material- or ‘light fraction’- is skimmed off the topped and dried, so that it can later be examined under a microscope. The heavier material is often sorted on site.

The samples from the 2019 season have the potential to provide insight into the landscape of the ancient garden, as well as into any activities that may have taken place in such a setting. Previous archaeobotanical work in gardens at Pompeii have yielded carbonised plant remains that have been interpreted as representing the burning of plants as ritual offerings and sacrifices (see Robinson 2002). It will be interesting to see what the results of the archaeobotanical analysis are able to say about the landscape of the garden of the Casa della Regina Carolina, as well as about the uses of the space and how these compare with other garden contexts.

The following photos give a sense of the meticulous procedures involved in archaeobotanical work; they were all taken by Danielle Vander Horst, MA student at Cornell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation: the flots (plant remains that floated) may be seen hanging in the background.

 

Flotation in progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting the ‘heavy fraction’ (the material that sank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation equipment in its natural setting, a Pompeii street!

A report from the International Congress of Egyptologists 2019

(Written by research associate of Reading Classics, Dr Hana Navratilova.)

The International Congress of Egyptologists 2019 took place in Cairo, where it returned after nearly 20 years. It is a regular occurrence of every four years. This time the meetings took place in one of Cairo’s historic hotels, the Mena House, a place of wartime meetings of the Allied leaders in the 1940s – and with a direct view of the pyramids. However, the programme was both attentive to historical roots, reflected in the conference venue surroundings, and very outward- and forward looking, and as it encompassed several hundred papers of scholars from all over the world, concerned with all historical periods of Egypt between early dynastic to late Antiquity and a rich variety of methodologies. Graeco-Roman Egypt was also represented, as was history of Egyptology and Oriental Studies. One might have wished for even more interdisciplinary papers showcasing the character of modern studies of ancient Egypt, but, truth be said, a full week of intense papers could not have been much extended.

As one of the session chairs, I had the opportunity to appreciate the diversity and depth of ongoing research projects. The afternoon text and languages session on Monday, 4th of November offered a rich outline of ongoing work in Egyptological philology, linguistics, text editing and text materiality. The trends included diversity of approaches, methodological openness and contextualisation. We also discussed the teaching of Greek and Latin versus teaching of ancient Egyptian!

 

 

 

 

Research of Ure Museum interns acclaimed

Every year the Ure Museum welcomes and benefits from the work of several interns from around the world, other UK universities and even Reading. This week two of our interns from Summer 2019 were celebrated for their work in the Ure. At the 2019 UROP showcase last night Ruth Lloyd, a third-year student in Classics, was awarded Best Poster in the Heritage and Creativity theme, for her work on the biography of Annie Dunman Hunt Ure (1893-1976) on a paid internship through the University of Reading’s UROP scheme. Ruth’s poster moreover was one of two singled out for inclusion in a BCUR (British Conference of Undergraduate Research) event — Posters in Parliament — which brings together undergraduate students from universities across the UK to exhibit their research in Westminster. For her research Ruth worked with Ure staff and archives, University archives and conducted oral history with Ure’s family. Some of her research has already been incorporated into Annie’s Box, an interactive museum outreach project funded by The Friends of the University of Reading. We are delighted that through Ruth’s work our museum’s co-founder Annie Ure will finally have her day in Parliament!

Meanwhile a report of Kutsi Atcicek’s internship has been published in the latest volume of Imperial College’s Imperial Engineer. Kutsi, now in his third year of a course in Materials Science with Nuclear Engineering at Imperial, came to Reading through a grant from RSMA (Royal School of Mines Association) to pursue his interest in ancient materials. Working with Professor Amy Smith & James Lloyd, one of our PhD students who has just completed his viva, Kutsi employed various analytical techniques to research the Ure’s collection of miniature votive vessels found at Sparta’s ‘Achilleion’.