Fellowship in New York awarded to Doctoral Researcher, Laura Robson

Former Reading doctoral student, Dr. Laura Robson, who obtained her PhD in 2013, has been awarded a prestigious Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health at the New York Academy of Medicine.

Laura, who was also an undergraduate in Classics at Reading, will spend a month in New York exploring how sixteenth-century medical works used images and texts from Andreas Vesalius’ anatomical treatise, the Fabrica.

She will use Geminus’s Compendiosa (1545) and Raynalde’s translation of The byrth of mankynde (1545) to demonstrate the complex relationship between anatomical image and text and to unite the history of the book with the history of the representation of the body.

Many congratulations to Laura!

Ure Museum Internship Available

This summer do you fancy a paid internship to work in a museum? If so, look no farther than the Classics Department’s Ure Museum. The Ure Museum is pleased to announce an internship for Summer 2014, offered through the Reading Internship Scheme (at CPEC): see http://www.reading.ac.uk/careers/RIS/current.asp for details and how to apply.

The intern will curate the Ure Museum digital image collection—up to 20,000 images documenting the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, especially objects in its collection, related objects, events and archives—as part of a larger project to research and distinguish the audiences for the Ure Museum’s digital provision. The intern will work with curators and archivists to distinguish images according to their potential audiences, organise them and direct them to the appropriate means of digital publication. Successful completion of this project will increase the uptake in the usage of this important resource via social media, international networks (such as Europeana, the EU’s digital library) as well as the University’s own website and databases.

This is a 5-week internship for Summer 2014. Participating students are required to attend the pre-placement workshop at UoR on either 11th or 18th June 10am-12pm.

Applications due 1st June so don’t hesitate!

Promoting Undergraduate Research in Classics

Many congratulations to Mathew Britten, currently a second-year undergraduate student in our department and president of the Reading University Classics Society, on getting his article ‘Don’t Get the Wrong End of the Stick: Lifting the Lid on Roman Toilet Behaviour‘ published in Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Well done, Mathew!

Mathew’s publication is the outcome of a presentation at the 2013 British Conference of Undergraduate Research.

Our department has a long history in supporting Undergraduate Research – a number of recent news items on this topic can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Travel Award: Our Doctoral Researcher Lee Graña reports from a colloquium held in Madrid

Our Doctoral Researcher Lee Graña obtained a departmental travel award from the Wardman Travel Award fund, enabling him to attend a colloquium in Madrid. Here is his report:

The international colloquium ‘Recursos del mar y productos transformados en la antigüedad’ took place over two days in February at the Casa de Velázquez institute in Madrid, Spain. Attending were French, Spanish and Portuguese professors, archaeologists and chemists, as well as Tonnes Bekker Nielsen from Denmark and Wim Van Neer from Belgium.

Casa de Velazquez, Madrid.

Casa de Velazquez, Madrid.

The subject was the Roman fishing industry via the study of the archaeological remains of fish-processing sites. The aims were to evaluate the current trends in the study of the ichthyofaunal remains of recent archaeological sites across the Mediterranean and Atlantic coast.

The event was open to the public and free of charge. However, due to the nature of the subject and the concentration on the current attitudes of professional research, only a hand full of students attended. This proved beneficial as it allowed more concrete discussions among the leading experts.

3rd of Feb (day one)

An introduction was given by Arturo Morales Muniz who discussed the history of this field of study and highlighted the issues of previous scholars and their legacy on modern interpretations.

Poster advertising entrance to the colloquium. Pictures could not be taken within the lecture theatre.

Poster advertising entrance to the colloquium. Pictures could not be taken within the lecture theatre.

The talks that followed in the morning were given in French and Spanish and discussed our current understanding and interpretations of the available evidence: economic traits of production sites (Enrique Garcia Vargas); growing appreciation for Black Sea industry (Tonnes Bekker Nielsen); tituli picti from amphorae remains (Kevin Quillon); and alternative resources for Baetican production (Dario Bernal Casasola).

I was fortunate that, due to the low attendance of students, I was invited to have lunch with the professors, giving me an opportunity to hear their thoughts on the subject in a more informal setting, as well as discuss my current work with the University of Reading.

The second session saw a concentration on the ichthyofaunal remains from current excavations, with a focus on the Atlantic coast: Brice Ephrem on France; Wim Van Neer on production sites further inland; and Carlos Fabiao, the leading expert in Portugal, and Sonia Gabriel, discussed their approach to the excavation of one of the largest known production sites of the Roman Empire at Troia and current excavations at the Tajo estuary.  This included the environmental sampling of ichthyofaunal remains, often missing in Mediterranean digs. Finally, Eufrasia Rosello Izquierdo and Arturo Morales Muñiz, discussed an overview of such ichthyofaunal remains in the Iberian Peninsula.

The end of the first day saw a debate spark off among the leading experts on the Latin terminology used in describing the fish-sauce manufactured by the Romans. Sally Grainger, an experimental archaeologist and graduate of the University of Reading, defended her views and experiments as a chef and was allowed to give a talk the following day.

4th of Feb (day two)

The second day was much shorter. Prior to a coffee break the lectures given were conducted by chemists and environmental archaeologists: Sonia Gabriel, Ines Vaz Pinto, Nicolas Garnier and Myriam Sternberg. This provided us with the techniques and results of conducting up to date chemical analyses of ichthyofaunal and mineral remains. The conclusions suggested a more complex industry than previously believed, with the possible dyeing, or flavour enhancing of fish sauces. The reasons suggested by Dario Bernal and Sally Grainger were the possible imitation of more expensive versions of fish sauce.

Sally Grainger then gave us a talk on her experimental research on fish sauce and how her results, in line with the classical record, suggested the names given to fish-sauces were related to their production, stating: “The Greek transliteration by the Romans, rather than translation, along with modern misinterpretations by scholars restricted to a few sources, have confused our understanding of fish sauces”.

The final talk was given by a chemist, Victor Palacios Macias who, along with Dario Bernal Casasola, have also experimented on the reproduction of Roman fish-sauce, as chemically identical as possible to environmental samples recovered at Baelo Claudia in Southern Spain. The results were positive and the sauce a gastronomic success. To our benefit, some samples had been brought to Madrid for us to try. Delicious!

Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

Figure 3: Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

The fish sauce produced by Palacios Macias is a prototype for a product that will hopefully reach the market in a short time. Along with an Italian fish sauce (Colatura) they are the only commercial fish sauces produced in Europe which claim to continue a near three thousand year old tradition of fish sauce production. Regardless the commercial value, the product has also highlighted several aspects previously ignored, though argued by a few scholars (such as Sally Grainger): that the Roman fish sauce is far from “a poisonous fish that burns the stomach” as suggested by the well-known stoic, Seneca (Ep. xcv.xxv), defending the principles of his time. Instead it is a nutritional and delicious product that would have been enjoyed by many. Certainly the result of a successful industry that requires further study.

My experiences at the conference, the contacts made and the novel approaches highlighted to me by some of the leading experts in the field have made this trip an important starting point for my PhD research and for future work in this field. This would not have been possible without the support of my supervisor and the University of Reading.

Lee Graña

Prof. Eleanor Dickey to give the 2014 Gaisford Lecture

Dickey photoWe are delighted to announce that our colleague Prof. Eleanor Dickey has been invited to give the prestigious Gaisford Lecture.

She will speak on the topic of

Lucian’s Shortbread Eating Primer’: how to make fun of your language textbook

Thursday 8 May 2014, 5 pm, Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies, Oxford.

Prof. Dickey will also give a lecture on the topic of

Education, Research, and Government in the Ancient Greek World

Thursday 8 May 2014, 1pm, Gresham College, London.

Both lectures are free and everyone will be welcome.

Classics Research Seminars – Summer Term 2014

We are delighted to announce our programme of research seminars for Summer Term 2014.

Unless otherwise indicated, all seminars will take place at 4pm in the Ure Museum. Everyone welcome!

28 May
Chris Faraone
‘Women and Children First: The Earliest Evidence for Ancient Greek Body Amulets’

4 June
Vasileios Syros
‘Greek Economic Thinking and the Emergence of Political Economy in the Islamic World’

11 June
Bev Scott
‘And Venus was her name? Medea ipsa in Valerius Flaccus’

18 June
Agnès Garcia Ventura
‘Workers at the end of the 3rd millennium BCE Mesopotamia: some reflections on job categories, gender and kinship’

Studying the Book of the Dead at Reading

Dr Nick West writes:

The words of Papyrus Chester Beatty IV, a short text extolling the immortality of writers, still resonate after 3000 years or so:

“Their portals and mansions have crumbled, their Ka servants (mortuary cult priests) are gone; their tombstones are covered with soil, their graves are forgotten. Their name is pronounced over their books, which they made while they had being; good is the memory of their makers, it is forever and all time!”

If you go down to Typography today, you’re in for a big surprise. There’s lots of marvellous things to see and curiosities on display.

Unmetrical allusions to teddy bears aside, the department holds a real treasure for me (among many others). One I’ve been dying to have myself, namely, a Book of the Dead papyrus.

The Palmer papyrus may be a tiddler as BD papyri go (just over 13 feet long) but it’s still close to being three of me lying down. I didn’t measure precisely;  you get funny looks lying prostrate in a corridor.

Still, although it is not the 100 feet plus leviathan of which the British Museum can boast, the Palmer papyrus can rival the BM’s collection. Only one papyrus from the BM (and apparently no other papyrus in the world, according to my advisors) compares with our papyrus in Reading because it is one of only two that can be called ‘hybrids’.

Over the millennium long evolution of the Book of the Dead’s development there were several distinct styles of laying out a manuscript. These set styles do not seem to have been mixed … that is with the exception of P. BM EA 9904 and the Palmer papyrus.

I had no idea about this when I went to visit and when the protective covers were removed I had the biggest shock of my life … a mixed style papyrus.

The first portion is laid out in the horizontal ‘Theban style’ and written in Egyptian hieratic (a shorthand script based on hieroglyphs) while the remainder is written out in hieroglyphs either in vertical columns or horizontal rows.

My mind was totally blown: nothing I had learnt about the Book of the Dead prepared me for this moment. Once I’d recovered from my initial stupor it occurred to me that even though this is a reasonably late papyrus (Ptolemaic period circa 200 BC) I was still looking at a text that was a century or two more than 2000 years old! It never sounds much in print but the immediacy of this statistic really hits you when you are gaping at it!

This brings me back to the quotation from Papyrus Chester Beatty, composed around the time the Book of the Dead was being put together. Although the top quarter of the papyrus is lost the name of the papyrus’ owner remains in a number of places: Heru-ibu the daughter of Ta-neferu.

Reading out her name, as well as portions from the papyrus, brought it home to me that the modern term ‘Book of the Dead’ is a misnomer in several ways.

Not only does the modern name we give to a collection of texts the Egyptians called ‘spells for going forth by day’ miss the mark because the original title emphasises new life, the term hides the fact that the Book of the Dead is far from dead.

Even now scholars are comparing ever more manuscripts and deducing many regional traditions of this corpus. There may even be other eccentric people like me compiling their own manuscript.

In reading Heru-Ibu’s papyrus in its preserved state, we give her, and the other owners of BD manuscripts such as Ani, Nebseny and Hunefer, the immortality their papyri had intended.

Just as Papyrus Chester Beatty IV says, “good is the memory of their makers, it is forever and all time”!

Funding Success: Prof. Kruschwitz Obtains Prestigious British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

We are delighted to announce that Professor Peter Kruschwitz was successful in his application for a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the duration of the academic year 2014-5.

Prof. Kruschwitz will spend his fellowship on a project ‘Poetry of the People. Poetry for the People’, designed to develop a more holistic approach to Roman poetry and song culture, using the body of Roman verse inscriptions, commonly known as the Carmina Latina Epigraphica, as its paradigm.

Based on analyses of the intellectual and social contexts of the Carmina Latina Epigraphica, using both internal and external evidence, this project will establish, assess, and interpret the formal aesthetics and communicative processes of Roman subliterary poetry, which in turn will be contextualised in Greco-Roman literary history as well as the history of ideas.

Updates on progress and discoveries will be posted on Prof. Kruschwitz’s Reading Latin – Latin Reading blog in the near future.

Dr Matthew Nicholls Wins Guardian Higher Education Award for Teaching Excellence

It may not quite be the Oscars, but the recent Guardian Higher Education Award ceremony in London was certainly an exciting night out, and I was delighted to come home with the award for Teaching Excellence. The award recognised my work in using digital modelling of ancient cities in my University teaching – both my large model of Rome, now nearing completion, and my course on Digital Silchester. Those projects have been the subject of various other posts and articles, by me and others, so I thought I’d post some thoughts here about the evening and the award itself.

The call for entries was circulated in mid-October, just as the academic year was getting underway. The University collected nominations and decided which ones to enter; my suggestion for the HEA-sponsored Teaching Excellence category was selected and I was asked to write a series of 300-word paragraphs outlining my work, describing how it was delivered, stating its outcomes with relevant evidence, and listing any funding received. At this stage I was not particularly hopeful about the outcome; the entry process did not allow for any pictures to be added to the strict word count, and as mine is such a visual project I thought that this would limit how well I could convey it to the judges.

In early December, however, I was excited to learn that I had been shortlisted (alongside the University of Nottingham’s 5-year pharmacy degree programme). To be one of two shortlisted entries was extremely gratifying, given the level of competition. I was pretty sure that I would not go on to win: all the other entries in the awards scheme, including Nottingham’s, seemed to be big projects run by groups of people, whereas mine is essentially an individual piece of work – albeit one strongly and consistently supported by my department and by the wider University. But to find out, I would be going to the awards ceremony in London in the new year.

The 26th of February eventually rolled round, and I headed down to London in a very smart chauffeured car with Gavin Brooks, the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), and David Carter, one of my Faculty’s Associate Deans. The Guardian was hosting the awards in style at 8 Northumberland Avenue, a distinguished Victorian hotel building off Trafalgar Square now restored (after a period as offices for the Ministry of Defence) as a very grand conference venue. There were between two and three hundred people there, representing the shortlisted universities and the sponsors of the various awards.

I had been shortlisted for a BUFAVC award for Learning on Screen in 2013, so the format of the evening, including the long and increasingly tense wait for one’s own award category to come round, was familiar. After an hour or so of high-decibel mingling over some very nice canapés and Champagne, we moved into the large ballroom, set out with tables (bearing yet more canapés) facing the stage. The evening’s host was Victoria Coren, who writes the poker column for the Observer. She moved fairly briskly through the award categories, keeping the evening moving along with good humour.

The announcement of each category’s winner was preceded by a little video in which the chairman of the judging panel made some remarks about the field of entries – a high standard, difficult to choose, and so forth – and then a sentence or two about why they had chosen the winner (without revealing who it might be). The first intimation that I might have won came when the judges for the Teaching Excellence award said that they had chosen to reward a scheme that was about teaching, rather than about organising teaching – David and I had time to exchange a could-it-be? sort of glance, and then ‘University of Reading’ was announced as the winner – a really exciting moment. A burst of rather loud and lively music and some flashing lights gave me time to walk up to collect my trophy and pose for pictures, with Victoria Coren and Stephanie Marshall, the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy.

David had prudently brought his iPad along and hooked up to the venue’s wifi to Tweet a series of images and messages. Like most events of this type now there was an official Twitter hashtag and a live video feed of messages, so we enjoyed seeing ours scroll past, and then seeing nice emails, FB posts, and Tweets pouring in.

The excitement of winning a trophy at a big national ceremony was wonderful, and the sort of thing that does not come often in a career. The trophy is on my desk, my mother has a copy of the photos, and the whole thing left a warm glow that will, I should think, last a while. That apart, though, I was particularly glad about two things.

One was the recognition for the support I’ve enjoyed from my departmental colleagues and students, and from the wider University. They have all consistently supported me through allowing me to try unusual new modules, through TLDF, Digitally Ready, and UROP grants and a University Teaching Fellowship, and more broadly through an environment that genuinely encourages innovation and the use of technology in teaching practice. Reading is very supportive to those willing to try something new, or adapt a practice or technology to their own subject.

The second, connected to this, is that the HEA in judging the award chose to recognise a project that is essentially the creation of me as a single academic, which links my research straight into my teaching. The other award categories on the night reflected the nature of modern universities as large, diverse businesses run largely by committees and teams: there were honours for business partnerships, communications and PR campaigns, community engagement, facilities projects, HR initiatives, and so on. These are all important, but it does seem to me that research and teaching are really our ‘core business’, and in my own humanities discipline, the individual researcher/teacher model is still at the heart of a lot of what we do – though we work well as a team, my colleagues and I all enjoy pursuing our own specialised work and conveying it to our students.  I was very pleased that this way of working was able to hold its own on the night.

Matthew Nicholls

Posters in Parliament

There are few things more gratifying for any academic teacher than seeing one’s students succeed. The following is such a success story:

Abi Cousins, a current finalist in our department, recently won at the 2013 Reading Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) showcase event with a poster that displayed the main findings of her UROP project ‘Communication Disorders in the Ancient World: Lack of Language, Lack of Power?’. The project was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, and since then it has resulted in a preliminary publication of their findings in the JACT journal Omnibus.

In recognition of Abi’s excellent achievements, the University of Reading gave her the opportunity to present her research at the 2014 Posters in Parliament event in London on 25 February, organised by the University of Central Lancashire and the British Conference of Undergraduate Research.

In an overall heavily science-dominated setting, Abi’s poster – the only submission in the area of Classics from the entire UK and one of the very few posters based on Arts-and-Humanities-related projects – attracted significant attention: even after an hour and a half of answering questions (in what was planned to be a one-hour slot), Abi still found herself answering questions and offering offprints of her co-authored article.

Abi said: ‘It was an excellent opportunity and a great chance to meet people genuinely interested in my work as an undergraduate and talk to them about something I was passionate about. A long day but so much fun and so rewarding.’

Prof. Kruschwitz, who also attended, said: ‘It is excellent to see that University of Reading shows its ongoing, substantial support for, and belief in, Undergraduate Research, which gives due credit to all academic disciplines, including those of the Arts and Humanities. Abi has done herself proud – again! –, and she was a wonderful, enthusiastic ambassador both for the excellent things we do here at Reading and for her academic discipline. Our department has a long track record in successful engagement with undergraduate research (including a number of publications derived from such projects), and today has added an exciting new chapter to this lasting success story.’