Author Archives: Emma-Jayne Graham

Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces – a report by Colin Gough and Kirstie Morey

On the 6th October 2018, several members of the department, current and former PhD students, and a handful of MA Classical Studies students attended a conference hosted by the Roman Society at Senate House in London. The theme for the day was Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces and here, fresh from submitting their dissertations for A864, OU Classical Studies MA students Colin Gough and Kirstie Morey share their multisensory impressions of the day.

Colin Gough

The one question that unites students, academics and anyone interested in Classical Studies is ‘what was it like in classical times?’ At the Senate House conference last Saturday we had the opportunity to experience some of the sensations of a Roman. What does the Roman ketchup that is garum, made from putrefying fish, smell like? To this modern, westernised nose – not pleasant, and it would have taken real courage to use it as an edible additive. Yet it was so popular in Roman times that there was mass production. Did Roman men wear perfume? Thomas Derrick (Leicester) not only gave a presentation on the multisensory approach to the impact of Roman settlements in the north but, during lunch demonstrated his (real) passion for Roman scents and perfumes. There is nothing like pouring olive oils with rosemary and pepper, scaping off the excess with a strigil to get the authentic Roman post-bathing experience, even though I spent the rest of the afternoon smelling like focaccia. Patty Baker (Kent) not only gave an interesting presentation on archaeological data to explore retrieving indigenous conceptions of flora but introduced the concept of experimental archaeology in recreating floral crowns from mosaic images in Britannia. These were passed around to give the sensory feel of manufacture and wearing resulting in some new profile pictures on social media. We were treated to a fabulous talk by the author Caroline Lawrence who, with a range of ‘props’ not only gave an insight into how she uses the sensorium to develop her books but gave us a hands-on experience of some of the sights, sounds, smells and feels of the Roman world.

This brings me onto an important point, the value to Classical Studies of experientialism, that is, personally experiencing a location, environment or object. Naturally, our experiences will not be the same as an individual or group in classical times but it does give an opportunity to consider sociological changes and responses and, indeed, help formulate questions to be addressed. But it goes further. It opened my understanding of the different applications of Classical Studies. This was underpinned by the excellent talk by Mike Bishop. Twitter users may know him as @perlineamvalli. He has walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall over fifteen times and has produced two-minute soundtracks at each milecastle prompting the discussion of how the soundscape has changed (Editor’s note: you can listen to them here!). This approach not only focusses the mind on the establishing a temporal frame but allows reconstruction of a likely soundscape in Roman times. Nicky Garland (Newcastle) suggested physiological responses not available from empirical evidence that can be gained by a personally experienced, multisensory approach to the partially re-constructed Commanding Officers House at South Shields. Sophie Jackson (MOLA) gave an interesting presentation on the modern history of the Bloomberg Mithraeum and how consultants, design teams and scholars approached interpreting the archaeology to translate the atmosphere and ritual into a sensory experience for the 21st Century audience.

Unfortunately, because of space constraints, I have not named all the presenters or the subjects tackled (for more see Caroline’s own blog). However, to finish, I have two abiding memories. The enthusiasm of all who presented and the generosity they have in sharing their experience and knowledge. Using our imagination, new methodologies can be developed giving a greater insight into the past and engaging students of the future and the wider public. It has never been a better time to study classical times and sensory studies can be at the centre of all disciplines. Along with OU postgrad and WiP days, I think everyone should experience conferences – if nothing else it makes you appreciate how good we all are and how approachable and helpful other people can be.

Kirstie Morey

As an A864 OU Master’s student, October 1st was a significant date for me. The culmination of two years of hard work and my dissertation was finally submitted. But I had mixed feelings: I was extremely proud of both what I had written, and of how far I had come. I was incredibly relieved to know that it was in and that I had managed to finish it on time and within word limits. But, I was also very sad. Studying for my Masters had been such a journey and had become such a big part of my life, I simply didn’t want it to end. So, I booked myself onto a Roman Society workshop that I’d had my eye on since reading about it on Twitter, and on Saturday last, ventured to the Senate House for the Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces workshop. I was nervous at first as I didn’t think I’d know anybody and I wasn’t sure how ‘interactive’ I would be expected to be at a workshop. But, a couple of familiar faces appeared in the room and we were off. It was great.

Having been introduced to the idea of sensory studies in A864, the concepts were easy enough to follow. And the speakers were very engaging and interesting. Some papers were quite theoretical, like Thomas Derrick (Leicester) and Andrew Gardner (UCL); and some were very much more practical. We wore, felt and smelled our way through various coronas, courtesy of Patty Baker (Kent) and heard our way through the milecastles along Hadrian’s Wall, thanks to Mike Bishop. We oiled and ‘strigilled’ ourselves during lunch with ‘authentic’ Roman perfumes and we chewed on mastic chewing gum.

The highlights for me were Stuart McKie’s (Durham) talk on curse tablets and the connection between them and votive offerings and author Caroline Lawrence’s explanation of how she tries to evoke every sensual experience for the readers of her Roman Mysteries series of children’s books.  I wish she had been available for my kids’ birthday parties – she was brilliant! While Sophie Jackson from MOLA was talking about the history of the London Mithraeum, she showed us a newspaper photograph showing the thousands of people who queued daily in the 1950s to see the original ruins. A lady in the audience shared with us her memories of being in that queue and how it inspired her to become an archaeologist.  That was the icing on the cake.

I am told that this conference may not have been typical and that others aren’t usually so ‘touchy feely’ but, while that may have been the case, the fact that the theme was so interesting, and the speakers were so engaging was secondary to my enjoyment of just being there. It made me realise that my academic journey is not over and that there is plenty more to be involved with, to listen to and, maybe even one day, to contribute to.

By Colin Gough (@saddad52) and Kirstie Morey (@K33Morey)

New publications on the ancient body

The first half of 2017 has seen the publication of several new books by members of the Ancient Body cluster in the department of Classical Studies, so we thought we’d share with you some further details.

Eleanor Betts (ed) (2017) Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture (Routledge).

This new edited volume addresses the growing field of sensory approaches to Roman material culture. Extending beyond the presentations from the November 2013 conference held at The Open University Regional Centre in Camden (London), this volume discusses the value of integrating sensory perspectives into existing archaeological, historical and literary analyses of the ancient world. Amongst the chapters you will find important new explorations of theoretical and methodological approaches to ancient sensory studies, as well as specific case studies on urban sensescapes, Roman funerals, entertainment venues, the smells of the military fort of Vindolanda, the sounds of the tuba, touching and tasting in animal sacrifice, the visual and tactile aspects of signet rings and votive dedications, and the motion of pantomime performances. Several contributors are members of the Classical Studies department: Eleanor Betts, Emma-Jayne Graham and Valerie Hope. From the cover:

“The Roman empire afforded a kaleidoscope of sensations. Through a series of multisensory case studies centred on people, places, buildings and artefacts, and on specific aspects of human behaviour, this volume develops ground-breaking methods and approaches for sensory studies in Roman archaeology and ancient history. Authors explore questions such as: what it felt like, and symbolised, to be showered with saffron at the amphitheatre; why the shape of a dancer’s body made him immediately recognisable as a social outcast; how the dramatic gestures, loud noises and unforgettable smells of a funeral would have different meanings for members of the family and for bystanders; and why feeling the weight of a signet ring on his finger contributed to a man’s sense of identity. A multisensory approach is taken throughout, with each chapter exploring at least two of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The contributors’ individual approaches vary, reflecting the possibilities and the wide application of sensory studies to the ancient world. Underlying all chapters is a conviction that taking a multisensory approach enriches our understanding of the Roman empire, but also an awareness of the methodological problems encountered when reconstructing past experiences.”

For more see the Routledge website 

 Jessica Hughes, (2017). Votive Body Parts in Greek and Roman Religion (Cambridge University Press).

This major new monograph began life as part of a Leverhulme-funded project titled Changing Beliefs of the Human Body based at the University of Cambridge (2005-2009). By exploring a range of different forms of anatomical votive, across the ancient Mediterranean and parts of Europe, the book ‘aims to track how and why the anatomical votive cult developed and spread in classical antiquity, and to shed light on some of the varied meanings that these objects held for their ancient users and viewers’ (p. 3). By bringing votive body parts into a conversation with other visual and literary sources from the classical world, it emphasises their importance for a wide range of topics in classics, as well as demonstrating how votives intersect with modern theories and perceptions concerning the body. From the cover:

“This book examines a type of object that was widespread and very popular in classical antiquity – votive offerings in the shape of parts of the human body. It collects examples from four principal areas and time periods: Classical Greece, pre-Roman Italy, Roman Gaul and Roman Asia Minor. It uses a compare-and-contrast methodology to highlight differences between these sets of votives, exploring the implications for our understandings of how beliefs about the body changed across classical antiquity. The book also looks at how far these ancient beliefs overlap with, or differ from, modern ideas about the body and its physical and conceptual boundaries. Central themes of the book include illness and healing, bodily fragmentation, human-animal hybridity, transmission and reception of traditions, and the mechanics of personal transformation in religious rituals.”

For more see the Cambridge University Press website.

Jane Draycott and Emma-Jayne Graham (eds) (2017). Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future (Routledge).

Continuing the anatomical votive theme, the origins of this edited volume lie in a conference held at the British School at Rome in June 2012. Contributors to the book explore not only the roles that anatomical votive offerings played in ancient religious and healing contexts but also the roles their subsequent collection and study continue to play in shaping ideas about the human body today. Chapters include examinations of confession stelae, swaddled babies, hair, eyes, wombs, feet, and open torsos, as well as topics such as fragmentation and disability, museum collections and new chronological and theoretical assessments. Emma-Jayne Graham and Jessica Hughes, from the Classical Studies department, are both contributors. From the cover:

“Dedicating objects to the divine was a central component of both Greek and Roman religion. Some of the most conspicuous offerings were shaped like parts of the internal or external human body: so-called ‘anatomical votives’. These archaeological artefacts capture the modern imagination, recalling vividly the physical and fragile bodies of the past whilst posing interpretative challenges in the present. This volume scrutinises this distinctive dedicatory phenomenon, bringing together for the first time a range of methodologically diverse approaches which challenge traditional assumptions and simple categorisations. The chapters presented here ask new questions about what constitutes an anatomical votive, how they were used and manipulated in cultural, cultic and curative contexts and the complex role of anatomical votives in negotiations between humans and gods, the body and its disparate parts, divine and medical healing, ancient assemblages and modern collections and collectors. In seeking to re-contextualise and re-conceptualise anatomical votives this volume uniquely juxtaposes the medical with the religious, the social with the conceptual, the idea of the body in fragments with the body whole and the museum with the sanctuary, crossing the boundaries between studies of ancient religion, medicine, the body and the reception of antiquity.”

For more see the Routledge website.

Happy reading!

Classical Studies at The Student Hub Live 2015

Earlier this week I participated in The Student Hub Live 2015 (no login required!). This was a three day event streamed live online from Walton Hall in which different people from across the OU, including both staff and students, were invited to talk about what they do, conduct live experiments, engage in lively debate on everything from serial killers to language and literacy, and even have a go at this year’s quiz show: Wheel of Ologies.

This sort of online event is a great opportunity for students (and potential students!) to get a better sense of what we all do and to understand what makes the OU tick. Students who perhaps wouldn’t normally come to the campus in Milton Keynes can hear from a whole host of people who have a variety of roles in the university and can even interact with them via a chat stream or Twitter. This time around participants ranged from the new Vice Chancellor Peter Horrocks and the senior leadership team of the university, to those who run Library Services and the Careers Advisory Service, as well as central academic staff and other students.

The theme of this event was interdisciplinary study and it was tied closely to the BA/BSc(Hons) Open Degree. If you sign up to study for this degree you can tailor your studies to suit your own needs and interests. Not many other universities will let their students range quite so broadly across subjects as diverse as English literature, biology, Spanish, statistics, retail management, child psychology and of course Classical Studies! Effectively, then, the Open Degree lets you put together an entire degree programme that matches exactly what you want to study, even if these are subjects that might not normally be studied in parallel. For me, the Open Degree represents what the OU is all about: letting people who want to study do so in a way that works for them.

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On the sofa for some chat with colleagues from Social Sciences and Health and Social Care

As part of the event, I was asked to contribute to a short ‘chat show’ on Tuesday evening, sharing a sofa with colleagues from the Faculties of Social Sciences and Health and Social Care who were talking about their research on subjects as wide-ranging as Scottish Independence, the recent General Election and the upcoming EU referendum, EU citizenship and identity, as well as the practical needs of an ageing population in Britain. It was a bit daunting being amongst people who work on issues that are so very ‘now’ but as I talked a bit about identity in the Roman empire and about how my work on anatomical votive offerings helps us to understanding how ancient people thought about their identities in relation to their ever changing (i.e. ageing) bodies, I realised that we had more in common than I first thought. Our methodologies are very different, the evidence and data that we work with is also very different, but we are all interested in people, how they think and how they understand and experience the cultural contexts in which they live.

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Team ‘Ologies for Dummies’ getting quizzical.

On Wednesday I took part in the Wheel of Ologies quiz which involved two teams with buzzers trying to outdo each other on general knowledge questions linked to different ‘ologies’ (e.g. zoology, epistemology, pantology, and the wildcard bonus category of ‘ninjology’ or the study of ninjas!). My team didn’t exactly romp to victory. In fact, we lost fairly dismally, although I was relieved to get a question about Caligula’s horse correct! It was great fun to mix in with current students, heads of other faculties and people based ‘behind the scenes’ at the Library, whilst the audience played along online (possibly with some help from Google!). For me, and I think for many students, this was one of the highlights of the whole event, reminding everyone that regardless of our roles in the university we are all just ordinary people who like to have a bit of a laugh, even if general knowledge quizzes are not everyone’s strong point!

Some catch up versions of the different Hub Live sessions should be available to watch on the website before too long and you might want to keep an eye out for the next Student Hub Live and even take part!

Emma-Jayne Graham

Behind the Scenes: On location with A340 The Roman empire

Something that makes OU module materials unique is their combination of different media: printed books, audio, video, interactive activities and online materials. In the second of our ‘behind the scenes of module production’ series I thought I’d share some of our experiences of making the films for one of our new modules, due for presentation in October 2015: A340 The Roman empire.

The Roman empire covered a huge amount of territory and a range of different environments, landscapes and cultures. Some of the earliest discussions that we had as a module team were about how we could bring this diversity to life without actually being able to take students on the ultimate archaeological fieldtrip. How could we help people to understand the essential differences between the landscape of a city in North Africa and the experiences of soldiers stationed on the northern frontier of the empire? Film was the obvious solution, allowing us not only to convey what these places are (or were) like, but also to actually move around them, providing a dynamic context for the artefacts, monuments, activities and even people who lived in the Roman empire.

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Professor Phil Perkins gets up close and personal with some inscriptions in the forum at Volubilis (Morocco).

But we faced some decisions: we couldn’t film the whole empire so where would we go? After much discussion we chose three locations: Hadrian’s Wall, Rome and Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, and the city of Volubilis in Morocco. We picked these because they are places which allow us to share the types of evidence that are important to us, but also to tell the stories that we want to tell about how the empire can be understood from the remains it has left behind. Each also has its own interesting history to explore.

We had to do a lot of preparation in advance – filming educational materials is not just about turning up at an archaeological site and pointing a camera at whatever looks nice! We had to decide exactly what it was that we wanted to use the films for and how they would be divided up, what we wanted A340 students to learn about, how we could use the fact that we were on location to communicate a sense of scale and of landscape, as well as finding and then talking about evidence that was still in situ. So it was essential that we did our research, making sure that we knew what we needed film and why.

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Dr Emma-Jayne Graham filming by the river at Chesters Fort (Hadrian’s Wall) with Lindsay Allason-Jones.

The filming teams themselves were very small, made up of an academic or two to do the talking to camera and to make sure that the right things were being shot and explained appropriately, a director (who was also often operating the camera) and, in Italy and Morocco, a local fixer to smooth the way, arrange transportation and secure filming permits. It certainly isn’t glamorous! But filming is an opportunity for a module team to think creatively about how we can best share our enthusiasm for the Roman empire and make it possible to understand these places as if you were there for yourself. We all love talking to people about how fascinating we find the Roman world and to do it surrounded by columns, mosaics and Roman artefacts only heightened our excitement, something which will hopefully be clear to those who watch! Film is also our chance to draw attention to things that you might not actually notice even if you were there: an unprepossessing line of dusty rocks is the only remaining evidence for the earliest city wall at Volubilis; that pile of stones in the corner of a milecastle on Hadrian’s Wall is actually a staircase which allows us to estimate the height of the Wall; a crumbling concrete dome at Hadrian’s Villa was at one time the latest innovation in Roman architecture.

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Roman leather shoe from the excavations at Vindolanda.

Filming also gives us an opportunity to invite experts to talk about the very spot on which they are standing. Lindsay Allason-Jones shared with us her enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge about Chester’s fort on Hadrian’s Wall, whilst Andrew Birley, Director of the Vindolanda Trust, allowed us to get hands on with some of the precious finds from the site. Going to Vindolanda meant we could film archaeology in action, but it also let us talk to ordinary people and get a range of different perspectives on how we know about the Roman empire.

Each location of course had its own complications. Rome is a busy city, with traffic noise and large numbers of tourists, not to mention being prone to summer downpours and, at Tivoli, the dreaded zanzara (mosquito)! Sites on Hadrian’s Wall are spread out, meaning clambering over styles, tramping over rough ground and, in the case of our director Nick, having to walk backwards whilst filming, hoping not to fall into the 3 metre deep v-ditch! Volubilis threw up different issues, besides the heat there were cultural considerations associated with filming in an Islamic country, language difficulties and an unforeseen airline strike which led to an extra day at Casablanca airport for the team.

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Dr Eleanor Betts braves the mosquitoes by the canopus at Hadrian’s villa, Tivoli (Italy).

So, whilst we didn’t perhaps travel as widely as the emperor Hadrian once did, and certainly didn’t return home to fill our offices with quite as many spectacular souvenirs as he placed in his grand villa at Tivoli, we had a lot of fun exploring the empire and hope that students of A340 will enjoy these virtual fieldtrips to far flung (and not so far flung) parts of the Roman empire.

Watch this space for a taster film of A340 The Roman empire coming soon!

By Emma-Jayne Graham (A340 Module Team Chair)