Category Archives: PhD

A letter from Provence – Alexandre Dumas and the Classics

Paul Jackson – one of our recent Open University PhD graduates – writes from Provence with exciting news of his forthcoming translations of Alexandre Dumas’ work. Thanks for keeping in touch, Paul! 

For the best part of five years I was juggling my day job as head of classics, a second master’s degree in teaching and learning in which I was investigating active learning in the Latin classroom, and a PhD on the theology of the Epicureans under the supervision of Dr Naoko Yamagata and Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell. With the master’s degree completed, my thesis was then examined by Professor Tim Whitmarsh and Dr Carolyn Price on 21 May 2015 and was passed without any corrections. The day after I handed in my notice at work, and when the term ended I followed my heart and took myself off to Provence, and there have been ever since.

Here I have been teaching literature, stuff like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and I am also an associate member of Le Centre Transdisciplinaire d’Épistémologie de la Littérature et des Arts vivants at the Université Nice-Sofia-Antipolis. Alongside this I have been publishing parts of my thesis, travel diaries, and translations of French poetry, and in 2018 a little collection of some of my own pastoral poetry was launched over here in Valbonne. However throughout all of this I have been engaged in a much bigger project, a project that first occurred to me during my PhD.

The project, I suppose, is one of classical reception, and more specifically the reception of the classical world in French literature, in particular in the works of that great feuilletoniste Alexandre Dumas, père. Now I have been an aficionado of his since reading his stories of high adventure like Captain Pamphile and The Corsican Brothers as a child, but especially so when, as a classics scholar, I learnt of his historical writings and his novels set in antiquity, works which have yet to be rendered into English despite the enduring popularity of the author beyond the borders of France, being one of the most widely read of French authors whose books have been translated into many languages and adapted for film, television, theatre, and opera on numerous occasions.

So it is then that I am engaged in producing a new series of English editions of these works through Noumena Press, in the hope of revealing a perhaps hitherto unknown side of Dumas to the English-speaking world, a perhaps more erudite side, and of showcasing the enormous range and sheer genius of Alexandre Dumas, père, who wrote some 650 books and 100,000 pages but who is of course associated more with those swashbuckling Napoleonic epics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers than anything else.

The first of these editions will be published this year in 2019, namely Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew. This sweeping, sprawling epic remains largely unknown beyond the borders of France, and curiously so, because the author himself, having spent over two decades on it, claimed that this, not The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, was his magnum opus, and he truly thought that it would one day be recognised as a classic alongside the likes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid! And it was indeed a hugely ambitious, and it must also be said controversial, undertaking, for in it Dumas attempts to tell, through the eyes of his Wandering Jew, the whole history of the world! It is then an epic on the grandest of scales, with Odyssean voyages and Virgilean descents down into the Underworld thrown in there and with huge philosophical and theological questions being posed throughout. It is deeply rooted in antiquity and the author draws from an unusually large pool of sources even for him, from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Herodotus’ Histories, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana, for instance. I should perhaps also add that, unlike The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which Dumas’ chief collaborator Auguste Maquet had a big hand in, it can be safely said that Isaac Laquedem represents Dumas unassisted, for the manuscript, all in Dumas’ own handwriting, was later presented by his son to the town of his birth, Villers-Cotterêts. Isaac Laquedem, this historical work set in antiquity, is then perhaps a better example of the ‘real’ Dumas than those other two.

Further information about this edition and indeed the series will be published on my website, http://paultmjackson.com, as well as on my social media pages, links to which can also be found on the website.

I hope that you enjoy discovering the classical Dumas as much as I have!

All the best for now,

Paul.

‘Institute in Ancient Itineraries’ – a report by Sarah Middle

Sarah Middle is a PhD student in the Department of Classical Studies. She tweets at @digitalshrew

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During the first two weeks of September I took part in the Institute in Ancient Itineraries, an international collaborative research project funded by the Getty Foundation and led by King’s College London. The main aim of the project is to develop a digital proof of concept to facilitate the study of Art History in general, and the art of the Ancient Mediterranean in particular. This prototype will draw strongly on the concept of object itineraries, the journeys that objects take through space and time, including their interactions with people and organisations.

Project participants came from all over the world and had a wide range of academic backgrounds, specialising in areas such as Art History, Archaeology, and Computer Science. Everyone had some Digital Humanities experience, which included spatial analysis, data modelling and 3D visualisation. At the start of the two weeks, we divided ourselves into three groups – Geographies, Provenance and Visualisation – based on our previous skills and experiences. However, these terms turned out to be more problematic than anticipated, with considerable overlap between the three groups.

I was part of the Geographies group with four other participants. We fairly quickly renamed our group to Space, as we felt that this term encompassed more than the notion of Geographies. Spaces we discussed included those in the physical world, imaginary spaces, museum/gallery spaces, and the spaces depicted in artworks, as well as the conceptual space of intellectual networks. We then discussed ways of bringing these spaces together digitally to provide an effective representation of the ‘itinerary’ of an art object.

We wrote our ideas on post-it notes, then grouped them into themes.

We wrote our ideas on post-it notes, then grouped them into themes.

Many of our discussions centred on the idea that there is a huge amount of Ancient Art related data online already, which is held by different institutions and represented using different standards and formats. What we hoped to do was to develop a specification for how this data could be connected, along with documentation about how it could be used, written clearly enough as to be understandable by people with varying levels of technical experience. We felt that finding a way to bring existing material together might be more sustainable in the long-term than building something completely new.

Ryan Horne presents our ideas to the group

Ryan Horne presents our ideas to the group

The Provenance group created a mock-up image of an online resource to find provenance details of art objects (incorporating information about related people, places, dates and materials), and had thought about renaming their group to Context. The Visualisation group had discussed different methods and meanings of representation, including appealing to senses other than sight; as such, they considered renaming their group to Representation. All three groups, therefore, realised early on the limits of the terms that defined them, and sought to develop ideas relating to a much broader context. Additionally, all groups discussed the idea of how best to digitally represent uncertainty about any of the information associated with an object and the reasons why particular interpretations have been suggested.

Our group discussions were informed by excursions to the Soane Museum, Leighton House and the British Museum. During the second week, we formed four new groups, which each selected three well-documented items from these collections and discussed the information that is known about them, as well as how this information should be represented. My group decided to base our choices on the theme of whether the object had been taken from the place where it was created – our three objects incorporated:

  1. An object that remains in situ (for this we visited the London Amphitheatre)
  2. An object that has been taken from its place of creation (Ephesian Artemis at the Soane Museum)
  3. An object that has been taken and then returned (Leighton’s painting of Clytie)

In addition to each object’s relationship with the place where it is currently situated, we also discussed the places and people depicted, the objects’ itineraries through space and time, and the people involved.

Visiting London’s Roman Amphitheatre

Visiting London’s Roman Amphitheatre

As well as discussions among ourselves, over the course of the two weeks we heard talks from staff at King’s Digital Lab, the National Galleries in London and Washington, and the Institute of Classical Studies. These introduced us to existing projects in a similar subject area and issues they had faced, which often related to technology and sustainability, as well as access, usability, and the representation of complex ideas within the restrictions imposed by metadata and cataloguing systems.

We ended the two weeks with the seed of an idea to bring together the findings from all three groups, which will possibly take the form of an interactive online publication. This will be developed further at the next Institute in April 2019 to produce a specification for our proof of concept, to be built by King’s Digital Lab. In the meantime, we are in the process of producing a set of white papers that outline the issues identified by each of the Geographies/Space, Provenance/Context and Visualisation/Representation groups.

As well as having this incredible opportunity to take part in an international research project, I came away from the first Institute having made new friends, and with new ideas about how to approach my PhD topic. I would like to thank King’s College London and the Getty Foundation for their support and funding and am looking forward to seeing what the next Institute brings.

By Sarah Middle

Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2018 (#OUCSWiP) – a report by Paula Granados Garcia

Paula Granados Open UniversityWhen I received an email from Christine Plastow asking for help to organise this year’s Work in Progress Day at the department, I didn’t hesitate for a second! My experience presenting in last year’s WiP Day was so rewarding that I was sure I wanted to get more involved with this year’s event. Fortunately, I wasn´t wrong. As a co-organiser of this year’s conference as well as one of the presenters, I think I speak on behalf of all the attendees when I say that the WIP day celebrated on Wednesday 9th May by the OU Classical Studies department was especially stimulating and unique! We had the pleasure to count on three very different but at the same time complementary panels that demonstrated how varied and rich is the research carried out at the department.

 
Christine Plastow introduces the day.

The day began with a very nice cup of coffee, where all the attendees had time to catch up with the latest news and updates and meet some new faces. Senior OU lecturer Emma-Jayne Graham recently shared with me how great it was to meet and have a chat with so many enthusiastic students and colleagues. Indeed, in my case it was really nice to meet fellow students who started their PhDs at the same time as me and see how things are progressively developing.

After the nice welcome, the seminar began. Christine and myself wanted to have a dynamic and approachable conference where everybody could have a chance to speak and feel welcome to share their views; as Christine said, ‘all of us are doing some work in progress and all of us are researchers no matter the stage’. We thought that it would be nice to break the ice with a group discussion on the joys and perils of post-graduate Classical Studies and how to move forward in academia. In my own experience, it is really difficult to find the chance to listen to what comes next after finishing a Classics MA or a PhD. So, it was very beneficial to have a nice conversation in a friendly environment where everybody could share their hopes and fears about postgraduate research. Even more interesting was to hear the experiences of Christine Plastow and Jan Haywood. Both of them are early career researchers that have recently become part of the OU family and commented on how they got into the Classical world almost by chance, to later make it their profession.


Jan Haywood describes the first open discussion session.

This nice discussion led towards the first panel of the morning and perhaps the most ‘traditionally classic’ session regarding Classical Studies and Classical Reception. I am very proud myself to have chaired such a stimulating couple of presentations. First Elizabeth Webb, who also contributed to last year’s WIP, gave a fascinating talk titled: ‘Collective and individual emotion: Thucydides’ presentation of emotions in the History of the Peloponnesian War’. Following Elizabeth, Claire Greenhalgh provoked the reflection of all attendants with her presentation: “Rape in the depiction of female slavery in HBO’s Rome and Starz’s Spartacus”. Both papers raised very interesting thoughts regarding the depiction of emotions not just in Greek text but also in other visual media such as sculpture. This discussion fitted nicely with the latter debate on how current perceptions of visual violence and especially sexual violence against women have changed.


Liz Webb summarises her paper on Thucydides and emotion.

After lunch, the seminar continued with the staff spotlight panel chaired by Christine Plastow. Again, as a student, it is not very common to be able to attend presentations regarding the research curriculum of your institution and even less common to do so in conjunction with the presentations of postgraduates. Because of this, it was especially inspiring to listen to the ongoing research of the department staff. Elton Barker kicked off the session with his introduction on ‘Homer´s Thebes’. Joanna Paul followed with a brilliant presentation on her work on the receptions of Pompeii under the title ‘In search of the lost city: ongoing explorations of Pompeii and its contemporary reception’. The session continued with the Roman experts of the department including Ursula Rothe´s fabulous exposition on ‘The toga in the Roman culture’ and Emma-Jayne Graham’s presentation about ‘The thingliness of Roman religion’. Finally, Christine Plastow attracted the audience´s attention by speaking about ‘Space, place and identity in the Athenian forensic oratory’.

The final session of the day was thematically oriented towards Digital Humanities and Digital Classics. It highlighted the active role that the Open University has recently taken in collaborating with Digital Humanities projects. Sarah Middle opened the panel speaking about her work on “Linked ancient world data and user research: methods, frameworks and challenges”. It was followed by my own presentation on one of the sections of my PhD research, the development of a Linked Open Database of coins from the Iberian Peninsula. The closing paper for this session was delivered by Francesca Benatti, OU Research Fellow in Digital Humanities. In her presentation, Francesca highlighted the supportive role that the OU Digital Humanities group has developed with so many resources and opportunities for training available for postgrad students. I found it really interesting to hear about the many DH projects in which the OU collaborates including Pelagios, Hestia, Classics Confidential, The Reading Experience Database, and Open Arts Archive. These three presentations showed how useful digital resources can be when applied to humanities research and especially classics. Most of the attendees demonstrated their interest in the digital world and showed how engaged they were by asking really thought-provoking questions regarding Linked Open Data and the dissemination of digital research.

Francesca Benatti presents on digital tools, resources and projects.

In my subsequent conversations with the delegates, all of them highlighted the high standard of all the presentations and how much they enjoyed the friendly environment and the possibility to share their views and thoughts. I think that one of the most remarkable features of this year’s WiP Day is how the students´ current work was nicely intermingled with the staff research agendas and all of that framed by a warm conversation on how to develop a career in Classics. I would also like to acknowledge here the brilliant work of OU lecturer Jessica Hughes who recorded and tweeted small voxpops of some of the attendees speaking either about their collaboration in the event or their current work in progress. These short recordings were a step forward with regard to the visibility of the session. As Sian Beavers remarked at last year’s WiP Day, perhaps in the future we will be able to record the seminar and make it available for those who can´t attend in person. I am aware that Sian wanted to be there this year but couldn’t make it for personal reasons, we missed you!

Perhaps, most of all, this day was an opportunity for interesting discussion and for students and staff to get to know each other a little better and keep building a stronger community within the department and the OU in general. I want to express my eternal gratitude to Christine Plastow for making everything so easy and to all of the speakers and attendees for making such a fantastic day where everybody had a voice. It has been a wonderful and very enriching experience for me and I hope to see you all again at next year’s WiP Day.

by Paula Granados Garcia

A new publication – Material Approaches to Roman Magic

It’s almost exactly two years since we published a blog post introducing Adam Parker, who was then at the beginning of his PhD on Roman magic. Time flies, and Adam is now in his third year of part-time study. We’re delighted to share news of a recent publication entitled ‘Material Approaches to Roman Magic: Occult Objects and Supernatural Substances’, which Adam co-edited with another (recently graduated) OU PhD, Stuart McKie. 

Adam writes:

“My research is on the archaeology of magic in Roman Britain. It’s a material-led study which is looking at a broad range of different object types from this province in order to establish chronological, spatial, material, and contextual relationships from within this large data-set and it has the ultimate goal of trying to understand what magic was in this period and what function it served for those who used it. Stuart McKie’s PhD (2017) was on The Social Significance of Curse Tablets in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire.  He is now a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester. We both share a strong belief that material culture analysis has the capacity to revolutionise our understanding of Roman magical practices and that this publication will help to draw the subject into the paths of 21st Century theoretical models, archaeological practices, and analytical techniques.

The core of this book comes from a panel held at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) 2015 entitled “Charmed I’m Sure: Roman Magic – Old Theory, New Approaches” . One of the most exciting features of that panel was the coming together of university academics, postgraduate students, professional archaeologists and museum curators in the pooling of ideas and approaches to Roman magic. The volume has maintained that variety and energy, with papers from five of the original contributors plus further articles from authors working in the same wide range of professions. Our aim with this collection of papers is to further develop some of the ideas presented at TRAC 2015, particularly the focus on materiality and embodied experience of magic in the Roman world. At the core of this volume is the contention that fine-grained artefact analysis has great potential to offer new ways to understand ancient magic practices.”

You can order the book via the Oxbow website, and read a summary and the table of contents below.

Congratulations, Adam and Stuart!

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This second volume in the new TRAC Themes in Roman Archaeology series seeks to push the research agendas of materiality and lived experience further into the study of Roman magic, a field that has, until recently, lacked object-focused analysis. Building on the pioneering studies in Boschung and Bremmer’s (2015) Materiality of Magic, the editors of the present volume have collected contributions that showcase the value of richly-detailed, context-specific explorations of the magical practices of the Roman world. By concentrating primarily on the Imperial period and the western provinces, the various contributions demonstrate very clearly the exceptional range of influences and possibilities open to individuals who sought to use magical rituals to affect their lives in these specific contexts – something that would have been largely impossible in earlier periods of antiquity. Contributions are presented from a range of museum professionals, commercial archaeologists, university academics and postgraduate students, making a compelling case for strengthening lines of communication between these related areas of expertise.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Materials, Approaches, Substances, and Objects
Stuart McKie and Adam Parker
 
2. The Medium Matters: Materiality and Metaphor in Some Latin Curse Tablets
Celia Sánchez Natalías
 
3. Phallic Magic: A Cross Cultural Approach to Roman Phallic Small Finds
Alissa Whitmore
 
4. Little Bottles of Power: Roman Glass Unguentaria in Magic, Ritual, and Poisoning
Thomas Derrick
 
5. Victory of Good over Evil? Amuletic Animal Images on Roman Engraved Gems
Idit Sagiv
 
6. ‘The Bells! The Bells!’ Approaching Tintinnabula in Roman Britain and Beyond
Adam Parker
 
7. Rubbing and Rolling, Burning and Burying: The Magical Use of Amber in Roman London
Glynn Davis
 
8. Linking Magic and Medicine in Early Roman Britain: The ‘Doctor’s’ Burial, Stanway, Camulodunum
Nicky Garland
 
9. The Archaeology of Ritual in the Domestic Sphere: Case Studies from Karanis and Pompeii
Andrew Wilburn
 
10. The Legs, Hands, Head and Arms Race: The Human Body as a Magical Weapon in the Roman World
Stuart McKie
 
11. Amulets, the Body and Personal Agency
Véronique Dasen

The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?

OU PhD student John Harrison reports on a conference held at the British School at Rome, Tuesday, 6th March 2018.

BSR_advertisement for conference

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Hortus Inclusus meeting at the British School at Rome (BSR). It was two fascinating days and featured a diverse and talented international cast of speakers. The ancient Roman content was for me particularly interesting and it sparked the thought that a meeting on the topic of the Eighteenth-century English Landscape garden, so heavily influenced by ancient Rome, would be a worthy follow-up event. Last Tuesday (6th March) that idea came to fruition in the form of a one-day meeting at the BSR titled ‘The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?’.

I have previously commented on my good fortune in acquiring speakers for past meetings and I was delighted that we managed to secure an outstanding group of individuals to speak at this event, including the excellent Professor Diana Spencer to lead a discussion on the central conceit of the day – was the Landscape Garden indeed Britain’s greatest eighteenth-century export? More on this issue later.

photograph of powerpoint slide

A week of bad weather in Italy and further afield presented travel challenges for delegates and speakers alike. In the hours before the meeting there was a flurry of ‘I might be a bit late’ text and email messages, but by mid-morning we had a growing audience and speakers ready to deliver. First-up, to set the scene, was the excellent Dr Laura Mayer who had kindly acceded to my request to deliver in slightly less than one-hour a keynote lecture on the English landscape garden from William Kent to Humphrey Repton, via Capability Brown. Laura delivered the perfect scene setter with “‘Original & Indisputably English’: The Landscape Gardens of the Eighteenth Century”, no mean feat given the unenviable task she had agreed to.

With the scene so beautifully set I had the easiest task of the day with the presentation of my PhD research on the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Stourhead. This was the first outing for my critical review of authorial intention theories of Stourhead and my shift to focus on visitor reception. I was a little anxious at the reception of my ideas and research findings, so chose an understated title for my presentation: ‘Roman influences on Georgian Stourhead’. A robust question and answer session followed the presentation, which was very useful preparation for my forthcoming PhD viva.

Professor Christopher Smith talking from a lecturn

Our final speaker before lunch was Dr Clare Hornsby who presented her recent research on the topic of ‘Gardens at La Trappe: neo-classical display in the London suburbs’. Clare explained that this is ‘work-in-progress’, but it was clear from the content of her fabulous presentation that she has already achieved a good deal. The building she has painstakingly researched and described sounded truly magnificent and the account she gave of her research was so vivid it was almost like being in the various archives with her.

We commenced the post-lunch session with a consideration of art and literature’s impact on the English landscape garden. We were honoured to have well-known expert Michael Liversidge take us through a broad sweep of the influence of painting in his ‘Painting and Planting: art, aesthetics and landscaping in Georgian England’ presentation. Michael skilfully covered the better-known links between gardens and fine art, but very helpfully revealed what for me were a number of new links and perspectives.

Our final speaker was Dr Paul Gwynne, who is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, at the American University of Rome. This was another presentation I was very keen to hear, having had my appetite whetted by Luke Roman’s presentation at the Hortus Inclusus event. Paul’s ‘The Italian Renaissance Villa and Garden: an overlooked source. Some observations and suggestions’, is also work-in-progress, but was hugely informative and thought provoking. It inspired me to revisit the topographical poets I read as part of my Stourhead research.

A day of informed and thorough lectures led us neatly into the panel discussion. I think we came to this mindful that the landscape garden had considerable competition for the title greatest 18th-century export. Nevertheless, given that by the end of the 18th-century ‘English gardens’ could be found in Sweden 🇸🇪, Germany 🇩🇪, Poland 🇵🇱, Russia 🇷🇺, and even France 🇫🇷, and Italy 🇮🇹, it was certainly amongst the most important artistic exports. With this weighty issue partially dealt with we retired to the reception area of the BSR for further reflection over drinks and snacks.

In closing I’d like to thank the speakers for their wonderful presentations and the delegates for their keenness to participate. The success of the day owes so much to the BSR staff who gave so generously of their time. I would particularly like to thank Tom True, Alice Marsh and Christine Martin whose advice, support and participation helped make the day such a joy.

John E Harrison

12th March 2018

johncpc@btinternet.com

 

 

Introducing: Carlos Sánchez Pérez

Carlos is spending the summer with us in the department of Classical Studies, as a Visiting Research Student. In this post, he introduces himself, and tells us about his research project.

In the first pages of Promethea (1999), a comic book by the British writer Alan Moore, we meet Promethea, a young girl who lives in 5th century A.D. Roman Egypt. At the beginning of the story, she has been chased by an angry Christian mob that has just killed her father for being a ‘Hermetic’ philosopher. In the middle of the desert, a strange deity suddenly appears, introducing himself as Hermes-Thoth, and addressing the girl with these words: ‘Now everything is well’. This was my first contact with Hermetism.

After completing my Bachelor in Classical Philology at the Universidad de Sevilla (2013), I moved to Madrid to do a Masters in Classics (2013-2014). There, I first encountered both Classical Reception theory and Hermetism. In my Master’s dissertation, titled ‘Prometheus in Feminine: Uses of Classical Elements in Alan Moore’s Promethea’, I studied the reception of the classical world in this comic, which masterfully combines mysticism, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy, and I discovered that Hermetism was the main element of the classical world to be reimagined in its pages. Later, I started my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Luis Unceta at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. The title of my dissertation is ‘Hermes Trismegistus: from mysticism to fantasy. Survival of the Hermetic Texts from Antiquity to the present day’, and it focuses on the reception of the Hermetica in 19th to 21st century fantasy, occult and science fiction literature, in authors such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton or Alan Moore.

But what exactly are Hermetism and the Hermetic Texts? The Hermetica, as they are commonly known, are a group of texts from the 2nd-3rd century AD related in one way or another to the wisdom and teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, a legendary figure resulting from the union of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, two popular deities which shared a similar set of attributes. The Hellenistic fusion of the Graeco-Roman and Egyptian worlds gave birth to a shared cultural milieu, which led to the apparition of this syncretic figure, part god, part prophet. The texts cover a wide range of subjects, and they have traditionally been categorized into two broad ─ and usually problematic ─ groups: ‘philosophical-religious’ and ‘technical’. Under the first label we find texts that exhibit a sort of knowledge in accordance with the Neoplatonic traditions of the first centuries of our era. The second label comprises texts dealing with alchemy, magic or astrology which, ultimately, are the foundation of our modern ‘occult sciences’. Although this categorisation is useful, it has been frequently challenged: religious and philosophical material is to be found within the technical Hermetica and vice versa.

In the Renaissance, a Hermetic revival starring scholars such as Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno or Cornelius Agrippa, who worshipped Trismegistus as a forerunner of Plato and Pythagoras, shone a light on the Hermetica, which were then profoundly reinterpreted. Hermeticism was again trendy for almost two centuries. Later, classical scholarship proved that the texts weren’t so old as first thought, and with the arrival of the Enlightenment, they were condemned to what we call Occultism, in the wide sense of the term. It is in the 19th century that the Hermetica are again recovered, this time by members of esoteric and occult societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society, many of whom also happened to be literary authors, for example Arthur Machen or Dion Fortune. Thanks to the work of these authors, hermetically influenced ideas became part of the basis of the popular fantasy and science fiction genres throughout the 20th century. And that’s how we arrive at Alan Moore and other comic book authors.

How does Hermetism and Hermetic ideas permeate modern and contemporary literature, and especially those genres? How does it intertwine with the formats in which it appears, such as comic books? How does the reception of Hermetism after the Renaissance work? How has it modelled our own perception of some aspects of antiquity? These are some of the questions that my dissertation poses, drawing on Classical Reception theory as the best framework to approach the ups and downs of a trend of thought traditionally considered peripheral to the canon of Classical Studies, and therefore highly neglected by mainstream research.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Department of Classical Studies of the Open University and especially Dr. Joanna Paul for having accepted me so kindly for a research stay from July to September. I have just arrived and feel very welcomed already. I’m sure I am going to learn very much in the company of such an amazing faculty. I’m very happy to share these months with you all.

Carlos can be contacted on carlos.sanchezp@uam.es. 

 

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2017 (#OUCSWiP)

OU PhD student Sian Beavers reflects on this year’s Classical Studies postgraduate Work in Progress event which was held in Milton Keynes on 10th May 2017. 

After hanging up my organiser’s hat from the OU Classical Studies postgraduate work in progress conference, I’m left with a sense of wonderment over the nature of the day for a few reasons, and I’m pleased to be able to share these with you.

The themes for the day’s panels – Greek Writers; Digital Tools for Classicists; Linked Data; and Receptions of the Ancient World – really allowed for presenters to build upon and towards other presentations in each panel. PhD students Elizabeth Webb and Sophie Raudnitz kicked off the day with their presentations on sensory perception in Thucydides and ‘the future’ in Plato respectively, and did a brilliant job of setting the tone for the event – as well as setting the presentation- bar high. The idea of this thematic building upon and towards presentations couldn’t have been more evident than with Valeria Vitale’s presentation on linking data with Pelagios, followed by Sarah Middle and Paula Granados-Garcia’s presentations on the use of Linked Data in the Humanities, with a live-demo by Valeria (a Research Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies in London but who kindly accepted our invitation to share her work with us) of the remarkable Pelagios tool. For those, like some of our delegates (and oft times, me) that might find terms such as “data” a little intimidating on occasion, these three presentations did a fantastic job of opening our eyes to the benefits of these approaches to Classical Studies as a discipline, as well as personally inspiring us to potentially use such tools in the future in our own work. Similarly, with our final session on Receptions of the ancient world, with presentations from OU MA students Simon McLaughlin and Madeline Chawner, as well as my own presentation (a project on the side of my PhD research), we found that the themes relating to the epics, and indeed hero narratives, kept reoccurring with reference to different contexts and from differing viewpoints. It was almost as if the presenters, and one would hope the attendees, were seeing “linked data IRL” in the final session.

The standard of the presentations was so high that I wonder how we can make more of this at future WiP events. Unlike other universities, so many OU students are geographically spread, making attendance in person problematic for a myriad of reasons. OU Lecturer Jess Hughes’ brilliant session in the ‘Digital Tools for Classicists’ panel, on the different ways in which social media and digital technologies can be used to bring people with shared interests together, to promote collaboration, and also to share and disseminate findings, really got me thinking about how we can use the technology we have to further bring classicists together. On the one hand, a focal point of the WiP day is to provide an informal context for students to present and get feedback on their work, and not to give them the extra pressure of presenting to an unknown audience. On the other hand, however, I’d really like to see the next WiP day being live-streamed or recorded for later sharing (with the permission of the presenters, of course). This would offer access to the talks to OU students who can’t attend in person; it would also provide speakers with a wider audience to disseminate their research; and it would help to share with the wider world the range of research taking place within OU Classical Studies.

As this is my second WiP conference (and the third for some of our presenters!) I am in a position to say, without agenda, that the standard of presentations in both years I have attended has been astounding. To label the day as a ‘Work in Progress’ event almost has the connotation that there is something unfinished about the content – which of course is true to an extent, but this terminology may not reflect what was, in no uncertain terms, a polished professionalism displayed by every one of the presenters in both their content and delivery.  To quote one of our presenters, “For those who can attend these events, they present a fantastic opportunity to meet up with staff and students from the OU Classical Studies Department, as well as some very knowledgeable people from other universities…Every single talk was interesting, and importantly, they showed a future pathway for Classical research that is massively encouraging… it was thrilling to see our subject blazing a trail that other disciplines will undoubtedly follow.”

Reading the bios of the presenters also got me thinking about how people come – or return – to Classical Studies. Some start off in Classical Studies before returning later in life, sometimes having picked up other disciplines or professional experience along the way; others come from somewhere else (professional or academic), and find the subject through an indirect route. Some start and end with Classical Studies, though integrate differing perspectives and disciplines into their practice as classicists. Through reading the backgrounds of just the presenters at the event, I realised that we bring both our academic and life experiences into our research areas; precisely one of the reasons that events like these are so valuable. They make it clear that there is such diversity in the subject and this is something that should be celebrated: there is no “right” approach to studying Classical Studies and the discipline is made stronger for it.

Perhaps most of all, our presenters were overwhelmed by how engaged the audience were with the presentations and research topics. The feedback and questions from the delegates really highlighted for me that the WiP is not merely a vessel for content delivery, but a reciprocal process whereby both the presenters and the audience can discuss aspects of Classical Studies to the mutual benefit of both. The Open University is built upon the ideas of diversity, inclusivity and, of course, openness. These ideals were exemplified in both the presenters and the delegates at the WiP day, and also in the way that the event brought together students and staff from the OU and elsewhere to celebrate the discipline that we share. So let’s continue to celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of the discipline, and the innovation that the researchers within the field deliver. With this in mind, I leave you with these musings, but hope to see you – as a presenter or a delegate – at next year’s event!

If you would like more of a sense of the day, have a look at the Storify of the tweets!

by Sian Beavers

Researching Born-Digital Archives Workshop

OU PhD student Sarah Middle reports on the Researching Born-Digital Archives workshop.

On Thursday 16 March 2017 I attended Researching Born-Digital Archives at the British Library, a collaborative workshop with three AHRC consortia – CHASE (who provide my PhD funding), South West and Wales, and WRoCAH. The focus of the day was on managing, curating and using collections of objects that had originated in a digital format (as opposed to digitisation of physical materials), and how the nature of these resources might lead to the study of new research topics.

British Library Initiatives

Several speakers from the British Library presented on the theme of managing the lifecycle of born-digital materials, from initial processing (Jonathan Pledge and Eleanor Dickens) through to long-term preservation (Maureen Pennock) and creative methods of reuse (Stella Wisdom). As a former collections professional, and current data enthusiast, particular points of interest for me included the processes involved in turning the files and directory structure of e.g. a floppy disk into an archive collection of digital objects, as well as the innovative ways in which people have reused the British Library’s publicly available datasets.

One project that stood out for me was the Big Data History of Music, which used library catalogue data to visualise trends relating to music production over time, by geographical location, and in relation to historical events. Stella’s talk was very inspiring, and prompted me to consider whether I might be able to make use of the library’s data as part of my PhD research.

Annual output of printed music for six major cities, 1500–1699. Data from RISM A/I and B/I (Stephen Rose, Sandra Tuppen, Loukia Drosopoulou, ‘Writing a Big Data history of music’, Early Music 43 (2015), 649-60 doi: 10.1093/em/cav071; distributed under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution licence)

Born-Digital Archives and Creative Writing

Another theme from some of the talks was the impact of born-digital archives on the research and practice of creative writing, presented here from the point of view of an archivist (Justine Mann, University of East Anglia) and a writer (Craig Taylor). Justine spoke about collecting the ongoing work of emerging contemporary authors and preserving it in a born-digital archive, which will allow future researchers to gain an unprecedented insight into their creative processes. Craig is working with the British Library on his current project, Genesis, which involves writing his latest novel on a dedicated laptop with spyware installed. Every keystroke is recorded, documenting his creative process in minute detail.

One particularly interesting question from the audience was whether authors are more self-conscious in the production of their digital materials, in the knowledge that they will be archived, and whether this has an effect on their content (e.g. wanting to present themselves in a certain way). It is not yet possible to answer this question fully; however Craig said that, while he usually forgets that the spyware is there, he becomes very aware of it at points where he is struggling. Perhaps this question might form the basis of a future research topic years from now.

Student Panel

A particularly exciting aspect of the event for me was the opportunity to present my work as part of a student panel, with three other AHRC-funded PhD students. Helen Piel (British Library / University of Leeds) started by talking about her work with the different materials held in the British Library’s John Maynard Smith archive, containing the various works relating to his research interests in the areas of Engineering and Zoology. Kate Walker (University of Sheffield) then spoke about her research, which focuses on social media communities of wadaiko (Japanese drum) players, and involves collecting data from Facebook groups of which Kate herself is an active member. Acatia Finbow (Tate and University of Exeter) is studying documentation of performance art at Tate Modern, which similarly includes a large amount of social media content, but with more focus on image and video, rather than text.

Student panel discussion, including Helen Piel (left) and Acatia Finbow (right) (unfortunately Kate Walker and I are hidden by the audience) (image via @UEAArchives on Twitter)

I gave a brief overview of my work converting the AHRC project data held in the Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research (GTR) to Linked Data (of which more in a future post). My focus was on the differences in data structures between the existing GTR and the Linked Data, and how the Linked Data structure allows more complex queries, which will help me identify projects to use as case studies as part of my future research. I was quite nervous, as it was the first time I had presented on my PhD research, but my talk seemed to go well, and I received many positive comments afterwards. Several people said they had not heard of Linked Data previously, but understood my explanation, which indicates I had managed to pitch it at the right level – always an issue when explaining technical concepts to a non-specialist audience.

A simplified example of how Linked Data can be applied to Humanities collections, based on the idea of Pelagios

Final Thoughts

As well as providing the experience of presenting my research in a friendly and supportive environment, I found this event an interesting and stimulating half-day. It provided me with a strong foundation of knowledge in the various stages involved in managing born-digital collections, as well as their potential for opening up new areas of academic research. In particular, I really enjoyed meeting academics, professionals, and other PhD students from all over the country, who are working in areas relating to digital collections. I would like to thank the British Library and the three AHRC consortia for organising the event and for making my attendance possible.

by Sarah Middle

Editor’s note: To find out more about Sarah and her PhD research, take a look at the OU Classical Studies blogpost ‘ Introducing …some of our new PhD students!‘ 

 

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2017

Classical Studies at the OU is delighted to announce the programme for our annual postgraduate work in progress event, to be held at the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes on Wednesday 10th May 2017.

10:00-10:25: Coffee available

10:25: Welcome and Introductions

10:30-11:30: Greek Writers (Chair: Sian Beavers)

  • Elizabeth Webb. ‘Audience Sensory Perception in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Sophie Raudnitz. ‘Intertextuality and Remembering the Future in Plato’s Apology and Theaetetus

11:30-12:30: Digital Tools for Classicists: Discussion led by Valeria Vitale (Institute of Classical Studies) and Jessica Hughes (OU)

12:30 to 13: 30: Lunch

13:30-14:30: Linked Data (Chair: Simon McLaughlin)

  • Sarah Middle. ‘Investigating data use in the Humanities by linking AHRC projects’
  • Paula Granados-Garcia. ‘Cultural Contacts in Early Roman Spain through Linked Open Data’

14:30-15:00: Break

15:00–16:20: Receptions of the Ancient World (Chair: Sophie Raudnitz)

  • Simon McLaughlin. ‘Acropolis Now (or why we should stop looking at American wars when making comparisons with ancient conflict).’
  • Sian Beavers. ‘Digital Games as New Epic Form’
  • Madeline Chawner. ‘Captain America – Homeric Hero for the Twenty-first Century’

16:20: Closing Remarks

Registration for the event is now open. For further information or to reserve a place please contact Sian Beavers (sian.beavers@open.ac.uk) by Monday 1st May.

Introducing…some of our new PhD students!

Several of our PhD students have appeared on this blog since we launched it back in February 2015. This year, we’ve already been introduced to Adam Parker and his PhD research on ancient magical objects, while Rebecca Fallas gave us the lowdown on her PhD thesis submission (a piece that subsequently got picked up by the Times Educational Supplement). Sian Beavers wrote about her project on ‘Classics, Films and Video games’, and – moving back into 2015 – we had posts from John Harrison about his work on Georgian Stourhead, and Sophie Raudnitz, who is writing a thesis on memory and forgetting in ancient Greek literature. And then there was that lovely piece about Mair Lloyd’s Living Latin project, published last week!

This Autumn we welcomed a host of new PhD students to the department, including some who are co-supervised with other departments such as Philosophy and Religious Studies. Here, three of our newest PhD students introduce themselves and their projects (hint: avid blog readers may recognise one of these students from her earlier post about the Classical Studies MA degree!)

Sarah Middle

Sarah MiddleI’m Sarah Middle, and I’m looking at how Linked Data can be integrated with existing research methodologies in the Humanities in general, and for study of the Ancient World in particular. My supervisors are Elton Barker and Phil Perkins from Classical Studies, and Mathieu D’Aquin from the Knowledge Media Institute. Linked Data resources bring together materials held in various digital collections, allowing researchers to find connections between items that might not have been apparent previously. For example, in Classics, Linked Data techniques could be used to create a virtual collection of artefacts that were found at the same site but are now held in different museums, or to link historical texts to the places mentioned within them (such as the Pelagios project). The technology has been around for quite some time, but has only started to be applied to Humanities projects relatively recently. I am really keen to see how this develops, and where Linked Data could best be used to inform the answers to existing research questions.

Before returning to study, I worked as Repository Manager at Cambridge University Library, where I was responsible for managing and curating collections of digital objects, such as articles, theses, datasets, images and videos, as well as advising researchers on how best to describe these materials in order to facilitate their discovery by other users. I had previously worked in other academic libraries, as well as Cambridge’s Admissions Office, where I managed digital media projects to encourage students to apply to the university. My previous qualifications include an MA in Electronic Communication and Publishing from UCL, and an MA in Archaeological Research and BA Ancient History and Archaeology, both from the University of Nottingham.

Paula Granados

Paula Granados Open UniversityComing from an art historical background, Paula Granados soon recognised the importance and interdependence of both history and digital technologies. After completing her Bachelor degree in History of Art at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, she was awarded a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Spanish to Adults (First Class) by the Instituto Cervantes de Londres and Roehampton University which helped her to enhance her research skills. Paula then studied for an MA in Classical Art and Archaeology as an intercollegiate student at Kings College London and University College London, undertaking modules related to classical art and digital humanities. During this degree, Paula gained expertise in academic research related to the classical world and she also developed her knowledge about digital humanities. Her MA dissertation was entitled “HYBRID SCULPTURE, Sculptures from the Seville region, III BC – I BC: Iberian identity and Roman influence”, and looked at Ibero-Roman art and the manifestation of cultural contact in artistic artefacts.

Following along the path of her MA dissertation, Paula’s PhD research will focus on the study of cultural contacts and identity development in Early Roman Spain through Linked Open Data. Her proposal is the first step of a comprehensive study of cultural, social and political contacts and identities in Early Roman Spain by means of connection to and creation of Linked Data resources. The main problem that this research will address is understanding the dynamics of a colonial encounter where the data is fragmentary, heterogeneous and interdisciplinary. Using Linked Open Data resources and other digital technologies, this study will open up the possibility of making effective relations through large amounts of data. These relations will allow us to provide the data with some relevant context and therefore to interpret, reuse and contextualise the information in a much broader way, aiming to break through the current impasse in scholarship.

Liz Webb

Liz WebbAfter completing my MA in Classical Studies with the OU in 2014, I was eager to continue my research in more depth. I had thoroughly enjoyed working on my final year dissertation, which focused on vision and hearing in books 1 and 6 of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. I was particularly intrigued by scholarship about his use of audiences, both internal and external to the text. I also became interested in the application of sensory theory to the classical world and am therefore trying to bring these research interests together in my work.

Recent reception of Thucydides has focused on his role as a political theorist, a military strategist, a scientist and a rhetorician, which brings him firmly into the sphere of a political and intellectual elite. However, I plan to address the limitations of this approach by developing a new framework for experiencing Thucydides.  I am looking to understand how Thucydides immerses his audience in episodes of his history, giving them a sense of presence which forms a point of tension with his detached authorial persona. This will open fresh perspectives on ancient war narrative which will chime with current approaches to in-depth war reporting.

I began my part-time PhD in October 2016, supported by a CHASE scholarship, and my first months have been a thoroughly enjoyable and busy time. The Open University’s induction was a wonderful starting point, giving lots of support and advice. My three supervisors, Elton Barker, Eleanor Betts and Emma Bridges, have provided fantastic support and direction in their fields of expertise. I feel very excited about taking my research forward: it really is the opportunity of a lifetime.