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