Category Archives: Conferences

Book launch event in honour of John K. Davies

This Monday saw the festive gathering of UK and international colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool. This event heralded the publication of a book I recently co-edited with Dr. Zosia Archibald in honour of the Ancient Historian John K. Davies (Emeritus Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool), The Power of Individual and Community in Ancient Athens and Beyond.

The event was officially launched by the current Rathbone chair, Professor Lin Foxhall, who reflected on the major influence that John had made at the beginning of her own career. Following this, Dame Janet Beer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, addressed all those present, congratulating John on his significant achievements in the field, and thanking him for the important contributions that he made to the institutional environment at the University of Liverpool.

Dame Janet Beer addresses John and all those gathered

Following this, John spoke for some twenty minutes on growing up in Cardiff, his early encounters with the ancient world (for example, at the old Corbridge museum at Hadrian’s Wall when he was 15 years old), and his various undertakings since his retirement in 2003. Indeed, John has remained an active member of the scholarly community, delivering the opening or closing address at a number of major conferences, as well as taking up myriad fellowships and residencies in various European institutions. John ended his reflections by issuing a warm encouragement to all those in the field that have ‘so stimulating a challenge’ in front of them.

John K. Davies delivering his speech of thanks

Following lengthy applause for John, all involved proceeded to the Leggate Lecture Theatre, where we were treated to a very special guest lecture by the Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, Nino Luraghi, who spoke on ‘The Peloponnesian Peace: Thucydides and the Ideology of the Peace of Nikias’. Professor Luraghi delivered a highly engaging paper that took in many passages from Thucydides’ History, several of the comic playwright Aristophanes’ plays, as well as certain edifying passages from the Life of Aristeides, written by the first-second century CE biographer Plutarch. The evening closed with a series of more informal celebrations, including a drinks reception.

Guests gather to celebrate John’s career at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool

But things did not end there, however; on the following day, John, Zosia and I reconvened to discuss in more depth John’s intellectual approach as an historian of the ancient world, Zosia and John’s shared research interests in Hellenistic economies, and our thoughts on the future direction of the discipline. A special video recording of our discussion will soon be made available on the website Classics Confidential.

In sum, this event was a marvellous celebration of a scholar who has inspired countless students, and who as a researcher has continued to play a leading role in the field for more than four decades.

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)

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



Globalizing Ovid

Our recently-retired colleague Paula James has just returned from an exciting international conference in China. Globalizing Ovid: An International Conference in Commemoration of the Bimillennium of Ovid’s Death took place at Shanghai Normal university from May 31st to June 2nd 2017.

Paula writes “This event attracted 60 scholars from across the world and was a wonderful and historic experience superbly organised by Professor Jinyu Liu – she is at Shanghai Normal and De Pauw university and her team of students were tireless and cheerful, picking us up from the airport, translating for us, guiding us around the campus and always ready to help.

“You can see details and the programme on the Globalizing Ovid website, but just to say that this was a high point in international collaborative research as the conference was supported by Dickinson College USA, Shanghai Normal University and the National Social Science Fund of China. It is part of a US/China project to translate (with commentaries) all the works of Ovid, a Latin poet famous especially for his epic poem on myths of Greece and Rome, Metamorphoses, into Chinese.

Delegates at the Globalizing Ovid conference“It marked the 2000 years since Ovid died in exile and there were all kinds of discussions on his sophisticated and mischievous takes on traditional stories, his tongue-in-cheek love poetry and his manual of seduction (Ars Amatoria) so at odds with the moral re-armament programme started by the first emperor Augustus. All this in the context of the digital age and how it helps us work across geographical boundaries on the ancient authors who continue to excite us in the 21st century.

“Ovid has played a central role in the lasting legacy of Roman culture and literature in the world today.

delegates at the Globalizing Ovid conference“I have to say that the generosity of the hosting university and the funders was overwhelming with banquets and excursions at the end of days packed full with panels and plenaries. Companions of delegates were welcomed to the events at a very modest price and I was lucky enough to have the conference fee waived and to receive a Dickinson grant of $400. It was an honour to take part in the conference – my paper went well!”

You can read the abstract of Paula’s paper on Statues, Synths and Simulacra below. All the photos on this page were taken by Paula during the conference – it looks to have been a wonderful celebration of Ovid and Ovidian scholarship!


Statues, Synths and Simulacra: Teaching Ovid through the medium of mass culture.

Abstract of a paper by Paula James

Taking two examples of Ovid’s myths of metamorphosis as refracted on screen (film and television) I shall explore the challenges classicists face in communicating ancient texts to modern audiences.  Although the use of film in teaching Classical Reception can be supported and promoted (but sometimes only tolerated in UK departments) the reception researcher frequently finds her/ himself justifying their choices of 20th and 21st century re-workings of mythical motifs by movie directors and television series creators as intellectually valid objects of study.

This paper traces my research and teaching journey in bringing Ovid’s myths of Pygmalion (Metamorphoses Book 10) and Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (Book 4) before public audiences and scholars across the Arts and Humanities.  The story of sculptor and statue has endless potential for teasing out the ethics and aesthetics of manufacturing or making over women into an ideal both in the ancient and present day contexts.

My first focus will be upon the robot girlfriend in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five and the ways in which related narratives in Ovid’s epic poem can provide a commentary on Pygmalion and delusions of creating or recreating an ideal.  I shall argue that iconic films can prompt fresh critiques of Pygmalion and the gender and genre bending in the Salmacis story (using Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Wilder’s Sunset Blvd.)

I shall point to the pitfalls of visualising Ovid primarily in terms of cinematic experiences when his own readership would be accessing their moving images from stage and performance.  Ovid’s sophisticated and mischievous use of figurative language can only be touched upon in a brief paper but his similes, metaphors and general ecphrastic strategies can be both limiting and liberating for those of us researching into Ovidian narratives on screen.

Paula James at the Globalizing Ovid conference

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

#CA2017 Part II: Getting the most out of the conference

The Classical AssociationAs the OU Classical Studies team gears up for the Classical Association annual conference (#CA2017), which we’re hosting jointly with the University of Kent from 26th-29th April 2017, this week we’re following up our earlier blogpost offering advice for conference speakers with some more of our top tips on how to get the most out of attending the UK’s biggest classically-themed academic conference.



At a large conference like this, where there are usually several panel sessions taking place in parallel at any one time, it can be tricky to decide which ones to go to, so it’s a good idea to work out beforehand which papers you’d most like to hear. Eleanor Betts advises attendees to “read the programme and abstracts in advance, and decide which you’d most like to go to; look up the people whose papers you’re interested in to see more about their research interests and publications, and make an attempt to talk to them at the conference.” A large-scale conference like this is a good opportunity to find out what’s going on across the whole field of Classics, so don’t feel that you should only go to the papers which relate closely to your own areas of research; dip in to other topics which look fun or interesting. That said, the CA conference is set up in such a way that there are some key conference themes which will be the focus of several panel sessions; you may find it beneficial to follow one of these strands throughout the conference. Sessions might not always take place in the same building on campus, so it’s also worth familiarising yourself with the campus map and factoring in the time it’ll take to get from one venue to another.

Learning experiences

Even (or perhaps especially) if you’re not presenting a paper of your own, a conference like this not only offers a chance to learn a lot about other people’s research, but it’s also a good place to observe others’ presentation techniques; this can help a great deal when it comes to delivering your own research talks in future. Elton Barker recommends that, when listening to papers, delegates should “pay attention not only to what’s said but also how it’s said. (This is particularly true for papers that are not on your subject.) Try to identify elements that work or, alternatively, that don’t work. What would you have done differently, and why? What impressed you the most?” Jessica Hughes elaborates further: “When you go to panels, don’t just focus on the content of the papers – be alert to the different styles of delivery, and the varied ways in which colleagues ask and answer questions. For me, this has been the most important cumulative learning experience of past conference-attendance. Which papers were the most engaging, and why? How did the speaker interact with the audience, and how far did they capture and retain attention? When it gets to the post-paper questions, see if you can pick up some tips about how to respond elegantly to difficult questions without seeming too defensive. And see who manages to ask intelligent questions of a speaker without seeming aggressive or overly self-important. It’s a fine art.”

Aside from the papers, I’d always advise making some time to browse the book stalls. This is a great way to find out a little more about some of the latest publications in your areas of interest (and to figure out whether it’s really worth splashing out on/persuading your university library to buy that book whose title sounds ideal but which might not be exactly what you thought it was). There are also sometimes good deals to be had, as publishers often offer discounts for conference delegates; Jo Paul suggests, “Make sure there’s room in your bag for the book(s) you’ll undoubtedly end up buying!”

Networking (and not)

Elton writes, “Networking is important at these things, but don’t do it for the sake of it. If, on the other hand, you’re genuinely interested in a particular topic/issue, then do try to collar the person who was talking about it. In my experience speakers welcome conversations after the event, when the glare of public scrutiny is off and it’s less of a performance. At the same time, you should feel free to ask questions in the space given after each presentation, if you’re confident enough. Just don’t feel bad that you don’t…” If you do take the opportunity to chat to other academics, Eleanor offers a reminder that it’s a good idea to think beforehand about how you want to introduce your own work if asked: “be prepared to have a snappy oneliner/one minute summary of your research interests.”

If you’re feeling nervous about not knowing many people at the conference, then Jo has some good advice. She notes that “even seasoned academics can feel cold stabs of terror at the thought of heading into a meal or a tea break when they don’t know anyone, and plucking up the courage to talk to new people doesn’t necessarily get easier. But it’s invariably worth it, and people will often be glad that you made the effort – they may be feeling nervous themselves.” To assuage some of your worries Jo suggests: “Make use of networks before you get to the conference. Twitter’s not for everyone (and livetweeting of papers can sometimes be as much of a hindrance to your focus on the paper as a help, so don’t feel obliged to get stuck into this kind of thing), but it can be a great way of ‘getting to know’ people before you meet in the flesh. Or ask around in your department: Are other PhDs going? Does your supervisor or colleague know of other people who’ll be in attendance who might be worth meeting? If your supervisor’s going to the conference, they can be a great way of getting introductions to people you might want to meet, so don’t feel afraid to ask if they can introduce you to professor x.” If you do use Twitter then check out the conversations happening under the hashtag #CA2017; and if you are keen to get involved in livetweeting then before you do I’d recommend taking a look at the advice given in this crowdsourced ‘livetweeting protocol’ put together by Dr. Liz Gloyn of Royal Holloway.

All that said, as Jessica notes, “Attending a big, busy conference like the CA can be exhausting. Everyone has different stamina levels, and you may find that you want to spend every single minute listening to papers, chatting with colleagues over drinks, lunches and dinners, and browsing book stalls. But if you find yourself flagging, do take some time out to be on your own, have a quiet cup of tea in your room, and gather your thoughts. Hopefully you’ll feel refreshed and ready for Round 2 of networking!”


Several members of the OU Classical Studies team will be at the conference next week – we’re looking forward to seeing you there!

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 ( by Monday 1st May.

#CA2017 Part I: Tips for speakers

The Classical AssociationClassical Studies at the Open University is looking forward to co-hosting this year’s annual Classical Association (CA) conference, which will be held at the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus from 26th-29th April 2017. While we’re busily working behind the scenes to make sure that the event is a success, we’ve also been talking about how delegates can get the most out of their conference experience. For many speakers the CA will be their first experience of presenting their research at a large conference; this week’s blogpost shares some of our top tips on how to ensure it goes smoothly.

Organising your ideas

Sometimes when you’ve been immersed in a research topic it’s easy to forget that others will be far less familiar with the material you’ll be discussing; when giving a conference presentation it’s a good idea to make it as easy as possible for your audience to follow your argument. Laura Swift advises, “Flag your structure as clearly as possible. People really appreciate it if they understand where you are going, and what the point is, and in an oral delivery it’s even more important as they can’t flick back to your introduction to remind themselves.”

Elton Barker offers some further suggestions as to how to ensure that you keep your listeners’ attention. He says:

– It’s always a good idea to have a ‘hook’. So, rather than simply starting with the bald statement of your research objective, lead in to your discussion with a catchy example.

– As well as a hook, an introduction – particularly for an oral presentation – needs to take your audience through the steps of what you’re going to talk about. So, sketch out what you’re going to do, and why that’s important.

– Keep references – or at least citations of references – to a minimum. I’d advise against reading out long chunks of text or citing page numbers of secondary scholarship in your oral presentation; these can be given on a handout as ‘further reading’ for your audience to refer to after the event (more on using handouts below).

– Remember, you’ll have the Q&A session after your paper to go into more detail or introduce other material. It might even be worthwhile saying ‘I don’t have time to go into this now, but perhaps we can talk about it further in the discussion’. It’s always a good idea to plant the kinds of questions in your audience’s minds that you want to follow up.

– Your paper will need a summing up to remind your audience what you’ve shown or the issues you’ve raised and/or the problems that need addressing. Have in mind to leave your audience with (no more than) three ‘take home’ messages.

Think about how your paper will sound

Again, bear in mind the differences between a written paper and one which is delivered orally to a live audience. Laura Swift warns, ”Don’t write a dense piece of academic prose and simply read it out as people won’t be able to follow and will switch off.” Jessica Hughes has some good advice here, saying, “Giving a conference paper can be nerve-wracking, and many of us like to have a written copy of our paper in front of us on the desk as a ‘safety net’. However, the most successful conference presentations are often those where the speaker appears to talk spontaneously rather than reading the paper from a pre-prepared written text. If you do choose to read your paper out, make sure that it is written in a colloquial style (with short sentences), rather than in complex prose. And try to remember to look up occasionally to make eye contact with the audience! You could also try to memorise the important points and the order they appear in. This will give you the confidence to occasionally depart from the script, resulting in a more engaging ‘performance’.” Jessica also advises that it’s definitely a good idea to do several practice runs before the conference, which leads us to our next point…

Timing is everything!

Papers at the CA are each 20 minutes long, followed by ten minutes for questions from the audience. Keeping to time is not only vital to ensure the smooth running of the panel sessions, which can be derailed if individual speakers overrun, but it’s also a matter of showing courtesy to your audience, panel chair and fellow speakers. A good chair will always do their best to keep things to time, but you can help them out by planning ahead to make sure that your paper isn’t over-length. Laura Swift recommends, “Check your timing, as it’s incredibly irritating for everyone when a speaker goes on beyond their allotted time – it can disrupt other speakers’ timings and the schedule of the whole conference, and makes you look self-centred, as though you think your ideas are more important than anything else going on. So give your paper several times at home beforehand, timing yourself with a stopwatch, and make sure you are comfortably in time, while speaking at a normal pace. Never think ‘oh well, I can just speak faster and get it all in’ – if you do, you’ll seem nervous and run the risk that people won’t be able to follow your argument. Try to make sure your paper comes in below the allotted time rather than just on it, as that takes any stress away on the day and removes any temptation to rush.” The speed at which individuals speak naturally does vary (which is why practice is so important!) but as a rule of thumb, Elton Barker suggests that around 2800 words is about right for a twenty-minute paper, given that you’ll also need to take into account the ‘live’ element (nerves, pausing to take a drink of water, looking up to make eye contact, articulating key ideas on the spot and so on). It’s a good idea to build in time for short pauses during your paper – this gives you, and your audience, time to think before you move on to the next point. If you think you’ll forget to do this on the day, mark suitable ‘pause points’ in the margins of your paper to remind yourself.

Hi-tech and low-tech props

Handouts and audio-visual presentations can be useful aids in helping your audience to follow your discussion (although do avoid the temptation simply to read out in full everything that’s on your handout/Powerpoint – think of these tools as prompts for the audience, rather than as another version of the text of your talk). On using handouts, Naoko Yamagata offers a couple of reminders about directing your audience to the right place on the page, suggesting, “Let the audience know which item on the handout you are about to discuss before you read out/analyse the passage, and underline (or highlight in some other way) the relevant bit of the text on your handout if you are only focusing on part of a longer passage.” Do also provide an English translation of the key parts of any Latin or Greek passages (or those written in other foreign languages); you risk alienating some members of the audience if you make the assumption that everyone has the same level of understanding of the languages. Jessica Hughes also has some good advice on using technology: “If you are preparing a slide presentation (e.g. Powerpoint or Keynote), make sure you have the latest version of your presentation on a memory stick. It’s good to bring some kind of back-up too, even if this is just a black & white print-out of your slides, which you (or a helper) can run off and photocopy if the technology fails. If you use an file storage service like Dropbox, make sure that you’ve reminded yourself of your log-in and password before arriving at the conference. You never know – it may prove useful to be able to log into your account from another computer to access your Powerpoint or other files.”

And finally…

Whilst it can be pretty daunting sharing your work with the wider world, you should take confidence from the knowledge that everyone in the room is starting from a point of common interest – they’re there because they read your title or abstract and as a result they want to know more about your work. Remember to breathe (!), smile and make eye contact with your audience – by doing so you’ll communicate your enthusiasm for your research topic. Enjoy the opportunity to share your ideas with others, and good luck!

For more information about this year’s CA conference, including a full programme, click on the ‘CA2017’ tab at the top of this page. Watch this space for another CA2017 blog post on getting the most out of attending the conference, especially if it’s your first time there.



A celebration of Mair Lloyd’s ‘Living Latin’

Many of you know Mair and the enthusiasm she has for reminding us that Latin was, and can be, a real language, more than grammar grind and reading a bunch of fusty old texts…! I hope you’ll join with me and Mair’s other supervisors – Regine Hampel, Uschi Stickler, Linda Murphy – in congratulating Mair on her amazing achievement of winning the prestigious AOUG Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel Award for Education and Language Studies (2016).

AOUGMairMair, with her enthusiasm and dedication, has bridged boundaries and brought a lot of people and ideas together. By sharing supervision between the Classical Studies and Modern Languages departments we have learned much from each other (and the ways we work with language and think about language). By asking pertinent questions in her research, Mair has made Latinists across the country aware of the value of technology for teaching and learning, and by travelling to the US and participating in a Latin immersion course as a student, Mair has herself experienced the power of Living Latin for real communication.


The award Mair has received is in the name of Sir John Daniel, an educator who has always encouraged the use of technology, and promoted learning in unconventional ways and places, so it is quite fitting! Mair’s research is about making learning better and more enjoyable. She has discovered that ‘good Latin learners’ read with engagement and with fluency, and has demonstrated that Latin is a language that can be brought to life and can be used.

‘Tweeted’ reactions to her organisation of the ‘Living Latin’ panel at the 2016 Classical Association conference in Edinburgh (for which she secured the attendance of leading exponent of Living Latin, Prof. Tunberg from the University of Kentucky) illustrate this point:

@MairLloyd‘s enthusiasm makes Vygotsky accessible even at 9am in the morning. Great introduction to the theory behind Living Latin #LL#CA16

#CA16@MairLloyd is absolutely brilliant. There are many layers to language learning. Learners can help each other in the process.

This panel on spoken Latin as a learning method (with taster lesson from Terence Tunberg) was absolutely brilliant

The Living Latin panel. It has been mind-blowing. And we all spoke some Latin!

The panel on Living Latin is so mesmerising and inspiring it is difficult to tweet… sorry! Blog to follow. #CA16

Mair’s exploration of learning to read in Latin has highlighted aspects of reading that have not been extensively explored in modern languages either  – i.e. exploring reading with comprehension in the target language without resorting to translation or checking unknown vocabulary, and reading with engagement. She has used an innovative approach to evaluation of this type of reading that includes reading and drawing.

Her research has been far more extensive than that which is presented in her final thesis, and she will be submitting a range of further papers and conference presentations outlining findings related to learning of Ancient Greek and the development of interaction and collaborative Latin learning through Information and Communication Technology.

Mair’s thesis, Living Latin: Exploring the communicative approach to Latin teaching through a sociocultural perspective on Latin learning, is an investigation of the current approach to the ab initio teaching of Latin in Classics departments in UK universities and how this aligns with the aims and aspirations of students. Drawing on Second Language Acquisition theory and practice in Modern Language teaching she has examined how the implementation of methods and activities based on a communicative approach to Latin teaching can help students to attain their ab initio Latin-learning goals. She then explored the explanatory value of a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective (as applied to modern language learning) in the analysis of learning events during communicative Latin teaching and interpersonal interaction in Latin. The research forges new links between the Department of Classical Studies and the Department of Languages.

Mair came to the research having noticed her own difficulties as a beginner getting to grips with reading Latin, compared with the faster progress she felt that she had made as a beginner learner of French. She intuitively felt that the more interactive use of French might actually be helping her to read more easily in French, and that Modern Language theory and practice might have some benefits in the teaching of Latin. Like many learners of Latin and their teachers, her aim was to be able to read and enjoy original texts in order to be able to gain insight into and appreciate the life and perspectives of the writer and the ancient world.

Although a number of classicists have previously looked to Modern Language theory and pedagogy to inspire their approach to Latin teaching, Mair has established that little or no attention has been paid to demonstrating the benefits of these approaches for Latin teaching or determining how well their effects are explained by language learning theories. The results of her survey of UK University Classics departments showed no evidence of awareness of curricula underpinned by theoretical positions. Despite having no previous knowledge of language learning theories herself before beginning her research, Mair has analysed current approaches and classified them according to the theoretical and pedagogical concepts drawn from Modern Language research. To achieve this, she has drawn on research conducted by fellow postgraduate students and brought together a range of different perspectives on theory, history of language teaching and methodology, supplemented by her own insights into the field. She has demonstrated that much current Latin teaching practice can be classified as behaviourist and structuralist with a heavy emphasis on cognitive skills, but shows very little evidence of developments in modern language teaching which focus on interaction, context, collaboration and emotional response and have been strongly influenced by a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective.

Mair therefore sought out examples of Latin teaching and learning that resembled more closely the situation in modern language teaching where interaction through oral communication involving both speaking, listening comprehension and negotiation of meaning in the target language is a regular component. She found them in the form of a week-long ‘immersion’ programme at Lexington in the USA. This ‘Conventiculum’ proclaimed the benefits of learning Latin through interaction in Latin and collaboration with other learners as well as interaction with original texts, though once again this seemed to be based on an intuition of the benefit rather than having a firm theoretical perspective. As a participant observer at this event, Mair was able to gather data on the experience of beginner and more experienced learners, including her own reactions, to their ‘immersion’ in Latin and the types of activity and interaction and they engaged in.

Data collection at the Conventiculum included asking participants to read a short passage in Latin and to make a drawing of what this passage evoked for them. They were asked to do this both before and after the event. They were encouraged to envision the scenes described in the passages without making a translation into English. This represented an innovative way to examine readers’ responses to the passages. It enabled readers to avoid the mediation of another language (as would have been the case if comprehension questions in English were given) or adding complexity by questioning in Latin. It also allowed a more personal response to the text. Readers noted the mood of the scene evoked, for example. This method has not been employed to any extent in modern language learning, where despite attention to so-called ‘intensive’ and ‘extensive’ reading (for specific information or for gist), there has been little attention to reading and understanding entirely within the target language and in understanding what is meant by ‘engagement’ in reading.

In her analysis of the data gathered from the communicative Latin teaching and interpersonal interaction in Latin at the Conventiculum, Mair explored the explanatory value of a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective (as applied to modern language learning). Her findings indicate that this may be a positive way forward in understanding how reading in Latin and engagement with original texts can be facilitated and become more enjoyable for learners of Latin and other ancient languages.


MairUschiVivaSince receiving her award, Mair has passed her viva and can look forward to soon being Dr Lloyd, author of Living Latin: Exploring a Communicative Approach to Latin Teaching through a Sociocultural Perspective on Language Learning. Look out for more from Mair, as she has no intention of stopping here, with publications in the pipeline and Ancient Greek to deal with next…

On behalf of the OU Classical Studies department and CREET, and especially from the four of us who supervised you, congratulations Mair, and bona fortuna! As Uschi put it at the AOUG Award Ceremony, Mair fabulosa est!