Category Archives: Conferences

Reflections on ‘Married to the Military: Soldiers’ Families in the Ancient World and Beyond’ (OU in London, November 11th-12th 2016)

by Emma Bridges

Earlier this month, to coincide with Remembrance Day, Classical Studies at the OU hosted a two-day international conference in London on the theme of ‘Married to the Hector Andromache Astyanax vaseMilitary: Soldiers’ Families in the Ancient World and Beyond’. The idea of thinking about ways in which we might compare the experiences of soldiers’ families in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds with those of their post-classical counterparts was born several years ago when my own marriage to a serving member of the armed forces led me to reflect on the ‘military spouses’ of ancient myth (think of, for example, the Homeric Penelope as the waiting wife of the Odyssey, or Andromache as a war widow in the Iliad). It was as a result of a conversation with my OU colleague Ursula Rothe, however, that the possibility of taking a broader view, in order to consider other areas of the classical world where we might explore the theme of military families, presented itself.

While my own work tends to focus primarily on literary texts, and is grounded in the ancient Greek world, Ursula’s research looks at material culture, and has a decidedly Roman emphasis. By bringing together our complementary approaches to our discipline, and our expertise in different areas of the classical world, Ursula and I were able to put together a conference programme which drew on a cross-section of the range of sources, historical periods and geographical areas with reunionwhich classicists work. For a flavour of what was discussed at the event, take a look at the conference programme and abstracts, and the Storify of livetweets (#OUMTTM) from across the two days. The conference took in ancient perspectives on military families drawn from a variety of different types of evidence, ranging from Greek epic poetry and classical Athenian rhetoric through historiography and ancient material culture, including epigraphic and archaeological sources. Papers ranged across the whole geographical and chronological spread of the classical world, with case studies looking at material not just from Greece and Rome but from locations across the Roman empire, including the provinces of Pannonia, Dacia and Egypt. The topics of presentations extended beyond the field of Classics too, and included an overview of the development of modern attitudes towards the military family from the period before the First World War to the present,military family which opened up the possibilities for rich discussions relating to comparative study and a consideration of where our own area of specialism might sit in relation to other historical periods up to the modern day.

We were also treated to two keynote lectures which highlighted elements of the range of possible approaches which scholars might take when looking at this theme. Edith Hall’s talk explored classical reception studies with a discussion of Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq and its relationship to Aristophanes’ 411 BCE comic play Lysistrata and the soldiers’ wives portrayed there. For our second keynote Penelope Allison, whose work on Roman archaeology and gender has been instrumental in shaping this field of study in recent years, took us on an illuminating tour of the development of scholarship relating to the presence of women and children inside Roman military bases.

military family 1One of the great pleasures of studying Classics has always been, for me, its inherent interdisciplinarity; the field offers opportunities to work with a whole range of different kinds of evidence, from diverse geographical areas and across a wide chronological span. Working with a far-reaching theme such as that of this conference, which resonates throughout and beyond the ancient world, allows us to make fresh connections and draw fruitful comparisons between our own work and that of scholars working in other fields. The conversations which began at the event are set to continue; I look forward to seeing how this emerging network based on our shared interests develops in future.

The organisers of the conference would like to extend our thanks to the Institute of Classical Studies and the Hellenic Centre for their generous support of the event.



Conference: Married to the Military: Soldiers’ Families in the Ancient World and Beyond

Hector Andromache Astyanax vaseRegistration is now open for ‘Married to the Military: Soldiers’ Families in the Ancient World and Beyond’, an international conference commemorating Remembrance Day to be held at the Open University in London (1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden, London NW1 8NP), 11th-12th November 2016. The conference comprises two days of academic papers and includes keynote lectures by Prof. Edith Hall (King’s College London) and Prof. Penelope Allison (University of Leicester). The first of these is a free public event generously sponsored by the Hellenic Centre – all are welcome to attend. The full conference programme can be viewed here.

The cost of the conference is £30 for two days or £20 for one day, to include lunch and refreshments as well as a wine reception prior to the first keynote lecture, hosted by the Hellenic Centre (16-18 Paddington Street, London W1U 5AS) on Friday 11th November. The conference dinner will be held at Opso Restaurant (10, Paddington Street, London W1U 5QL) on Friday 11th at an additional cost of £28.60 per person (excluding wine). Payment is possible by cheque, credit card or BACS transfer.

To register, and for payment details, please email Emma Bridges ( by 1st November 2016, stating whether you wish to attend the full conference or for one day only, and whether you will be attending the conference dinner.

Thanks to the generous support of the Institute of Classical Studies a limited number of bursaries to cover the conference fee (excluding the cost of the conference dinner) and to assist with travel expenses (from within the UK) is available to support the attendance of postgraduate students and those who are under- or unemployed. If you would like to be considered for a bursary please email the organisers (Emma Bridges, and Ursula Rothe, directly by 14th October 2016, outlining briefly your reasons for wishing to attend the conference and stating whether you require a bursary to cover the cost of the conference fee alone, or to assist with travel expenses in addition (if the latter, please give an indication of the expected cost of travel). Those who have no access to an alternative source of funding (e.g. from an institution to which they are affiliated) will be given priority.


Conversations in classical reception: #OU21Cmyth


Arachne weaving her final tapestry, by Carlyn Becchia ( Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Emma Bridges reports on ‘Remaking ancient Greek and Roman myths in the twenty-first century’

Earlier this month the Open University’s Camden office hosted an event entitled ‘Remaking ancient Greek and Roman myths in the twenty-first century’. The aim of the day was to bring together academics and practitioners whose work focuses on contemporary versions of the mythical tales of ancient Greece and Rome. Myth is by its very nature pliable, and this means that it has always offered a rich source of inspiration for creative practitioners who have sought to rework these ancient stories in new contexts – historical, geographical and artistic. For those of us who study the reception of the ancient world in the post-classical era there is a wealth of myth-themed material which provides us with the opportunity to think about how these new contexts shape such creative responses, and to consider some of the reasons why these stories have enjoyed such longevity.

Since joining the department of Classical Studies I’ve particularly relished the chance to work on our online journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies, interviewing some of those for whom sources and themes from the ancient world have provided a stimulus for their own creative endeavours. This opportunity to engage with those whose creative work intersects with some of my own academic interests has been particularly valuable and thought-provoking, and it was with this in mind that I sought to bring together a whole range of practitioners and academics working on ancient mythical themes for this one-day colloquium. The day featured poets, playwrights and novelists, as well as those working on visual art and digital media; it was a huge privilege to hear these creative voices presenting, reading from and discussing their own artistic outputs. The colloquium culminated in a spell-binding performance from members of Blazon Theatre (one of whom, actress Laura Martin-Simpson, is studying for a Classical Studies degree at the OU), who brought to us a rehearsed reading of extracts from their new play, ICONS, which reimagines the myths of the Amazons for the twenty-first century.

You can read the abstracts of talks which were given here, and there is a Storify of livetweets from the day (via #OU21Cmyth), featuring images and audio clips, here. Thanks also to one of the participants, the poet Gareth Prior, who has put together a blog post reflecting on the day’s events. The conversations which the event opened up are set to continue in various forms; in light of the number of offers of papers received, we are discussing running a follow-up event, and there will be further news in due course as to how we plan to disseminate more widely the day’s proceedings. Watch this space!

Borders and Boundaries: a report on the Leeds postgraduate interdisciplinary conference

OU PhD student Sophie Raudnitz reports on the 7th annual postgraduate interdisciplinary conference hosted by the University of Leeds.

Leeds posterOn Monday 20th June, in a week when the issue of national borders and where we draw them was the focus of such intense political attention, I was delighted to attend the 7th Annual Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Leeds, entitled Borders and Boundaries. The aim of this conference was to bring together postgraduate students from different disciplines and different universities to think about borders—cultural, social, psychological and geographical—how we define them and how they are or might be transgressed.

The conference took place at the beautiful Devonshire Hall in Leeds and was hosted by the Classics Department. There were two short keynotes speeches, one from Dr Ingrid Sharp from the Department of German and the other from Dr Emma Stafford from the Department of Classics, both of the University of Leeds. Dr Sharp spoke about ‘Crossing Gender Boundaries: Expressions of Feminist Rage in German Crime Fiction’ – a thought provoking and entertaining look at the way in which German feminist crime writers use humour as a way of affirming rather than denigrating women’s existence. Dr Stafford spoke later on ‘Thinking About Impact’ and research which crosses the boundary between the academic setting and the wider world.

The programme was packed, with five sessions timetabled and two panels running simultaneously in each. Panel topics included ‘Human and Divine’, ‘Aquatic Boundaries’, ‘Home and Away’, ‘Intertextuality’ and ‘Memory’. Though most speakers were classicists, we also heard papers about wearing the veil as a Muslim feminist issue (by Sadia Seddiki, University of Leeds) and ‘transnational’, as opposed to ‘global’ memories of the Holocaust (by Jade Douglas, University of Leeds). I especially enjoyed Jade Douglas’s paper as her study of transnational Holocaust memory intersected with my own research in very interesting ways but as usual with conferences of this kind, just hearing the range of topics which people are researching, and the energy and enthusiasm with which they speak about them, is inspiring in itself. Given this, it seems churlish to mention individual papers but highlights for me included Natalie Enright (University of Leeds) speaking about ‘Crossing Psychic Boundaries: Humoral Infection of the Soul in Plato’s Timaeus’, Devon Allen (University of Leeds) discussing ‘To What Extent is There a Mythological influence over the Folkloric Type of a Mermaid’ and Maria Haley (University of Leeds) on ‘Beyond Justice: Atreus’ Transgressive Revenge in Greek Tragedy’. You can read Henry Clarke’s Storify of tweets from the event here.

My own paper, the last of the day, was on ‘The Politics of Empathy: a Memory-Centred Approach to Euripides’ Trojan Women’ and it suggested that the notion of empathy might unite political and aesthetic approaches to tragedy but also might be a way into reading across genres and considering, for example, discussions around the legitimacy or morality of Holocaust fictions. The paper centred on the ways in which rhetoric generates empathy to sway political responses, and giving it at this conference on Borders and Boundaries, attended by delegates from across the EU, in that week when political rhetoric regarding borders and immigration was at its height, I could suddenly feel its ‘impact’.

In all these respects, it was a very worthwhile trip. It was also great to compare experiences with postgraduate students from other universities and to meet people face to face I had hitherto only met on Twitter. My thanks to the committee from the University of Leeds Classics Department, and to Natalie Enright in particular, for organising such a great day.

by Sophie Raudnitz

Wham, #BAM: Linking the Big Ancient Mediterranean

This week Elton Barker, Reader in Classical Studies at the OU, tells us about his recent trip to the University of Iowa for the ‘Linking the Big Ancient Mediterranean’ (#BAM2016) conference.

BAM2016 all guestsWith this month’s news in the UK being dominated by the EU referendum and specifically the issue of migration, a fortnight ago I was making good my escape, so I thought, to the relative sanctuary of the American Mid-West. But, in addition to being detained upon entry to the US at Chicago O’Hare airport (the inconvenience of a missed flight a merest hint of the difficulty many experience when travelling), participants at the conference to which I had been invited time and again came back to a matrix of contemporary concerns, relating to ideas of networks and mobility; standards, services and accessibility; and transformation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised: the conference was entitled “Linking the Big Ancient Mediterranean” (BAM) after all, and came with the promise of “leveraging the ancient world’s impressive and growing body of linked data to provide an innovative platform for research and teaching”. Organised by our Iowa hosts Sarah Bond and Paul Dilley, #BAM2016 brought together an array of scholars and research developers to talk about not only what digital work they were undertaking but how and why that was important for understanding their topic. The work represented was highly diverse: language texts ranged from Greek, Latin and Persian (Open Philology; Digital Latin Library), to Coptic (Coptic Scriptorium) and Syriac (; disciplines from epigraphy (Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine; and papyrology (, to graffiti (Ancient Graffiti Project), numismatics ( and archaeology (3-D modelling of cultural heritage sites); and approaches from focusing on linking places (Pelagios), to linking people (SNAP:DRGN) and time (PeriodO). There were also a number of useful resources presented, such as the Classical Language Toolkit and a gazetteer of ancient place names (Pleiades Project). (You can see the full line-up at the BAM conference website.)

Far from occluding the hard graft and uncertainty that goes into research, digital activity was shown to shine a light on scholarly practices. Nowhere was this better exemplified that in the project presented by Adam Rabinowitz, called PeriodO. Where a gazetteer like Pleiades has allowed researchers to agree on what place they are talking about (whether one uses the character string “Athens” or another “Athina” or even “Αθήνα”), which means that online documents referring to the same place can now be linked together (by Pelagios—the project I’m working on, more on which in a future post), there is no such agreement on time. Different scholars can—and frequently do—use the same period terms to mean widely different things, or with respect to widely different spaces. For example, how does a computer know that 323 BC, the Hellenistic period, the age of Alexander, etc. all specify more or less the same time? PeriodO, a Gazetteer of Period Definitions, is an attempt to bring some order to this category chaos. Thus, an element of scholarly publications so familiar as the expression of time was revealed to be hugely complex and complicated because of the attempt to apply it in a digital realm. The same is true too, as Ryan Horne (Technical Director at BAM and map guru at the Ancient World Mapping Center) pointed out, of maps—and visualisations more generally: how do you visualise uncertain or ambiguous data?

So, ambiguity and uncertainty were key take home messages—ironically, arguably, given how precise and certain digital data first appear. (We all need to be educated in reading visualisations and interpreting search results, not just our students.) But there are at least three further points to make about the projects presented:

1. Collaboration: as is clear from the brief narrative about PeriodO, it has built on previous and on-going work in the field, specifically by adapting an approach to connecting data taken from Pelagios’s focus on places; and Pelagios itself has been possible only because of Pleiades (among a whole host of other partners). There are various ways of doing collaboration of course: at Iowa, they have a dedicated in-house Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, which helps to support scholars and provide assistance in addressing critical issues such as preservation and sustainability (more longstanding problems that haven’t gone away now that we’ve moved to the digital realm). What #BAM2016 revealed, however, is that collaboration also takes the form of teams of scholars and research developers that cross not only institution but also continents. (Pelagios’s Commons Committee is formed of both groups from European, US and South American institutions. And such collaboration as being developed by PeriodO, Pelagios and others is at its basis a way of connecting data and facilitating further collaboration—an infrastructure from the ground up, as it were.

2. Openness: a common element of all the projects (including Iowa’s Walt Whitman archive), which underpins the collaborative practices noted above, is the fact that they are open and accessible to all. At the very least openness means being able to access data and material openly—so, for data providers/curators, this means not holding data behind a paywall or making them accessible only via institutional networks. An indication of openness is the use of permissive Creative Commons (CC) licenses, such as those recently advertised by the AWMC for maps or those used by Perseus, which are importantly for not only allowing use but also enabling re-use. (The Hestia project was able to “reuse” the Perseus text of Herodotus, to conduct various digital mapping experiments. I write more about this experience, in the context of digital texts more generally, with Melissa Terras.) In fact, sharing extends beyond data: a number of the projects are using the GitHub online repository to make their tools and code available, which can then be used and improved upon by the community.

3. Community: and so we get to the c-word—the human factor in the digital world. As part of their goal of openness, all the projects had in mind a public audience that includes but also somehow extends beyond academia. (How to address different audiences was a major concern highlighted by a number of speakers.) As part of their interest in collaboration, all the projects had in mind, too, building common methods and processes for working with digital data and tools. In fact, together with technical development, community building is the aim of Pelagios Commons, on the understanding that digital resources will remain a niche product and the preserve of the few unless they can be embedded in everyday practice. This is not only a question of how data can be produced but also how data can be consumed: while digital classics guru, Sebastian Heath, was presenting his work on Mapping Roman Amphitheaters, thoughts turned to how his combination of narrative and modelling approaches could form a recognisable scholarly publication. (Or, rather, how they currently don’t.) More challenging still: now that we are able to link between datasets of highly varied nature—texts, databases (of archaeological material), images (of maps, artefacts, etc.)—what happens then? How does one read archaeological excavation data alongside a literary text? And, even if one has as the target the Bigger Ancient Mediterranean picture, how can we put these diverse data together to make sense of this highly contested, rapidly changing, transforming space?

I’ll finish my summary on this note of caution about the possible transformative, even disruptive, effects of the digital on traditional scholarship, though other opinions are available. (See, for example, the excellent blog posts on #BAM2016 by Michael Satlow and Ryan Horne, while an archive of all the tweets—and there were many—has been created in storify.) But to end, paradoxically, I’d like to IMG_2103briefly sketch how I began my presentation, with Herodotus. We are all by now familiar with the Greek – barbarian axis by which Herodotus introduces his inquiry into the Persian Wars, and which has proven influential for how space—at least the Mediterranean space—is still viewed as divided between West and East (or a European vs. Oriental/African other). We even hear an echo of Herodotus’s opening concerns just a few chapters into his narrative, when it is said that the Persians consider “Asia and the barbarian nations dwelling there” their own, while considering Europe and Greece (or, more accurately, the “Greek thing”, to Hellenikon) separate (1.4.4). Yet, that viewpoint is pointedly attributed to Persian wise men; observing how Herodotus begins his attempt to put together (sumballesthai—a word Herodotus uses to describe moments of interpretation) his Big Ancient Mediterranean suggests a far more complex and uncertain route. Immediately the category distinction between Greek and barbarian is complicated and compromised by the introduction of not only Persians but also Phoenicians (1.1: Are they both barbarian? To what extent? In the same way?) And not only do the Phoenicians enter the scene already networking (carrying Egyptian and Assyrian merchandise here and there and to Argos), but they have a different story of the origins of the conflict (1.5.2). The Mediterranean comes across as an already highly interconnected, diverse and contested space, and Herodotus’s way of putting that space together—to borrow a contemporary idea—highly networked. (For more on Herodotus’s networked thinking, see Hestia’s New Worlds OUP book.)

Putting aside these opening skirmishes of accusation and counter-accusation, Herodotus asserts that he’ll investigate cites both small and large alike, since, he reckons, happiness does not reside “in the same place” (1.5.4)—a striking metaphor carried over from the spatial realm to the analysis of human life. For Herodotus, the Mediterranean was already a world in motion. In antiquity this insight anticipated Thucydides’s anatomisation of the great “movement”, kinesis, of his time, the war between the Athenians and Spartans. So it is again now, and we have an obligation as researchers to inquire into its causes and unpick as best we can the various threads that provide the dominant stories of our day.

Editor’s note: You can find Elton on Twitter @eltonteb

Remaking ancient Greek and Roman myths in the twenty-first century

Arachne weaving her final tapestry, by Carlyn Beccia ( Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Arachne weaving her final tapestry, by Carlyn Beccia ( Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

[Update 23rd May: All full-day spaces for this event are now filled. If you wish to be placed on a waiting list for a space please get in touch. There are still spaces available for the public event at 5.45pm.]

Registration is now open for this one-day colloquium, which brings together academics and creative practitioners working on contemporary versions of ancient myths. The event will be held at The Open University in London (1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden, London NW1 8NP) on 7th July 2016.

Attendance at the event is free but booking is essential. Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Attendees may register either for the full event or for the public performance at 5.45pm. To reserve a place please email Emma Bridges ( by Tuesday 28th June, stating whether you wish to register for the whole day or for the public event at 5.45pm only.

The programme for the event is as follows:

10.00 – Coffee/registration

10.25 – Welcome

10.30-12.30 – Session 1 (Chair: Lorna Hardwick)

Atreus, Trujillo and the myth-making of Junot Díaz. Justine McConnell (Oxford)

Border territories: transgressing ancient mythic voices in contemporary poetry. A reading and conversation with Josephine Balmer, Fiona Cox and Elena Theodorakopoulos.

”There is another story”: writing after the Odyssey in Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. Emily Hauser (Yale)

Avid for Ovid: using music to enhance danced interpretations of Ovid’s mythical world. Malcolm Atkins (Open University)

12.30-1.30 – Lunch

1.30-3.30 – Session 2 (Chair: Jessica Hughes)

Twerking for Dionysus in Jan Fabre’s Mount Olympus. Emma Cole (Bristol)

A thoroughly modern maiden: Artemis myth and ritual in twenty-first century Kent. Frances Eley (Open University)

”Stranger still are waters charged”: metamorphosing Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (Ovid, Met. 4.285-388). Artist presentation by Anna Parker (Umeå Academy of Fine Arts).

Regendering Oedipus: from tragic drama to many-mouthed lyric. Poet Amy McCauley in conversation with Gareth Prior.

3.30-4.00 – Tea

4.00-5.30 – Session 3 (Chair: Henry Stead)

Where on earth did you get a story like that? Readings from a new play, Orpheus and Eurydice, presented by Sharon Jennings (playwright).

Subversive advents: exploring a Bacchic narrative in popular cinema. David Bullen (Royal Holloway)

Apotheon: redesigning myth for a video game. Maciej Paprocki (LMU Munich)

5.45-6.45 – Public event

Giving life to the Amazons via the modern female gaze. Theatre-makers Laura Martin-Simpson and Rachel Bagshaw (Blazon Theatre) in conversation, with readings from ICONS, a new play by Paula B. Stanic.

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2016

Classical Studies PhD student Sophie Raudnitz reports on this year’s annual postgraduate work-in-progress event, which took place in Milton Keynes on 5th May 2016.

Some of the student speakers at the event

Some of the student speakers at the event

I am writing this as I bask in the aftermath of a fantastic Open University Postgraduate Work in Progress Day at Walton Hall last week. I took part in my first one of these last year, six months into my PhD. It was the first time that I had presented a conference paper and I was very grateful for the opportunity to do so in such a supportive and friendly environment. I also relished the fact that the day made me feel part of a wider community of OU classicists. The day was a real eye-opener in terms of the variety of work going on under the umbrella of Classical Studies at the university.

Because of this positive experience last year, when Emma Bridges said that the department was looking for a PhD student to help with the organisation this year and asked me if I might be interested, I was happy to get involved. You’ll be relieved to hear that I won’t say much about this process but a couple of things stood out. I was amazed by the number of responses to my initial ‘save the date’ email from MA students all over the world. Most of them, understandably, could not come to Milton Keynes for a one day conference but the level of interest and the strength of positive feeling towards the OU were particularly heart-warming. As it was, we had an MA speaker, Silvana Delatte, who came over from Switzerland and a PhD student, Dominic Solly, who joined us on Skype from New York. Many of those from the UK also travelled great distances to be there. My other ‘moment’ came as I was compiling speakers’ biographies for the panel I was chairing: I am in awe of the way in which the OU brings together people from such disparate backgrounds, leading such different lives.

PhD student Mair Lloyd presenting her work on Latin language pedagogy

PhD student Mair Lloyd presenting her work on Latin language pedagogy

Luckily, a good number of people offered papers without my having to coax at all. We decided to take a relatively formal approach to this year’s conference in asking speakers to submit abstracts, really for the practice that this affords rather than because of any competitive or exclusive element. Emma and I both felt strongly that everyone who wanted to speak should have the opportunity to do so but that the rigour of writing and submitting abstracts and of sticking to word and time limits was worth encouraging too. Again, this process was made very easy by the cooperation of all involved. The final programme consisted of one MA student and eight PhD students, at various points into their studies – from 4 months in to near completion. Taking various factors into account, like travel plans and East Coast Time, I tried to organise the programme in such a way that there was some kind of thematic connection within each of the three panels and I think the day showed the success of this. I certainly found that ideas from previous papers fed very naturally into the way I thought about subsequent ones.

PhD student Catherine Hoggarth speaking about 'A multisensory exploration of movement across Rome's urban bridges'

PhD student Catherine Hoggarth speaking about ‘A multisensory exploration of movement across Rome’s urban bridges’

Like last year’s Work in Progress Day, this year’s was almost unadulteratedly great, aside from the inevitable IT stress at the start. Everyone listened, commented and questioned generously and positively and I think that we all appreciated the opportunity to take part. We heard papers on a wide variety of subjects and it was great to see the range of approaches used and to hear the genuine enthusiasm with which people discussed their work. Suffice it to say that Stuart McKie kicked off thinking about gestures of binding and unbinding and shared with us his experiments in sitting at his desk and holding his thumbs, while the day ended with Claire Greenhalgh inviting us to think about ideas of slavery and liberty in Starz’s Spartacus, with adventures in chicken catching and, frankly, many more votive penises than I was expecting, on the way. As a result of Stuart’s paper on body language and magic, I for one, found myself acutely conscious of the way I was crossing my legs or clasping my hands for the rest of the day. After listening to Catherine Hoggarth speaking about on the sensory experience associated with crossing Roman bridges, I became very contemplative about the bridge over the river into my town as I drove home that evening.

Several of us live tweeted furiously, fingers flying, under the hashtag #OUCSWiP – for a flavour of the topics discussed you can read a Storify of the event here. This was my first foray into live tweeting; I have previously held back as I’m not good at multi-tasking at the best of times. Actually it really added to the experience, allowing me to focus better, and seeing the bank of tweets mounting up from other tweeters was genuinely exciting!

I hope that everyone found the day as rewarding and enjoyable as I did and would really like to thank all those who came along. As you can tell, I’m still on a bit of a high. I’d also like to thank the department for laying on this day for us (and to so many staff members for giving up their time to come along). I hope that the PG WiP Day remains an institution and I’m already very much looking forward to next year’s!

Editor’s note: You can also find Sophie on Twitter @seraudnitz

Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology

Phil Perkins and Eleanor Betts represented the OU Classical Studies department at the Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology, which was held at the National University of Ireland, Galway on 16th-19th April 2016. Scholars from 15 countries presented papers and posters on the archaeology and cultural history of Italy from prehistory to the modern period. Whilst the primary theme of the Conference was the archaeology of death, our papers considered some recent developments in Italian archaeology.

Phil Perkins presenting on the exciting recent finds from Poggio Colla

Phil Perkins presenting on exciting recent finds from Poggio Colla

Phil spoke about the final excavation seasons at Poggio Colla and their context in Northern Etruria, focusing in particular on the remarkable stele which was discovered in Summer 2015. The stele was built into the wall of the earliest temple and bears one of the longest inscriptions known in Etruria. Phil will be presenting on this, and more, in the Accordia Lecture Series on 3rd May.

You can also find out more about the stele and the initial reading of the inscription, here (at 08:54 to 15:16 minutes in the Italian news programme).

Susanna Harris presenting her Etruscan cloak experiment in Galway

Susanna Harris presenting her Etruscan cloak experiment

Eleanor organised and presented in the panel ‘Moving Bodies: Multisensory Approaches to the Ancient Mediterranean’, which was in many ways part of the homage to the work of Ruth Whitehouse which marked the conference. The papers were wide-ranging in their chronological spread, and what they had in common was their application of phenomenology to ancient sites and fieldwork methods in Italy and Malta. The five papers presented were by Sue Hamilton and Ruth Whitehouse, Reuben Grima, Claudia Lambrugo, Susanna Harris and Eleanor Betts. Robin Skeates wrapped up the session, drawing out the main themes of the presentations, and giving much food for thought for the future of sensory archaeologies. You can read more on these papers and the discussion at Sensory Studies in Antiquity.

A report from the Classical Association annual conference (#CA16)

This year’s Classical Association (CA) conference, the largest annual gathering of classicists in the UK, was hosted earlier this month by the CaptureUniversity of Edinburgh and was well-attended by members of the OU’s Classical Studies department. Several of us convened panels or gave papers, and still more of us went along to meet up with colleagues from other universities and to find out more about ongoing research in our field. Next year will see the CA conference co-hosted by the Open University in conjunction with the University of Kent, so this was also a great opportunity for us to take notes on some of the organisational aspects of running such a large-scale event!


Eleanor Betts presenting at the 'Sensational Sanctuaries' panel. Image credit Lewis Webb. Illustrations (projected) thanks to Jasmine Parker.

Eleanor Betts presenting at the ‘Sensational Sanctuaries’ panel. Image credit Lewis Webb. Illustrations (projected) thanks to Jasmine Parker.

Eleanor Betts convened two separate panels, this first of which was ‘Sensational Sanctuaries’, at which both Eleanor and Emma-Jayne Graham presented aspects of their research on sensory experiences of ancient religious sites. The second panel, ‘Power Ranging: Processional Routes from Republican Rome to Napoleonic Paris’ included two of Eleanor’s current PhD students, CHASE student Catherine Hoggarth (University of Kent) and Lewis Webb (Umeå University, Sweden). Read more at Sensory Studies in Antiquity.

Meanwhile Associate Lecturer Tony Keen, as part of a panel on classical myth and science fiction, presented his research on Greek mythology in Iain Banks’ The Bridge. Elsewhere PhD student Mair Lloyd organised a panel on ‘Living Latin’ which brought together experts on the use of immersive spoken language classes as a means of learning the ancient language. You can read a summary of the panel and listen to recordings of the individual presentations on Mair’s blog, and see the Storify of the panel, which was incredibly well-received, here. Mair, along with James Robson, also presented a session on language pedagogy – ‘From zero to hero: managing the transition to university-level study at the OU’ – which showcased the OU’s new Latin module.



We asked some of our postgraduate students to share their thoughts on attending the conference. Here’s what they had to say:

Stuart McKie (PhD student) told us:

My favourite thing about the CA was the huge variety of panels on offer. Over the three days I was there I heard papers on Roman temples, rebel speeches in Tacitus, female suicide in Greek tragedy and Greek myths in modern sci-fi. For my own research interests, the experience of religious and magical practices, the panel on ‘sensational sanctuaries’ was the most applicable. The four papers presented, including those from the CaptureOU’s own E-J Graham and Eleanor Betts, gave me great insights into the work being done to understand how people in the ancient world experienced their religious spaces. For me the stand-out paper from the whole conference was from Terence Tunberg, who gave a demonstration of how he teaches Latin as a living language. The paper was delivered completely in Latin in an incredibly energetic style, and included audience participation to get us all involved. I came away with a completely different appreciation not only of teaching methods, but also of how Latin works as a lived, spoken language.

The social side of the conference was also great for me. I got to meet lots of new people, as well as reconnecting with people I only really see at these huge conferences. As this is the 21st century, a fair chunk of this networking was done online, with a very active group of people on Twitter using the hashtag #CA16. All in all it was a great few days, and I already can’t wait for next year!

Cheryl Barker (MA student) writes:

The 2016 conference was the biggest to date, and thus offered a wide variety of panels over 4 days. There were opportunities to discover new approaches to classics, hear a panel in spoken Latin or review papers on more familiar areas related to one’s own past or current studies.  I was very happy to listen to PhD students presenting their ongoing research on the reception of Sappho and erotica or theological reflections on Cicero.  Eminent professors from across the world debated Tacitus and the peripheries of Empire, ekphrastic mimesis and Persian women in the Greek arts.

The conference was an interesting, informative and convivial experience, and an opportunity for sharing ideas and socialising with likeminded people. It was great to meet up with old friends I first met through OU online fora or at past conferences as well as making new acquaintances over the delicious cakes and scones. There was opportunity to explore the cultural aspects of Edinburgh whether on a walking tour of the city or by a visit to Rosslyn Chapel. However for me, the highlight of the conference was Friday evening’s dinner with a traditional ambience – a ceilidh and Scottish dancing until the wee small hours.

CAM00285My favourite panels, unsurprisingly, were those which reflected my interest in Greek tragedy and reception and the connection between science fiction and the classics. The panel entitled ‘Archaeology of Stardom’ made me wish my research was on the reception of classics in contemporary media. Antony Augoustakis compared the 1960 film ‘Spartacus’ with the 2010s swords-and-sandals television series whilst Monica Cyrino’s  cleverly titled ‘Maximal Projections’ explained how audiences can read classical personas through actors’ previous works – or how Russell Crowe brought Maximus to Noah! Included in another great panel on gender and sexuality was  ‘Nymphos and Nags’ about representations of women in  British sitcoms based in the Roman world focusing upon ‘Up Pompeii’, ‘Chelmsford 123’ and ‘Plebs’. Stereotyped women’s roles are as present in modern comedies as in Aristophanes’ from Classical Athens. Later, I headed to the Body Adaptors panel and heard, in my opinion,  the most intriguing  paper of this year’s conference. Were glass and terracotta grave finds ancient baby bottles and breast pumps – or not? It took experimental archaeology to a whole new level!

Of her experience at the conference Claire Greenhalgh (PhD student) said:

This was my second CA and it was every bit as useful as my first (in Bristol) last year. These events are simply incomparable for making contacts, meeting up with fellow classicists, making friends, discussing your research, meeting all the luminaries in your field (in my case Monica Cyrino, the undisputed guru of television classical receptions) and getting a real feel for all the amazing research being done ‘out there’, particularly for distance-learning, part-time researchers like myself. Living in North Wales is also a bit of a barrier when it comes to attending conferences relevant to my field and without the luxury of being able to get to London, Oxford or any of the major university cities easily, attendance at the CA will surely become a fixture of my academic year.

Pacing yourself at such an event is very important as there is always so much going on! This year the Q&A with Ian Rankin and Lindsey Davis Capturewas a highlight for me, but the opportunities for networking and learning about new research fields from attending the sessions were invaluable. I am a classical receptions specialist and I’m always impressed by the expertise out there, especially from early research PhD students who give fascinating, erudite and extremely informative presentations. It makes me aware of how much I need to do, but it’s equally inspiring as well. 

For me the classical receptions panel ‘The Archaeology of Stardom’ was the most fascinating and also the funniest! One paper in particular made me nostalgic for many a Sunday afternoon spent watching biblical epics like Ben Hur, El Cid (not technically ancient world, but certainly epic) and The Ten Commandments, as well as some of the dodgier Samson_and_Delilah_original_1949_posterB-movie stuff like the deliciously bad but gorgeously shot Samson and Delilah. The talk by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones examined the role of off-screen star personas on the way Hollywood classical epics in the cinema were ‘read’ by audiences. He suggested that many star actors simply played themselves and viewers often confused historical figures with the actors who play them: after all, for many, Charlton Heston IS Moses. Llewellyn-Jones’ main case study was the notorious Taylor/Burton romance which dominated the filming of the disastrous Cleopatra (1963) and profoundly shaped the outcome and reception of the text; Taylor’s star image dominated the picture and the scandal of their liaison meant that the film was all about Antony and Cleopatra (Caesar’s contribution is largely forgotten today) – the film narrative had been envisaged differently but was changed to accommodate the star system. We were treated to some fabulous screen shots, stills, images of those gorgeous movie stars and some wonderful vignettes about the filming. It made me want to watch the film all over again…well, almost!


We hope that you’ll be able to join us next year for the jointly-hosted Open University/Kent conference in Canterbury. For more information, including a call for papers, see the ‘CA2017’ tab at the top of this page.

Some of the OU Classics crowd at the RAC/TRAC Conference opening

A postcard from Rome (the RAC/TRAC conference 2016)

The Open University was well represented at the combined Roman Archaeology Conference and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (RAC/TRAC for short), held at La Sapienza University in Rome from March 16th-20th. A crowd of us went along to present papers, run sessions and/or listen to the latest research in Roman Archaeology – and of course we also took the opportunity to visit museums and sites across the Eternal City…


Stuart McKie giving his paper on curse tablets

Stuart McKie giving his paper on curse tablets

Jessica Hughes and Stuart McKie both presented in a session on Thursday entitled Appropriating Traditions, Negotiating Forms: Material Culture and Roman Religion Between Categories and Variables. The session was organised by Katharina Rieger from the University of Erfurt, who had asked us to consider “how [we] might make use of standardisation, appropriation and transformation when dealing with the varieties from the world of things.”

Jessica considered these issues in relation to the votive offerings she works on, revisiting the ancient and modern terminology for dedications; she also explored how digital technologies such as data-tagging and cluster analysis might lead us towards new ways of dividing and classifying the millions of votive objects that survive from the ancient world.

Stuart then looked at how the categories developed by scholars in relation to Greco-Roman curse tablets might be applied or re-invented in relation to the North-Western curse tablets that he is studying in his PhD. His paper emphasised the role of social context and on-going personal relationships in the creation of the tablets, and drew parallels with anthropological case studies from traditional cultures in the modern world. (Visit Stuart’s blog to find out more about this topic!)

A distance shot of Eleanor Betts, talking about Ostia and the Senses

A distance shot of Eleanor Betts, talking about Ostia and the Senses

Eleanor Betts had organised a whole panel on Sensory Archaeology, and this took place on the Friday morning. Taking as its theme the multiple perspectives of sensory space, this session explored the role played by the senses in recognising, understanding and using Roman urban space, with a specific focus on movement within the cities of Rome, Ostia and Pompeii. Eleanor’s own paper (‘Multisensory Mapping of Ostia’s Regio I.IV’) demonstrated the extent to which reconstructing sensory data might alter our perceptions of ancient cityscapes. (You can read more about Eleanor’s work on the senses on the Sensory Studies in Antiquity blog).


Field trips

When the conference drew to a close on Saturday afternoon, many of the delegates made their way down to the Roman Forum. A number of us spent the afternoon exploring the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, which had re-opened with great ceremony earlier that week when the icon of the Madonna had been brought ‘home’ in a procession from the church of Santa Maria Nova. We were quite amazed by the museological techniques that the curators had used to bring the wall-paintings alive, such as the lasers projecting colours, details and explanatory text on top of the faded frescoes.

Individually, we managed to fit in several other research-related visits to Roman museums. On Wednesday Jess met the painter Umberto Passeretti at Trajan’s Markets to interview him about his exhibition ‘Un presente antichissimo’ for our OU e-journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies. It was fantastic to walk around the temporary exhibition – arranged amidst the ancient sculptures – and to listen to the artist talk about his classically-inspired paintings of myths and bodies.

Jess and Emma-Jayne also went the Capitoline Museums to visit the exhibition Capitol. Myth, Memory and Archaeology, although we spent an equal amount of time gazing at the tiny gemstones from the collections of the Fondazione di Dino e Ernesta Santerelli.

Offerings left at the remains of the Temple of Julius Caesar in the Forum Romanum to mark the Ides of March.

Offerings left at the remains of the Temple of Julius Caesar in the Forum Romanum to mark the Ides of March.

Before the conference started on Tuesday, Stuart witnessed a fatal stabbing at Largo Argentina… well, the re-enactment of one anyway! It was the Ides of March, and a local historical re-enactment group put on a dramatization of the assassination of Julius Caesar – it was quite an experience! Also while in the city, Stuart had a look at the new display of the curse tablets from the Fountain of Anna Perenna in the Epigraphic Museum at the Baths of Diocletian. It’s a great display, and shows not only the curses themselves but the magic dolls and other ritual objects deposited in the fountain.

And finally…

Since at least one other OU Classicist is going to Rome this year, we thought it was only fair to share our best food-related discoveries too!

For lunches around the forum/Piazza Navona area we would recommend the Antica Birreria Peroni. It has a nice atmosphere (lovely frescoed walls), and a reasonably-priced menu; dishes include Roman classics like spaghetti cascio e pepe and is open throughout the afternoon (useful if, like us, you lose track of time in the museum!)

If you are after artichokes (carciofi) or just something a bit more traditional, try Trattoria da Giggetto located right next to the ancient Portico d’Ottavia.

La Sapienza University is in the area of San Lorenzo, which is a little way from the city centre. But if you find yourself there, we’d highly recommend a visit to Pinsa e Buoi.

Everyone has their favourite place for ice-cream in Rome so why not try them all?! Emma-Jayne’s favourite is San Crispino, just round the corner from the Trevi Fountain on Via della Panetteria (they also have a shop close to the Pantheon) and highly recommends their ginger and cinnamon or straciatella flavours.  There’s also a San Crispino’s at Fiumicino airport!

Emma-Jayne (and Constantine) in the Capitoline Museums

Emma-Jayne (and Constantine) in the Capitoline Museums