Today was the day of the Open University’s Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress conference. I’d been looking forward to it since reading the excellent blog posts from Sophie Raudnitz and Liz Webb about the event in previous years, albeit with some trepidation as it was to be the first time for me to present my research to a Classical audience.

The day started with a session on Classical Literature, comprising papers by Liz Webb and Sophie Raudnitz. Liz spoke about sensory experience as it is described in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, and I was particularly interested to hear about the potential parallels with the way in which these concepts are described in Homer. Perhaps somewhat predictably, it made me think about how this relationship could be expressed using a Linked Data model, by annotating particular keywords and phrases in both texts.

Sophie unfortunately wasn’t able to join us in person, but was able to deliver her paper remotely via the wonders of technology. She spoke about the apparent division between politics and philosophy set up in the works of Plato and Theaetetus, with the interesting points that Plato’s positioning of philosophy was in fact inherently political, and also that both writers acknowledge that the two seemingly opposing concepts are not actually mutually exclusive.

The next two sessions took a digital theme. Valeria Vitale introduced Pelagios, and spoke in detail about the Recogito annotation platform, which allows researchers to annotate mentions of places, people and events in digitised materials and link them to authority files without the need to acquire the technical skills or knowledge required to construct RDF triples. This was a great illustration of a really powerful tool, and the audience absolutely grasped its potential to enhance research in Classics and beyond, which was really encouraging.

Jess Hughes followed by highlighting the ways in which we can share our research and engage with the wider community by using social media and writing online articles and blog posts. One of the resources she pointed to particularly was the Open University’s Social Media Toolkit, which I will definitely be taking advantage of in future. There has been a bit of a tradition of Humanities researchers being perceived as ‘lone scholars’, and it was great for Jess to emphasise that this should absolutely not be the case – we should make sure to take the time to share our ideas and make connections with potential future advisors and collaborators.

After lunch (and a trip to Helen King’s recently vacated office – now Val Hope’s – to liberate some free books), it was my turn. My presentation focused on my work linking the data that describes AHRC-funded projects, and what this has told me about data in the Humanities more generally, in Classics and Archaeology in particular, and where Linked Data fits in. I had initially planned to just add some content to the talk I gave at the Researching Born-Digital Archives event in March, but my research has progressed since then, and I actually ended up removing some of the content I had included previously as it didn’t seem to fit with my new narrative. While I still spoke about my process of converting the data structure and my rationale for why this was important, I included more data analysis by presenting overall statistics relating to data, Linked Data, and the subject areas of Classics and Archaeology, and some potential conclusions. In particular I mentioned the apparent bias towards projects that produce new data as opposed to those that consume or enhance existing data – although as this conclusion is currently only based on 15 projects this is most definitely still a ‘work in progress’ until I have a larger sample to work from. I was a little worried before the talk that the more Classically-inclined members of the audience might find it boring, or that I hadn’t pitched the technical information at the right level, but the response I received was overwhelmingly positive. The Q&A session was something I had been dreading, but it was actually really helpful and reassuring that I had several very good questions and some potential threads to follow up later. All in all, presenting at the Work in Progress conference was a great experience in a friendly and supportive environment and I would absolutely encourage other OU PhD or MA Classical Studies students to give it a go next year.

Continuing the Linked Data theme, my PhD partner-in-crime Paula Granados-Garcia spoke about how she is using and enhancing existing Linked Data resources to explore her research topic of cultural contact in Early Roman Spain. This was a great illustration of how powerful these resources can be, and how combining multiple databases containing different types of object can lead to new research conclusions. It was so exciting to present at a Classics conference with two other speakers who are as keen to explore the potential of Linked Data as I am.

The last session focused on Classical Reception, and was also the first time I’d chaired a conference session for about ten years, after being drafted in at the last minute. This was a different listening experience from the other papers as I stopped tweeting and taking notes, instead focusing on thinking about a potential question to ask the speaker if there were none from the floor, and keeping an eye on the time. I think I definitely need to work on my assertiveness skills for next time I chair a conference session, while at the same time being aware of not wanting to cut someone off rudely who is talking so passionately about their research and who could quite easily go on all day!

This was the most varied session in terms of content, as we heard about the comparison between ancient and contemporary war from Simon McLaughlin, the parallels between ancient heroes and video game protagonists from Sian Beavers, and a comparison of Homer’s Hektor with Marvel’s Captain America from Madeline Chawner. Classical Reception is a field that is very new to me, and demonstrates so many imaginative ways of making Classics relevant in the 21st century. All three speakers highlighted how their particular experiences, interest and knowledge of their subject matter has helped to inform their research and create original contributions to Classical scholarship.

To end, I’d just like to say what a great experience the event was. Sian did such an amazing job of organising it, and I really appreciate all the hard work she put in to making it such a success. It was lovely to meet and reconnect with other PhD students and OU staff, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference!

Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Conference, 10 May 2017
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