I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the last Work in Progress day, but here we are again. Another super interesting day listening to talks that spanned the full breadth of the diverse discipline that is Classical Studies – as well as getting the rare chance to interact with each other in person!

The day started with a discussion on ‘Postgraduate Classical Studies and Beyond’, led by Christine Plastow and Jan Haywood, both OU lecturers and recent PhD graduates. While questions ended up focusing specifically on language skills, a recurring theme of the discussion was that Classical Studies in its broadest sense encompasses a wide range of subject areas, each of which requires different skills and ‘tools’ – language is just one of these. This was hugely reassuring for those of us without a language background.

Liz Webb then kicked off the talks with an exploration of emotion in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In particular, Thucydides aimed to focus more on conveying an understanding of the reasons behind emotions, rather than describing the physical ways those emotions were expressed – possibly due to a culture of restraint at this time. It was also interesting that his descriptions of collective emotion tended towards the feelings of the majority rather than the individual, potentially to engage with the widest possible audience. Liz also spoke about how the context of particular words changes the meaning, and how the use of language in works by Herodotos, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides can help to inform translation of Thucydides.

Claire Greenhalgh closed the morning session with a talk on the depiction of rape in relation to female slavery in the television series Spartacus and Rome. Claire argued that in Spartacus, rape was used to demonstrate fully the disempowerment of women, and the long-term effects on these women were also explored. In this context its depiction should therefore not be seen as gratuitous but central to the plot. However, in Rome, the depiction was more cynical, and instead had more of an undertone of women using their sexuality for advancement, which has come under strong criticism.

Both Claire’s and Liz’s talks explored fascinating subject matter that was almost completely new to me, and they presented in a really engaging and informative way to make the material accessible to an audience from a range of academic backgrounds.

After lunch, we heard from some of the academics in the department about their current projects. Elton Barker (my supervisor) spoke about his work on how Thebes is described in Homeric epic, which will result in a book on Homer’s Thebes. I hear a lot about Elton’s digital projects, so it was great to hear about what else he is involved with. Joanna Paul then outlined her research on receptions of Pompeii – in particular, how Pompeii is depicted in film using digital reconstructions of what aerial footage of the city might have looked like. Ursula Rothe talked about the cultural significance and symbolism of the toga in Ancient Rome; Emma-Jayne Graham spoke on the tactility of material culture and its role in Roman religion, and Christine Plastow showed how language relating to place and identity was incorporated into legal speeches. This diverse range of topics serves to demonstrate the extent to which Classical Studies incorporates other disciplines, forming a microcosm of Humanities research. This is one of my arguments for why I’m focusing my own research on the Ancient World, in the hope that it will be applicable across Humanities disciplines.

The final session of the day was on Digital Classics, and I was the first speaker. I talked about my survey on the use and production of digital tools and resources by Ancient World researchers – specifically, how I used terms from the TaDiRAH taxonomy to ensure that information from participants about the methods they associate with digital tools/resources was recorded in a consistent way. I was also able to share some of my initial results, which was quite exciting, and applied my findings using Recogito, Pelagios’ annotation platform. I received some very positive comments about my talk, but the amount of explanation of Linked Data I provide is always a bit of a concern. I need to explain enough that the rest of my talk makes sense, but going into too much detail would then derail the presentation from focusing on my research. I think this is something to which I should give further thought next time I do a talk, particularly if I have the time available to expand further than a basic overview.

Paula Granados-Garcia then spoke on how she is using Linked Data to research cultural contact in Early Roman Spain. Her talk focused on coins as an indicator of cultural contact, and how she has aggregated data about coins from multiple digital collections as Linked Data, which can then be queried. Paula’s research is a great example of how Linked Data can be applied to an appropriate area of Ancient World research and used to draw new conclusions from existing data that was previously held in distinct silos. A lively discussion followed about the importance of open data and digitised content to this type of research, and potential barriers (e.g. some institutions are suspicious of the idea of opening up their data, while others would like to but don’t have the funding).

To end the day, Francesca Benatti gave a presentation on Digital Humanities initiatives at the OU. These included projects such as the Reading and Listening Experience Databases, as well as Classics-related resources such as Pelagios, Hestia, Classics Confidential and the Votives Project. Francesca also mentioned the CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age programme, which I took part in last year and really enjoyed.

Overall, I had a great time at the conference, learned a lot, and had some lovely chats with my fellow PhD students. I’d like to thank Christine Plastow and Paula Granados-Garcia for organising the event, and am already looking forward to next year’s.

Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Conference, 9 May 2018
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