On 3-6Apr, the Department of Classics at the University of Reading played host to 400 delegates from over 15 countries the annual Classical Association conference.
The Humanities Building is home to the Department of Classics and the Ure Museum, yet the nearby Palmer Building hosted Thursday and Friday’s academic proceedings. Delegates were told that work was done to the roof, just as it was the last time CA came to Reading.
Delegates broadly agreed that this year showcased some great ideas, theories and methodologies concerning the field of Classics. At a glace the programme has a more digital and classroom focus, through Neo-Latin, Greek historiography, literature and political thought also featured somewhat – a reflection, perhaps, of the expertise of the Department at Reading. The two panels on museum is certainly likely to be related to University of Reading’s Ure Museum and the University’s new course in Museum Studies.
Across the plenary sessions, there is a sense that we must be aware of the skills and knowledge we do not possess, or the deficiencies and prejudice that often dominate our work as Classicist. After the warm welcome by University of Reading’s pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Gavin Brooks, by the Head of Department of Classics Professor Peter Kruschwitz and by the chair of this year’s conference organising committee Dr David Carter, the delegates were treated to an address by Professor Alan Sommerstein (Nottingham) titled “Thoughts of a Serial Translator”. Speaking in the imposing Concert Room of Reading Town Hall, Alan Sommerstein talks to delegates about how his translation of Greek drama evolve through time, after evaluations and depending on circumstance. Translation theory and the state of language knowledge (both ancient and modern) amongst Classicists was also discussed.
Reading Town Hall, venue for Wednesday’s events and the conference dinner.
On the second day Professor Charlotte Roueché (KCL) gave one of the most rousing, passionate and convincing speeches CA conferences have ever heard, with the title “Back to the Future: Rediscovering Classics in a digital world”. Roueché gave a brief history of Classics provision online (e.g. TLG has its roots back in the 70s) before showing the delegates the possibility and importance of Digital Classics, in terms of collaboration, outreach, 3D modelling, statistic analysis, access to ancient material, and more. Roueché encouraged delegates in the room to further Classics by making information available, encouraging delegates to edit Wikipedia to make it informative and accurate. Roueché also introduced various ways of keeping abreast with developments in Digital Classics, including through Perseus Tufts project and through AWOL (Ancient World online blog). The timing of Roueché’s is particularly poignant as, across the Atlantic, the Digital Classical Association is having its inaugural conference at Buffalo, NY.
A lecture room in Palmer Building hosted Roueché’s (here) and Osborne’s plenary addresses.
The sitting president of the Classical Association, Professor Robin Osborne (Kings, Cambridge), delivered his address. “Filling the gap” reflects the fact that it is scheduled in the gap before the conference dinner. Osborne delivered a presentation that serves to remind us the fragmentary nature of the material Classicists work with – statues, text, concepts and ideas. Osborne reminds us that some seemingly complete information are gaps filled it, rightly or wrongly. The filling-in of a gap can lead to further theories, therefore a wrongly filled gap (in a text lacuna, in a missing part of an artwork) may lead to further wrong conclusions. As Classicists we are trained to have a critical mind; this mind is important in the modern world and we must be encouraged to use it.
Beyond the plenary halls there were 61 panels spread across three days of the conference. The panels, as mentioned above, covered a range of topics relating to the expertise of the Department at Reading. Greece seemed to dominate with Greek poetry, historiography, political thought and practice, and society all included in the panels. The state of Classical education also featured with topics such as higher tuition fees, e-learning and methodology and uptake all represented. Other interesting panels included ones on Neo-Latin, Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis, Nonnus of Panolplis and Classics and Children’s Literature.
Saturday’s panels took place at Novotel in Reading’s Town Centre. Some delegates did not have to leave the hotel until past midday…
Following from last year’s conference at Exeter, Twitter continued to be a well-used medium for communication within and beyond the conference. The official accounts of @Classical_Assoc and @CA2013Reading provided useful and interesting information for the delegates, while all parts of the programme, academic or social, can be followed on the hashtag #CA2013 – although some panels were excluded as there were no Tuitores (or pipatores?) in the room. If you would like to retrace the conference first hand you can do so on twitter.com/#CA2013. Classics Collective reported from the conference too and covered the plenary sessions. Do stay tuned as we hope to bring a special report on the use of Twitter in conference in the middle of the week, with some reference to this conference.
Digital Classics featured strongly as a theme, brought to the fore with Professor Charlotte Roueché’s highly acclaimed speech – the applause at the end of her presentation is easily the longest I have experienced in Classical conferences. Roueché noted that the inaugural Digital Classical Association conference was taking place concurrently at Buffalo, NY. Roueché opened up for the delegates the possibility of joint projects through the internet and the increase range of data and information made more accessibly through internet means. Though publishers and university department in the land have not fully grasped the model, Digital Classics serve and should serve as unifying force for Classics and one that further the field of Classics, according Roueché. The state Classics articles on Wikipedia are frequently neglected and Roueché suggest that we could do great outreach work as Classicists to make Wikipedia accurate and fuller of information for researches and interested individuals. The Digital Classics panels also mentioned uses of database for data, digital games to aid learning, virtual-learning environments (VLEs) as aid for learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs), internet availability for information (including Catullus Online), amngst others. You can read the summary for one such panel here: http://www.stoa.org/archives/1675.
Beyond the panels, delegates were treated to excursions on the Thames and to Silchester. Regrettably the organisers were not able to organise the weather as it took place in snowy conditions, yet the camaraderie and spirits of Classicists were very much in evidence in such cold weather. The evening talk with Tom Holland was interesting as Holland told delegates of his future projects. One such delegate did remind Holland, however, that it would have been a good commercial move had he brought some books to sell!
The conference dinner took place in Reading Town Hall and delegates were treated to meals cooked by a chef related to the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant. During the conference the organisers and volunteers were thanked. Mary Beard was also awarded the CA prize for her working in spreading Classics. Beard is, in our opinion, a worthy winner with her work on BBC’s “Meet the Romans”, various articles on the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition in most national newspapers, <Times Literary Supplement> and Radio 4’s programmes on Classics; although Beard also made headlines through her brave confrontation with misogynists on Twitter following her appearance on BBC1’s Question Time.
Professor Mary Beard speaking to the delegates at conference dinner. You can read more of her thoughts on her blog: http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/04/thank-you-to-the-classical-association.html
The delegates mostly enjoyed the conference in Reading. Though most cite the need to travel between town centre and Whiteknights campus for two days of the conference as an inconvenience, the overall reception was positive. Delegates felt good vibes around the conference and the conference provisions were good at campus, though the venue was a little cramped at Novotel.
The neon-cloured “Greenshirts” working away at the foyer of Palmer Building as delegates are attending panels, mostly upstairs in the seminar rooms.
In terms of the conference organisers and helpers the opinion was unanimous. It can be imagined that a lot of work was put in to prepare and to run this conference, and the success is in every way that of the Department of Classics at University of Reading, its staff and students, and Venue Reading. Dr David Carter, Dr Sonya Nevin, Prof Phiroze Vasunia on Twitter, Dr. Susanne Turner who organised the volunteer helpers and the student volunteers themselves (whom I would be happy to name individually if only I possess their names!) as well as Clare Davenport at CA. The cogs that turn a wheel is often invisible, attention averted unless something goes awry; yet performing the role of the cogs for this conference circus are members of the Department who are prepared to give up their spare time to help make this conference a success. Before we turn our gaze and look forward to next year’s conference at the University of Nottingham, let us thank them and congratulate them for their efforts and success.
(This article was published with the help of Sam Hayes.)
(Modified to add Dr. Turner’s name to the last paragraph, 8/4)