Weekend Reading: Conference and Controversy

Classical Studies Support is back from a Christmas break – which somehow managed to be more tiring than work – and resuming the regular Weekend Reading schedule. This week there’s been a great deal of drama and in-fighting, combined with a large helping of concern over the future of Classics. Who needs Eastenders when you have Classics?!




This week’s big Classics controversy kicked off at the American mega-conference of the AIA and SCS (archaeology and classics, respectively). Naturally I wasn’t there (nobody’s going to pay to fly me to San Diego, sadly!), but there was a great deal of very useful live-tweeting from some of the attendees (links below, if you’d like to take a look at some of the panels).



The AIA side of the conference seemed to focus on archaeological discoveries and developments, while the Classics side was dominated more by Classics-related meta-issues, with panels discussing the future of Classics, the composition of Classics and the ways in which Classics provision can be opened up and extended. Some concern was expressed, both through the Future of Classics panel and in Mary Beard’s TLS article, that this meta-focus on the survival of Classics as a discipline could be seen as a bad sign.

However, there were worse signs about the future of Classics, which emerged as the conference progressed. Attendees were deeply distressed by discrimination – both verbal discrimination, in racist and sexist remarks made to speakers by other classicists, and practical discrimination, when two award-winning members of the Society for Classical Studies (and people of colour) videoed their interrogation by a member of the hotel staff. Further controversy was stirred up by an anonymous article published on Medium about the commitment of Mary Beard (the plenary speaker) to feminism in particular and social justice more widely. It was not just the content of the article that polarised views, but also the anonymity of the writer, with some scholars arguing that ad hominem attackers shouldn’t hide behind anonymity, while others argued that anonymity is an essential protection for anyone at a vulnerable stage in their career.

So it’s been a disturbing week, stirring up dislike and disgust. Twitter has been in an uproar, complaints have been made, and action has been taken by the SCS committee. Not everyone had an unpleasant experience, of course: there were enough enthusiastic reports coming from attendees to make me jealous! But the drama and controversy raised serious questions – about the future of Classics, and also about whether everyone is looking to the same future.


If you’d like to find out more…

Report on racist comments – Inside Higher Ed 

…followed up by an article written by the speaker who was targeted – Medium 

… and an article summarising the points made by several attendees – The Chronicle 

… and a letter from the President of the SCS

Collection of live tweets – Twitter Moments 

…and some materials from Amy Pistone 

…and a great talk by Sarah Parcak published on Medium 

Mary Beard on the US mega-conference – A Don’s Life 

… and a provocative anonymous article on Mary Beard – Medium 


What a way to start the New Year! But I’d like to wish you all a happy new year anyway: hopefully things will start to look up eventually! And if you’re based in the UK and you’d like to see how a conference works (not all of them are quite so vicious!), ‘early bird’ booking is now open for the UK’s big Classics conference, being held in London this year. Students are welcome there, and the concessionary fees are not bad: so if you fancy a few days in London with a boat-load (literally) of classicists in the summer, do take a look!

FIEC/CA 2019 – early bird bookings now open 



new year


This week’s other Classics-related links


From Classical Studies Support

Baby Brain to PhD, by Rhian Williams

Discovering Ultima Thule



Reassessing museum collections – The Telegraph 

When is a vase not a vase? – The Art Newspaper 

Snow called Telemachos – Reuters

Decapitated corpses – Archaeology 


Comment and opinion

Professor Porson’s pigs – The Edithorial 

Ovid’s angry birds – In Medias Res 

Being possessive about wine – Bible History Daily 

2018 on the Sphinx – The Sphinx 

Read the Iliad to your  kids? – The Federalist 

Sparta for kids – The Conversation 

Not knowing Greek – The New Yorker 

Fantasy and historical fiction – Reboot the Past 

Writing technology and classical thinking – Phys.org 

Power and architecture – Ancient Origins 

Juvenal’s chariots of ire – The Conversation 

Dealing with anxiety, Roman style – The Daily Beast 

Museums and the history of sex – Notches Blog 

The Thucydides virus – The Sphinx

Why we shouldn’t admire Augustus – The Conversation 

Wandering wombs and bad smells – The History Girls 

Delphic maxims – Aeon 

Livia in I, Claudius and The SopranosUSA Today 




Podcasts, video and other media

The relevance of Antigone – BBC Ideas 

Modern Olympians – That’s Ancient History

Cinna, Cicero and baldness – Emperors of Rome 

Agrippina and the wolf girl – Ancient History Fangirl 

Silly ancient beliefs – BBC Ideas

On racism in Classics – Itinera 

Antiochus the Great and his son – Ancient World Podcast 


Fancy a trip to Edinburgh? Tickets available for lectures on Hadrian’s Wall 



3 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Conference and Controversy

  1. I was following the live tweeting from the conference quite closely and I have to say that there was a lot of really interesting material! I was honestly shocked at the racist outburst from one particular Classicist. Call me naive but I really didn’t think such opinions existed in the mainstream and that they were limited to the fringes of Classicism, unfortunately this is apparently not the case. On another note, I haven’t seen Mary Beards lecture (I know it’s expected to be available online soon) but it’s surprising to see so many people jumping on the band wagon to criticise her based on hearsay. I can’t comment as I’ve yet to watch the lecture, but will do so as soon as it’s available.


  2. Hi Cora Beth,

    Happy New Year!

    I’ve booked onto the London conference and am now suffering imposter syndrome for the first time in my life. Gosh you do learn a lot on a classics degree…

    Have lost a lot of time with a stressful house move. Looking to finish the archaeology block next week and then immerse myself in the critical review.

    Best wishes




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