AIA/SCS Annual Meeting 2018 - Boston: Part 2.

Here’s part 2 of my SCS blog! A lot of time has elapsed since I posted Part 1, on the OGL Workshop at Tufts, here; I left the first big chunk of this blog on my desktop computer before I left my apartment for a week without pushing to my Github repo, and I didn’t want to rewrite it, so the post had to wait until the end of this week.

In this blog, I’ll talk about the Thursday evening events, the Friday panels, and the Saturday panel and Ancient MakerSpaces workshop. I’ll finish with my general takeaways from the MakerSpaces workshop and the weekend in general.

Thursday, 1/4: Python Meet Up and the Opening Reception;
Friday, 1/5: Session 9 - Agency in Drama // Session 12 - Harassment and Academia // Session 30 - Material Girls // Presidential Panel and Plenary Session;
Saturday, 1/6: Session 37 - After the Ars: Later Ovid // Ancient MakerSpaces // Collaboration and Digital Tools in Classics // Final Thoughts

Thursday, 1/4 - Python Meet Up and the Opening Reception

Thursday began with a very informal meet up of digitally-inclined Classicists and archaeologists who use the coding language Python in their work, organized (or, well, super relaxedly convened via Twitter?) by Pat Burns (@diyclassics). There were about seven of us in all, including James Tauber and Helma Dik of Logeion / Attikos, and the conversation was lively! There are some plans hopefully coming to fruition soon that I don’t want to scoop, but it suffices to say that there are some exciting Python-related things in the works for Classicists/archaeologists.

The theme of the day seemed to be personal connections. Afterward, I very briefly attended a post-OGL Workshop happy hour / dinner at Earle’s in the Prudential Center and chatted with James a little further about his company, Eldarion, and how he came to be involved in the Perseus Project. After I left there, I had some time to kill, so I ended up sitting and chatting with Alexis Whalen (@donumexitiale), who I had met earlier in the day and is friends with one of my BU colleagues, Ian Nurmi, about grad life, her teaching job in LA, and my dissertation topic. I didn’t put two and two together until Ian and I were talking about how much I loved the Itinera podcast by Scott Lepisto (@scottlepisto) and he helped me realize that Alexis was the second interviewee featured! In the podcast, I appreciated her take on the use of spoken, living Latin in the classroom, so it was great to actually have some time to sit and chat with her face to face. She also had some wonderfully insightful observations about the Pervigilium Veneris, which forms the subject of the fourth chapter of my dissertation and has been giving me some writing problems recently, so a fresh take from a pair of unfamiliar eyes was very much needed and appreciated.

We continued to hang out into the opening reception, where we met up eventually with my BU colleagues. There was wine, there was food, there were friends – we all had a great time.

Friday, 1/5 - Agency in Drama, Harassment in Academia, Material Girls, Presidential Panel and Plenary Session

#Session9 - Agency in Drama (Helene Foley presiding)

This panel had the unenviable position of being in the first slot on Friday after a day or two of insane travel delays or outright cancellations. First up, J. Fenno (U. of Mississippi) (Tweet thread here) presented a reading of passages from Sophocles’ Electra that allude to a sense of living death or potential afterlife that attempted to work against prevailing scholarly readings of those passages. The readings themselves made sense, though I sometimes lost the thread of how they compared against those existing readings or even what those readings were. Next, M. Dolinar (U. of Wisconsin - Madison) (Tweet thread here) argued for agency in Euripides’ Alcestis in the first half of her eponymous play. Given my interest in female agency through speech in my dissertation, I was excited for this paper. Dolinar argued that Alcestis takes the initiative in preparing for her own funeral rites and establishing her eternal presence and role in the home, which will persist after she is gone. I was convinced, though I posed the question afterward about squaring away this agency of the half of the play with the remarkable deprivation of it and the attention drawn to it with Alcestis’ voiceless return as pretty much a visual object; the agency of Heracles in this regard also problematizes the black-and-white view of Alcestis as a full agent in her own right. C. Simone (Columbia) (Tweet thread here) was unable to attend, but his paper on the aulos and auletic music as choreographers of Heracles’ madness in the play was absolutely fascinating. Fun fact: I learned from this paper that the aulos sounded more like bagpipes than the modern flute. It was fun to have Helene Foley and Nancy Worman, who are advising Simone on his dissertation, presiding over the panel and in the audience respectively to explain a few things and take notes and questions to bring back to him. Finally, E. Wong (Independent) (Tweet thread here) was also absent, so his paper was read in absentia – UNTIL! he quite dramatically arrived literally two or three pages into the reading of his paper. So, he then took over. Talk about “low probability, high consequence!” Wong used the case study of Aeschylus’ Septem to make the argument for a theory he calls “risk theatre” – namely, that theatre is a series of events that can be seen as low probability but high consequence, like Polynices and Eteocles meeting at the seventh gate. He included a lot of statistics and interesting observations, though I (and a few others talking about the panel afterward) couldn’t help but note that Wong’s theory was, well, applicable to almost all theatrical plays.

#Session12 - Harassment and Academia: Old Battles and New Frontiers (Organized by the COmmittee on Gender and Sexuality in the Profession and WCC)

This panel was absolutely eye-opening and should have been mandatory for all conference attendees. I missed part of it due to skipping over to Session 16 to support my BU colleague Shannon, who knocked the delivery of her paper “The Cupidity of Ascanius in Vergil and Vegio” out of the park, but I did attend most of Session 12 and found the comments and thoughts on ways to combat harassment in Classics, both in person and online, intriguing to say the least. Rebecca Futo Kennedy (Denison) (Tweet thread here) began the session by explaining the genesis of the panel and the different ways in which harassment manifests in academia, whether by a senior colleague on a junior, a faculty or staff member on a student, even a graduate student on another student. The problems are not endemic to the classroom, as our archaeological colleagues have been dealing with issues of harassment on digs and in the field forever. Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton) (Tweet thread here) delivered statistics from a survey by the Women’s Classical Committee UK that reported discrimination in terms of race, gender, ability, mental health, even language skill. She advocated for prompt action in the face of harassment and discrimination and the formation of a support group or groups, as such a network of support helps one not go it alone.

At this point, I left for Shannon’s talk, so I missed the first part of Donna Zuckerberg’s (Eidolon) talk on “How to Be the Perfect Victim of Internet Harassment” (Tweet thread here) based on her experiences with internet trolls targeting her for her work with public-facing scholarship and Eidolon. Her Powerpoint made it easy to catch up, though, on each of her points. Trolls do not discriminate, whether you’re someone like Zuckerberg or as prolific and well-known as Mary Beard – anyone is fair game. It is up to us, however, to build support systems for victims of online bullying and signal boost the work for which they were targeted in the first place, reminding victims that they are more than their harassment. Finally, Patrice Rankine (U. of Richmond) (Tweet thread here) gave his perspective as a former professor in the field and now an administrator at his university. Some of his most salient points drew a distinction between the legal threshold for actionable complaints and the ethical imperatives of being a good colleague. Counter-intuitively, his comment that “the asshole must evolve now,” meaning that those whose behaviors have harassed or abused his or her colleagues must either stop those behaviors or find new ways to enact them in the modern #MeToo environment, was oddly optimistic – awareness of these behaviors and the bravery needed to call them out is creating a sea change in academia, one much needed.

The panel made me acutely aware of both my privilege as a man in this field and my responsibility to speak up for those who ask for help in the face of harassment and discrimination. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent my admittedly short academic career so far in environments that fostered me and supported me, and I know that that’s not the case for everyone. But this panel made me see the necessity of advocacy and support, of positive reinforcement, and those are goals that I pledge to aim for with my own colleagues and all those with whom I interact, whether at conferences, in personal correspondences, or online.

#Session30 - Material Girls

Material Girls was a joint SCS/AIA Colloquium that looked at the interplay of gender and material culture in the ancient world. My primary purpose in attending was to listen to the first talk by S. Dova (Hellenic College Holy Cross), “Procne, Philomela, and the Voice of the Peplos” (first Tweet of thread above). I felt the “is my dissertation topic going to be neatly disposed of in a single talk” anxiety going in, but I greatly enjoyed the paper and found that they were focused on topics just different enough to have room for both treatments of the myth. She included some great later artistic representations of the myth and made an argument for Philomela’s peplos as the means by which Philomela emerged from her enforced silence and Procne emerged from her ignorance. I ran into her later that day, and we had a great talk about the richness of Sophocles’ Tereus and the scholarship around it – hopefully, we’ll be meeting up to chat more at Harvard’s library soon!

Presidential Panel and Plenary Session

I took the rest of the afternoon off to decompress a little before the Presidential Panel and Plenary Session, organized by SCS President S. Georgia Nugent. For the Panel (Tweet thread here), she brought together four panelists that helped shed light on life with a Ph.D. in a career that doesn’t conform to the quote-unquote “traditional” career path of a tenure-track job. Michael Zimm (Digital Surgeons) explained how the skill set that his Ph.D. helped him hone got him a job in a field about which he knew close to nothing before entering it. Ted Zarrow (Westwood High School), 2016’s Foreign Language Teacher of the Year (the first Classicist to earn the title), advocated for robust secondary school Classics programs and more pedagogical training in second language acquisition as part of a graduate education in Classics. John Paulas ( advocated for the inclusion of internships and different types of courses, like those in hospitality and data science, in graduate education to prepare potential PhDs for a job outside of academia. Katherine Eldred, a tax attorney whose comments and answers to President Nugent’s questions were read aloud in her absence, noted that her experience in close reading Classical texts prepared her for the difficulties of interpreting the tax code and communicating her analyses in a concise and accurate fashion.

President Nugent’s Plenary Session, “Chiron Meets Charon: On Crossing Over to ‘The Dark Side’” (first Tweet of thread above) discussed the transition from an active professor, producing research and teaching courses, full of wisdom, a Chiron, to a university administrator, an unsavory denizen of the underworld, a Charon. She explained how her Classical training and experience as a teacher gave her several gifts that helped her make the transition, among them the love of language (literal philology), close reading and appreciation of narrative, and a sense of the longue durée.

From there, I grabbed some dinner and hung out until BU’s party that evening, complete with a portrait gallery that exhibited 15 black Classicists, entitled “From Slaves to Scholars.” It was great to hang out with my colleagues and catch up with friends from previous years, like Dustin Dixon, who was a senior grad student in the department when I entered and now is now a visiting professor at Grinnell College. We also had some visitors, including members of the department at the University of Vermont who treated us to a performance of the parodos of Euripides’ Helen, which will be staged in the coming months. From there, a few of us hung out at the bar, and then I took a late T ride home to reset for the next day.

Saturday, 1/6 - After the Ars: Later Ovid, #AncMakers

#Session37 - After the Ars: Later Ovid (Stephen Hinds presiding)

My Saturday was spent mainly at two events, Session 37 and the Ancient MakerSpaces workshop. First up, the Ovid panel, which touched on a number of Ovidian texts. M. Bowen (UVa) (Tweet thread here) investigated instances of victims asking for help in the Metamorphoses, especially with the collocation of the imperative verb fer and noun opem. R. Cullick (Oklahoma State University) (Tweet thread here) talked about a number of passages that treated the theme of violence in the Met., though I admit I had trouble following her train of thought or the purpose of her references to each passage. C. Hines (University of Toronto) (Tweet thread here) traced a lexical affinity between Tristia 1.7 and Metamorphoses 8 in the word viscera and traced its various shades of meaning, from literal entrails to its metaphorical use to denote “child/ren.” A. Kachuck (Trinity College, Cambridge) (Tweet thread here) talked about the Somnium Ovidi and dreams in the Met.; the talk was quite wide-ranging and delivered rather quickly, so I had trouble keeping up with the argument or its stages. Finally, U. Poole (Columbia) (Tweet thread here) investigated the compression of chronology in the Ibis – her talk and the discussion following it were so engaging that it made me want to pick up the Ibis and read it for myself!

Ancient MakerSpaces

After the Ovid panel, I made it over to the Ancient MakerSpaces workshop, organized by Pat Burns, which I had been looking forward to for months. I missed the morning presentations due to the Ovid panel, but I made it for the lighting presentations, the Homer Multitext presentation, a presentation by the Quantitative Criticism Lab at UT Austin, and, my favorite part, a panel discussion organized by Hannah Çulik-Baírd (BU).

The lightning presentations tested my typing skills and internet connection – the idea was that each presenter got 4 minutes to explain her/her/their project, and many interesting ones were showcased. H. Dik (Logeion) (Tweet thread here) talked about updates to the web and app interfaces of Logeion. R. Horne (Pleaides Project) (Tweet thread here) demonstrated the utility of the Pleiades Project, a collection of over 30,000 sites from the ancient world, and ways to use the data to create maps and visualizations. I. Livingston (Hedera) (Tweet thread here) gave a presentation impressively synchronized with a demo video about Hedera, a tool that will gauge the difficulty of a Latin passage based on current knowledge of vocabulary with eventual functionality to recommend passages, generate lemmata, etc. B. Almas (Alpheios) (Tweet thread here) gave updates on the Alpheios suite of reading tools, including inflection tables, diagrams, translation alignments, and more functionality to come. S. Burrus and R. Le Blanc (WIRE: Women in the Roman East Project) (Tweet thread here) described the WIRE Project, which aims at documenting the lived experience of real women in the Roman Near East through cataloguing material culture like coins. J. Tauber (Eldarion) (Tweet thread here) talked about Greek linguistic databases for better acquisition of the language. B. Mulligan (Bridge) (Tweet thread here) demonstrated the functionality of The Bridge, a vocabulary generation tool that includes many Greek and Latin texts and textbooks and ways to filter, qualify, and sort the vocabulary information. I actually used The Bridge to generate vocabulary lists for my Homer class this semester – you can see it at work in the Detailed Schedule section of my syllabus here. Endorsed! The lightning presentations ended with impromptu presentations by T. Koentges (ToPan and Metallo), tools for topic modeling; a representative of OpenArchem, a database of archaeometric materials from the ancient world; and Pat Burns on the Classical Language Toolkit, a set of digital tools for reading ancient languages, like lemmatizers and tokenizers.

After lunch, the afternoon began with a presentation on the Homer Multitext Project by C. Dué Hackney, S. Lindeborg, and B. Clark (Tweet thread here). This was fun for me to attend, as I was a student at Holy Cross in the earliest stages of the project, and two of Holy Cross’ Classics professors, N. Smith and M. Ebbott, are one of the two information architects and one of the two editors, respectively, of the project. In fact, I was a student in M. Ebbott’s Homer seminar in which we did some work on the scholia of Iliad 6. The project is nearing a full edition of the Venetus A, a major milestone, and we all got hands-on experience in break-out sessions after the presentation proper. After that, representatives of the Quantitative Criticism Lab from UT Austin (Tweet thread here) presented on their toolkit for textual analysis that can do things like measure sentence length, track enjambment or sense pauses, or determine whether a block of text is prose or poetry. I actually got distracted, welcomely, from the hands-on portion by chatting with Steph Lindeborg, who was one of the freshman Bean Scholars at Holy Cross while I was one of the senior Bean Scholars, so it was great to catch up a little bit.

The final event of #AncMakers, the panel discussion, touched on far too many topics in far too many ways for me to summarize concisely, so I’ll direct you to the full tweet thread initiated by the tweet above for the full run of the conversation and instead talk about what I took away from it.

Collaboration and Digital Tools for Classics

I’ll begin my thoughts by way of an anecdote. My first seminar at BU was on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and among the seminal works of scholarship that we read for it were articles by Andrew Zissos and Ingo Gildenhard. At the time, we all made cracks about how odd it was to see two people’s names as co-authors on a work of scholarship. The scholarly model that we all had and, indeed, still have at the front of our minds was/is that of the sole scholar, sitting in a dusty study with piles of books, crafting his or her own argument in solitude. Collaboration would create a product that delegitimizes your claim to original scholarship or an original project; you have to do it all yourself.

Why does this have to be the case, though? It’s impossible for any one person to know everything, and this stubborn adherence to the model of the sole scholar precludes some great opportunities to make real human connections, to learn something new, to enrich your project or scholarship with a new dimension that you never knew you could add to it. The DH contingent of Classics contains a number of perfect case-in-points. Collaboration has created some amazing tools that we use in many different ways every day, including Perseus, and the community is filled with generous, selfless people who are willing to use their own resources and knowledge to help you out in whatever way you can. All you need to do is put aside your own ego and the academically/culturally-ingrained impulse to lone-wolf it and ask.

The Ancient MakerSpaces workshop in general, with an assist from other events throughout the SCS/AIA weekend, helped me figure out my own philosophy about my use of these digital tools in my scholarship. Michael Zimm during the Presidential Panel said it most succinctly: “Data without context is meaningless.” These digital tools help us build data set on scales incomprehensible even five to ten years ago, but they can’t explain why, for example, the adjective clarus appears as many times as it does in the metrical positions that it takes. The onus of interpretation and analysis still remains with us; the questions that these tools can help us answer originate with us. We are engaging in the meat and potatoes of the Classics discipline that have existed since the advent of philology: close reading, inter/intratextual analysis, prosody, etc.; we’re just engaging with a new set of powerful, digital tools that can help us answer the questions that we want to ask.

Final Thoughts

This year’s AIA/SCS Annual Meeting was a transformative experience in my academic career. Between the great scholarship that I heard, the connections that I made, the tools about which I learned, I’ll be taking so much away from this meeting forward into my own scholarship, teaching, and even life in general. I’m excited for the AIA/SCS in San Diego next year, definitely for weather that won’t be as atrocious as the Bomb Cyclone was in Boston this year, but especially to continue making connections and learning more about this field that I’ve decided to call my home.