Friday, 28 April 2017

Adventures in Sweden, Ireland, and England

There have been plenty of adventures for Panoply recently, so an update's in order...
Late last month I had the great pleasure to visit the Humanities Lab, known as Humlab, at the University of Umeå in northern Sweden. This is a very impressive facility, where humanities experts and tech specialists can work together, collaborating effectively on projects that call for the strengths of both. Very cool.

I gave a seminar talk on vase animations as a form of engagement and research activity. I said a bit about the process of developing the animations, a bit about the different ways that museums have displayed them, and a bigger bit about what we're doing within the Our Mythical Childhood project (on which see the video at:
Above, my presentation in the Umeå Humlab.

My animation talk was followed by a presentation on Virtual Reality by Umeå doctoral candidate Claudia Sciuto. This is a hot topic in lots of fields at the moment, so it was great to hear some of Claudia's thoughts. She was looking at how VR can be used effectively in interpreting the results of archaeological excavations. Claudia has seen that making VR versions of sites is particularly useful for collaborative work, as it makes it easier for team members to share their visions of how the site worked and to try out alternative interpretations.

Above, adventures in VR.

It was interesting to try out a VR version of an ancient homestead, based on the findings from an excavation. I also enjoyed visiting a VR theatre environment that was inhabited by a dancer created as part of a Roman pantomime project by Anna Foka, my host in Umeå, Helen Slaney (Roehampton) and Sophie Bocksberger (Oxford), and technical specialists Mattis Lindmark and Jim Robertsson. Dr Foka, a classicist and digital humanities specialist, is currently engaged in the digitisation of an archive in Stockholm – another exciting project to keep your eyes open for. Thank-you to everyone in Umeå for your warm welcome and smart questions.

Always a pleasure to visit Ireland... Next up was a trip to University College Dublin, my alma mater. I was there to give a seminar talk called, 'Games as Prizes. Struggles for Control of Panhellenic Sanctuaries in Classical Greece'. The talk was based to a large extent on chapter 6 of my new book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare. I gave an overview of the conflicts fought for control of the panhellenic sites – the sort of overview that makes you realise that this was a much bigger issue than we sometimes imagine. I moved on to demonstrating how it was that Arcadians and Phocians came to take huge amounts of wealth from Olympia and Delphi – and why it wasn’t quite as out of the blue as it sometimes seems. If that's your cup of tea and you'd like to know more, better grab a copy or order one through your library! Many thanks to host Philip de Souza (who you'll remember from his fantastic Panoply interview on ancient piracy) and the rest of the department for great questions and a wonderful visit.

Above, terracotta of a woman playing a lyre, c.400-380BCE, Nicosia, as seen during my Dublin trip, at the National Archaeological Museum (terracotta on loan from the Cyprus Museum, 1934V-183). This seemed an appropriate artefact to snap as our latest Panoply work is all about Sappho, the ultimate lady with the lyre.

In ultra recent news, I'm just back from the UK Classical Association conference, this year held at the University of Kent in Canterbury. My talk there was about fan art which reimagines the Star Wars universe through ancient Greek vase scenes. I showed some of my favourite examples, some of which you may remember from a post on the subject written a while back, and I also talked about ways that that material can enrich sessions with children and young people on vases and antiquity more broadly. After all, if you ask a room full of children "Do any of you have characters from stories or cartoons on your bags or lunch boxes?", you always find that lots of them do, and that can be a route into drawing explicit comparisons about stories and characters they like, and stories and mythical figures real ancient Greek people liked. And a question such as, "If you had to get across Star Wars in one image, what image would you choose?", can be a good way to help them think about what's packed into iconography – ancient or otherwise. The Star Wars vase images can be a fun yet idea-provoking middle ground between more typical contemporary images of heroes and ancient images of heroes.... why not try it out and see how you get on?! If Star Wars isn't your bag, there are plenty of other examples of cross-over vase art; expect further blog posts on this topic in the not too distant future, and check out my Vase Remixes post from a little while back.

It was a real pleasure to be at another Classical Association conference. Fellow panellists gave super papers: Tristan Taylor (New England, Australia), From Republic to Empire – Rome and Star Wars, Octavian and Palpatine, from Roman Empire to evil Empire; Ben Howland (Louisiana State) ‘He could destroy us’: Oedipus, Palpatine, Vader and the self-fulfilling prophecy; and Joanna Komorowska (Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński)‘Go to the Dagobah System’: Or Obi-Wan between epic and tragedy. The panel was convened by Roehampton's Tony Keen, and it was a fine contribution to Star Wars 40.

Another conference highlight was Rosie Wyles' (Kent) paper, Theatricalising everyday objects, in which she discussed the significance of Greek dramatists beginning to use props for the first time, bringing vases onto the stage to use in voting scenes. While we all take the use of props on stage for granted now, it must have been a mind-blowing thing when it was first tried out, and something that changed the relationship between the stage and real life. This was a really wonderful look at a the use of vases in an unusual context, and we look forward to hearing more about it as Dr Wyles' project continues. One last conference highlight... Military Leaders and Sacred Space looking striking on the IB Tauris stall:

Many thanks to the Classical Association and the University of Kent for all your hard work on the conference.

We'll be back soon, with news on Panoply developments for Our Mythical Childhood, adventures in Poland, and further vase remixes. See you then!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Our Mythical Childhood – Celebrating ERC Week

A big Thank-You to everyone who came along to last month's events, whether it was the launch for Military Leaders and Sacred Space, the Iris Project Festival, or my symposium talk at the Pitt Rivers Museum marking the opening of the Out in Oxford Cross-Collections Museum Trail (for which see

This week we're delighted to be celebrating ERC Week, cheering the ten years that the European Research Council has been funding cutting-edge research. We've made a new video to mark the occasion; if you haven’t seen it already, here it is!

We're very grateful to the ERC for funding our latest endeavour: an international multi-part research project called Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. Our Mythical Childhood is looking at the roles that ancient myth plays in young people's lives around the world. A central idea of the project is that myths are not passed on in a vacuum, but influenced and shaped by the conditions in which they are retold. These subtle (or, sometimes, not so subtle) influences include things such as the age of the intended audience, the purpose and style of the re-telling, or the values held by the author and society in which the myths are being retold. Over the next five years, the project will be shedding light on these dynamics and creating wonderful resources for academics, teachers, and members of the public to use, enjoy, and learn from.

Above, this info-graphic lays out the structure of Our Mythical Childhood.

For our part of the project, we'll be creating some new depictions of ancient mythical figures in the form of five new vase animations. You'll see the ancient poet, Sappho, re-creating tales of Troy on her magnificent lyre, and you'll see Heracles on the trail of adventure. Three more animations will give you a slice of the gods' lives, with Dionysus, Iris, Zeus, Athena, and Nike all making an appearance. As well as the vase animations, we'll be making a documentary and all sorts of other supporting materials (whoop!). The animations will be displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw and you'll find them and the other materials online on their own page of the Panoply website.

Above, Prof Katarzyna Marciniak

Our Mythical Childhood is being spear-headed by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak of the University of Warsaw. You may recall that Katarzyna was the brains behind the Chasing Mythical Beasts project, including the conference that we contributed to last year (there's a reminder video here). As well as keeping everyone on track, Katarzyna is coordinating an array of project publications, annual conferences, and a database, with help from a talented group of scholars and PhD students.

Above, Dr Susan Deacy.

Like us, Dr Susan Deacy is based at the University of Roehampton in London. Susan's Mythical Childhood research is exploring the special potential of classical mythology to engage autistic children. You can keep up-to-date with this fascinating project at:

Above, Prof Daniel Nkemleke.

Another wing of the project will see Prof Daniel Nkemleke and Dr Divine Che Nebe of the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon conducting a survey of traditional African myth. This will include seeking out storytellers and asking elders to put their old tales on record; it's not a million miles away from the work carried out back in the day by the great folklorists Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm!

Sometimes myth appears at home, in our books, and cartoons and in the stories we tell each other, and sometimes we find it in schools as part of our formal learning. At Bar-Ilan University, in Israel, Dr Lisa Maurice and a team of scholars will be examining the place that mythology has in school curriculums around the world. UK curriculums will be researched and represented by none other than Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, a researcher with specialism in classics in UK education and a friend to Panoply who many of you will know from her sterling work in UK schools through Classics in Communities.

Above, Dr Elizabeth Hale.

If all of this is starting to seem like a lot, you'll be glad to hear that Dr Elizabeth Hale and Associate Professor Marguerite Johnson of University of New England in Australia will be creating Children's Literature and Classical Antiquity: A Guide. Elizabeth, a Senior Lecturer in English and Writing, specialising in children's literature, will lead us through the complex web of myths told, retold, and told again.

Above, Some of the books in the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Perhaps you're now remembering the books that had your favourite myths in when you were young. Perhaps you're thinking of a small person in your life who might enjoy a bit more myth. Or perhaps you're feeling curious about the many ways your favourite myth might have been told differently by different authors. If that's the case, start looking forward to the project database: Our Mythical Childhood Survey. It will host summaries of items from children's culture from all over the world (especially children's literature), including details on how each work has represented myths and mythical themes. Many scholars (including me) are contributing to the database, and it's already shaping up to be tremendous. Above and below here you can see some of the books I'm working on.

Above, More books from the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Later on this week we'll be talking at An Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, at the University of Roehampton. We're delighted that people from a wide range of disciplines will be joining us to hear about the project. If you can't make it, watch this space (and Twitter: @SonyaNevin; @OMChildhood ) for Our Mythical Childhood news and updates. Tweet to tell us what your favourite myth book is!

All of this work is made possible by the European Research Council. Long may they keep up the good work :)

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who came to the Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, making super, and truly inter-disciplinary event. A couple of photos:

Above, Team Roehampton l-r, Dr Katerina Volioti (researching representations of the gods in Greek children's literature), Dr Susan Deacy, and Dr Sonya Nevin.

Above, Team Roehampton, the Panoply wing: Steve Simons and Sonya Nevin.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Upcoming Public Events

There are three fun and interesting public events lined-up for next month, 2 for adults, 1 for children, so, if you're in the UK, come and say hello and enjoy. The first is a book launch, the second a schools' fair, and the third a party at the Pitt Rivers Museum. I'm also giving you advance notice of a super-cool event that will be taking place at the University of Roehampton in March. If you like the sound of any of that, read on....

1) Monday 6th Feb. Launch of Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare.
This book launch will be celebrating the publication of Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare, aka my new book :) (available on the IB Tauris website). The launch will feature an introduction by Prof Hans van Wees of University College London and an opportunity for some ancient history chat over a drink. Copies of the book will be on sale at a discounted price. This event will take place at the University of Roehampton (West London) on Monday 6th Feb, 6-8pm in the Howard Building (room 001). This is a free event, but please book via Eventbrite so we know how many people to expect. All very welcome. You can also find a discussion of Military Leaders below in our previous post.

2) Tuesday 7th Feb. The Iris Project's Festival of Ancient and Modern Science.
The Panoply Vase Animation Project will be amongst a fabulous selection of stalls and talks at the Iris Project's Festival of Ancient and Modern Science. We'll be showing our animations, chatting about them and our new project, and hosting a range of drawing and colouring activities. Bring your nippers to hear more about ancient vases, Greek myth, and ancient and modern science. The festival will also feature Professor Helen King talking about Hippocratic medicine, a QandA with IVF pioneer Professor Robert Winston, and a talk by Professor Anthony Grayling on the Pre-Socratic philosophers. This event is on from 3-7pm at Cheney School in Oxfordshire. It's free. Drop-in, no need to book unless you plan to bring a group. For more information, visit the Iris Project's website. This video might whet your appetite:

3) Saturday 11th Feb. Out in Oxford: Party at the Pitt.
On Saturday 11th February, from 7-10pm, there will be special exhibitions, short talks, and interactive activities led by community groups, curators, performers and artists at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Party at the Pitt is on to celebrate the launch of the Out in Oxford: Cross-Collections Trail, a trail that connects the University of Oxford's museums, highlighting and exploring artefacts connected to LGBTQ history and culture. You can download the Out In Oxford trail, written by LGBTQ volunteers and allies, at I'll be there, giving a short talk about The Symposium - Panoply's 2016 animation created for Oxford Uni's Classics in Communities project. Party at the Pitt is a free event for anyone over 16. Tickets are available via Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

Museum types interested in introducing more LGBTQ-friendly material into their museums will enjoy this short talk by the Out in Oxford trail's curator, Beth Asbury:

4) Thursday 16th March. Our Mythical Childhood - An Introduction.
And finally, a head's up about an event in March – an introduction to the Roehampton wing of the ERC-funded project Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. I'll be talking about the role that Steve and I have in this project – making a set of new vase animations on mythical themes and a documentary about vases, myth, and animation. There will also be presentations from Dr Susan Deacy on her work on classical myth in the autistic classroom and from Dr Katerina Volioti on gods and other mythical creatures in literature for young children. Last but not least, you'll hear about the survey of classical mythology in children's culture which is being collected by scholars around the world. This is a fantastic new project and this is the first chance to hear how it's unfolding and how it might be of use to you in your endeavours. This event will be of particular interest to classicists and children's literature experts, but all are very welcome. It will be on on the 16th March, 5.00-6.30pm in the University of Roehampton's beautiful Adam Room in Grove House. Booking details will be released closer to the time.

Hope to see you at one of these events. We'll be back soon with more news on our developing animations.