Dr. Victoria Leonard is a Research Associate at the Institute of Classical Studies. In this post she reflects on her recent research visit to the Hardt Foundation, Geneva.
In November 2017 I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Research Scholarship at the Hardt Foundation (Fondation Hardt) in Geneva, a unique institution that supports the study of Classical Antiquity. The Foundation houses an excellent library, and with its private grounds and other visiting researchers, it provides an ideal working environment. The Scholarship offered two precious weeks of uninterrupted research, with the principal task of progressing an article on late ancient material culture.
My article focuses on a collection of imperial standards dating to the early fourth century AD that were unearthed on the Palatine Hill in Rome in 2005. The excavation revealed a sceptre (fig. 1), three glass spheres, and seven spear- and lance-heads that had been wrapped in silk and linen, preserved in a leather bag and a wooden box, and carefully buried. The insignia have been interpreted as belonging to the emperor Maxentius, who ruled as emperor in the western Roman empire for six years (AD 306-12) (fig. 2). The mysterious interment of the standards has been rather spectacularly connected to Maxentius’ defeat and death at the hands of the emperor Constantine at the battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. Archaeologists have supposed that the standards were hidden before the battle for safe-keeping but never retrieved following Maxentius’ defeat. Imperial insignia were frequently represented on coins, art or relief sculptures (fig. 3), but these standards are exceptional as the only surviving example from antiquity. My research re-examines this important material evidence and considers the suppression and survival of memory within the dichotomy of imperial triumph and defeat in the early fourth century.
The Hardt Foundation was an ideal place to progress my project, which involved the study of sculpture, inscriptions, coins, and literature from archaic Greece to the late ancient western Mediterranean. The Foundation’s library offers a wide variety of resources in classical studies, ancient history, and archaeology. It has a fine collection of critical editions and translations, so chasing references to complete another article was a surprisingly pleasant task. Focusing on the Roman empress Galla Placidia (AD 388-450), this second article considers gender bias in ancient historiography and how the lack of critical recognition has shaped understandings of Placidia’s capture during the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in AD 410. Building upon a comparative and transhistorical approach to gender and violence within ancient warfare, my analysis seeks to find an alternative to conventional critical interpretations of Placidia’s historical role within the ancient evidence. Shifting the focus away from androcentric narratives and centralising Placidia’s experiences illuminates her lack of autonomy as a war-captive.
I am a founding member and steering committee member of the Women’s Classical Committee (UK), and it was serendipitous that Talitha Kearey, a WCC member and PhD student from the University of Cambridge, was also visiting the Foundation. With Katherine Harloe and Irene Salvo, Talitha is organising ‘LGBT+ Classics: Teaching, Research, and Activism’ to be held on 12th February 2018 at Reading University. She was also willing to be strong-armed into contributing to a WCC initiative to improve the representation of women classicists on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the largest and most influential source of information in the world, and yet it has a pronounced gender skew. Fewer than 15% of English-language Wikipedia editors are women, and only one in six of its 1.5 million biographies focus on women. This bias is particularly pronounced in the representation of classicists: an estimate in 2016 found that only 7% of biographies featured women.
The WCC has organised training sessions and monthly remote editing sessions to reverse this imbalance (see here). Talitha and I were able to participate in a remote editing session from the Foundation: new to Wikipedia editing, Talitha improved the pages on Averil Cameron and Philomen Probert, and I expanded the page on Dilys Powell (fig. 4). Powell had a long and notable career as a journalist and film critic, but she was also an important classicist, although this acknowledgement was absent from her Wikipedia page. Powell was only the second female President of the Classical Association (1966-7) despite being put off studying classics as an undergraduate. In her inaugural address she said, ‘When I was at Oxford, I wondered whether I should study classics. My brother said: Don’t – the Classics are a terrible grind for a girl and you will be prematurely wrinkled’. Like many of our foremothers in classics in the twentieth century Powell deserves to be better know, and her Wikipedia page has been expanded to include her contribution to classics as well as further details of her education and career. The WCC has created or edited more than seventy Wikipedia pages of women classicists, but there is more to do: we currently have 84 articles that need expanding, and 45 that need creating.
The opportunity to work in such tranquil settings enabled rapid research progress, and the buzz of academic interaction stimulated and inspired – mealtimes and breaks were opportunities to learn about other scholarly projects being pushed forward in the library, and offered exposure to French, Polish, Spanish and Italian around one table. I am grateful to the Hardt Foundation for supporting my research with such generous hospitality and expanding my intellectual and cultural horizons.
by Victoria Leonard
Editor’s note: You can read Victoria’s Times Higher Education article about the WCC UK Wikipedia initiative here, and you can find Victoria on Twitter @tigerlilyrocks. There’s more about Victoria and our other ICS Research Associates here.
Victoria’s stay at the Fondation Hardt was made possible by one of its Research Scholarships for Young Researchers: details of how to apply can be found on the Foundation’s website.