Dr. Leen Van Broeck reports on a recent conference held in Senate House and supported by the Institute of Classical Studies.
Hot on the heels of the Making Monsters book launch on 6 September, another event took place at the ICS which sought to engage creatively with the interplay between popular culture and academic interests on 10 and 11 September. Organised by Dr Zena Kamash (RHUL), Dr Katy Soar (Winchester) and Dr Leen Van Broeck, the two-day ‘Drawing on the Past’ conference brought together around 40 interested readers, independent scholars, career academics, doctoral researchers and comic artists from three continents to exchange views on how comics (from Marvel to manga, bandes dessinées to webcomix) engage with pre-modern history of all periods and all parts of the world.
The programme broadly represented three different approaches to comics:
- as receptions of the past (from classical antiquity to ancient Egypt) shaped by their modern contexts of production and consumption;
- as public engagement tools to engage people with their local histories and historical sites, and
- as (mis)representations, however lightly or innocently intended, of modes of engagement with the past such as pseudoarchaeology, which have been shown to be detrimental to public confidence in scientific research and science communication.
The question of how far the responsibility of both comics creators and scholars of history extends in this latter regard was one of the main themes to emerge from the two days.
The informal ‘pop culture’ nature of the medium and our interdisciplinary mission were reflected in the variety of activities we built into the programme. We interspersed academic papers with 5-minute poster presentations:
We also abandoned the traditional keynote speech in favour of a practical drawing workshop run by artists and archaeological illustrators Dr Hannah Sackett and John Swogger (outputs produced despite the rude interruption of a fire alarm!)
And we replaced a formal conference dinner with an informal pub gathering to discuss the day’s outputs, aided by some pre-circulated reading material to get conversations going!
Both the posters and the workshop outputs remained on display throughout the conference. Discussions were further stimulated by the presence of a ‘bring and share’ comics browsing table to which most speakers brought contributions (no doubt prompting many a bookshop order in the days to follow!):
There was general agreement among the group that the variety of perspectives helped everyone to get out of their comfort zone, had exposed them to new approaches and ideas, and would influence their research, outreach, or practice going forward. The organizing team are currently exploring suitable venues to publish some of the research presented at the conference in its various formats – hopefully coming to a comic near you soon!
Those who want to catch up on the content of talks & responses to it can access the conference’s live tweeting through the hashtag drawingonthepast. Most of the talks were filmed and the videos are accessible through Leen’s webpage on the free Periscope app here, or you can go to the conference website’s Digital Archive page. The organising team gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Institute of Classical Studies, the Classical Association, and the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome at Royal Holloway (University of London).
by Leen Van Broeck