Select Page

The Institute of Classical Studies

Sharing and promoting research in Classics.

Locked in with Archaic Rome

Under normal circumstances, the ICS hosts visitors from all over the world, although the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has interrupted this element of our activities. In this post Academic Visitor Nikoline Sauer (Aarhus University) shares her experience of visiting London pre- and post-lockdown.

This spring, I spent three months as an Academic Visitor at the Institute of Classical Studies (March 1 – May 31). The research stay was part of my PhD studies at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions at Aarhus University, Denmark, where I investigate the Archaic period in Rome (c. 6th century BCE) through a case study of the Forum of Caesar. As I am now in the third and final year of my studies, I have reached the writing phase of project, and needed an outstanding library in Classical Studies. The purpose of my stay at the ICS was therefore to make use of the world-class library while also experiencing a new research environment.

During the first few weeks of my stay at the Senate House, located in the fashionable Bloomsbury neighbourhood, everything proceeded as planned. I went to the library, attended seminars, and ate my lunch at the British Museum across the street from the institute. In my second week there, I gave a talk as part of the ICS Fellows’ Seminar series, entitled “Rome Was Not Built in a Day: The Urban Development of Rome in the Archaic period (620–480 BCE)”. The talk was well attended and the comments very useful. But on March 20, the ICS was forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pottery from the Archaic period found on the Capitoline Hill and exhibited in the Capitoline Museums.
Image credit Nikoline Sauer.

I spend the rest of my stay in London in relative isolation (though accompanied by my boyfriend) in our apartment on Broadway Market in southern Hackney. What was supposed to be a research stay became instead a writing retreat. The lockdown gave me time to finish up the first two articles of my article-based dissertation, as well as completing a rough draft of the third article and several other minor projects.

My dissertation is about Archaic Rome. The Archaic period is conventionally known as the short interval between the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of the Republican period. It was a time of major changes in Rome, as the city began to stand out among the other Etruscan and Latial cities in central Italy, by dint of its monumental public buildings and rapid population growth. The later literary tradition, such as Livy’s Ab urbe condita (written 27–9 BCE), played a crucial role in the commemoration of Archaic Rome, profoundly influencing the modern interpretation of archaeological data. The dissertation aims to study Archaic Rome through a solely archaeological approach, combining traditional archaeological findings with state-of-the-art scientific methods, in order to circumvent the skewed image of the period produced by ancient literature. The subject is investigated through four interlinked articles, which will be published independently.

The present-day Forum of Caesar in the centre of Rome.
Image credit Nikoline Sauer.

My PhD project is also part of The Caesar’s Forum Project, which excavates in the Forum of Caesar in the centre of Rome. The forum was founded by Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) in the Late Republican period, creating a precedent for the subsequent four Imperial Forums. The ongoing project aims to provide new insights into the site and its long-term development by studying the previously unexcavated third of the site. The Forum of Caesar is an especially rich archaeological site, and previous excavations have revealed some of the best-preserved remains from the Archaic period. The site is, therefore, the point of departure for several of the articles in my dissertation.

I very much hope that I can revisit the ICS at a later time, especially since my stay there was cut short by the worldwide lockdown. Still, I managed to make the most of my stay in London, turning it into an intensive writing retreat, with plenty of time to think about Archaic Rome on my walks along Regent’s Canal.

by Nikoline Sauer

Notes from a temporary Utopia

ICS Director Prof. Greg Woolf shares some thoughts on the Institute’s ongoing work in the era of physical distancing.

Fans of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels might remember his idea of entire civilizations, at an advanced point in their development, choosing to ‘sublime’. The Sublimed abandoned their physical and material existence to inhabit remote dimensions from which they might occasionally intervene, in a disembodied way, in the universe they had left behind.

Brew with a view. Image credit Greg Woolf.

The ICS itself relinquished its physical form on 20th March 2020 when Senate House was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physically we are scattered from Ireland and Scotland to Scandinavia and Canada, with a cluster of bodies in and around London. Virtually, however, we are everywhere and nowhere. But like Banks’ Sublimed we are still very much involved.

Our abrupt removal to cyberspace has made us reflect on what the Institute can and cannot do, from our new utopia, in the classical sense of “no-space”. This is the first sudden change in our operations in quite a while. Like most institutions – especially in Higher Education and particularly in the UK – our role has developed incrementally over the two generations of our existence. Since its creation in 1953 by the Hellenic and Roman Societies in concert with the University of London, the Institute has altered as its three parents have evolved. Over the same time both the nature of Classics and of British universities has quietly been transformed. When we were founded, less than 5% of the UK population went to university. Today the figure is over 50%. Classical subjects are now taught in more British universities than ever before. Classical studies today is itself far more capacious than it was in the 1950s, socially, intellectually and pedagogically. In its current manifestation our subject remains highly successful, whether measured by the number of school leavers who want to study it, or by the quality and impact of our research on the wider public. But classical studies is not the same as it was, and that is a good thing. As we interrogate our disciplinary entanglement with the politics of class, imperialism and race, classical studies will change even more in the future, perhaps even finding a new name and identity for itself in the process. The ICS will change along with this.

Right now the ICS is a part of a School of Advanced Study, founded in 1995. We have a national mission, funded currently by Research England, to serve the entire UK research community in classics and (with our sister institutes) in the humanities more widely. Perhaps Utopia is not a bad place from which to do that? The rents are cheaper here, and as a Sublimed Entity we are equally close to everyone. These last few months we have carried on many of the things we did before. Grants for conferences and public engagement activities continue to be disbursed. Our publications are more widely read than ever, and more of them than ever before are now available through Open Access.

Necessity has shown us the potential of technologies that already existed. Our librarians now carry out searches of our specialist databases on behalf of remote readers. They have also been providing directions to the many materials available for free in digital form. All the SAS libraries have been discovering new ways to serve readers at a distance. Those of us who teach have become used to doing so over all sorts of technologies. The training courses we are currently running – on line of course – were oversubscribed to nearly 500 %. We are exploring new ways to hold workshops on line, beginning with one entitled Towards a more Inclusive Classics. I recently chaired a PhD viva in which the candidate, examiners and supervisors were distributed across four countries.

Next term most of our seminar series will take place online. This will be odd at first, but already some advantages are apparent. We will be inviting more speakers from overseas. Sound quality should be better – we really should have been using microphones already to make our seminars more accessible. Almost none of our seminars were recorded or livestreamed (The Digital Classicist showed us the way). Now most will be, so that those who need or wish to can listen to them later. We are becoming asynchronous as well as utopian. Events – once a tightly time-tabled series of face to face meetings in one or another nook or cranny of Senate House – will become a cloud of potential attractions. Attending will be more like sampling Netflix than committing to a weekly routine.

The Sublimed in Iain M. Banks’ novels had made a one-way journey. Once gone, they stayed gone. Our Utopia will be temporary, although we do not yet know exactly when we shall come back to earth, or under which constraints we shall be when we return. My guess is that some new habits will be hard to break. Committees, which often consumed much of the day for non-London members, are now much easier to attend virtually especially for those with busy home-lives and/or hectic work schedules. Perhaps more readers too will get used to mailing requests for PDFs and other materials rather than trekking in to Bloomsbury. The viewing figures for the Digital Classicist show us we can reach much larger audiences if we livestream and record seminars. Perhaps a little bit of Utopia is here to stay.

But we are not ready to give up entirely on a physical home. Many of the collections in our Library are stubbornly physical. Journal runs that go back decades, yellowing epigraphic corpora, the masses of glossy exhibition catalogues and excavation reports will all demand that readers attend in person. Classicists are fundamentally a textual community and as long as enough of our texts are physically located somewhere, we will need to visit them. The same is even more true of the material traces of the past which play a greater and greater part in our teaching, learning and research.

Monkeys grooming

And besides we still have a physical need to be together. My colleague Barry Smith, who directs the Institute of Philosophy, is fond of saying that we are not ‘socially distancing’ but rather ‘physically distancing’. He is right, of course, and in some ways we are currently being very social. The number of people I interact with each week through one medium or another remains high. These meetings do much more than exchange information and make collective decisions. In local and national meetings (see how difficult it is to shake pre-utopian expressions?) I watch colleagues laugh, express frustration, give each other encouragement and reassurance, share anxieties and generally care for each other. Even virtually we are continuing the social grooming that we normally do in and around committees, exam boards, and seminars. Humans can no more gather without doing this, than we can walk into a room without immediately noting who is present, who is talking to whom, and who are keeping apart. Our ancestors did all this in different settings. But we are not fully acclimatised to our new disembodied environment. Our social faculties are inhibited by the difficulties of picking up on the subtleties of body-language. In larger meetings in particular it is now more difficult to read the room, to notice when people lean in, or lean back, to spot the microgestures of agreement and dissent, of collusion and distancing. No-space is still an imperfect social space. It has proved difficult to have a meeting of minds when our bodies are so far apart.

Before COVID, the ICS was a place of serendipity. Researchers in London on other business, would often take the chance for a few hours or even a few days at the ICS, catching a seminar or looking something up in the library. Conversations over coffee piggy-backed on chance encounters between colleagues. Students might meet casually with experts in their fields, authors with editors, former colleagues would reconnect. Sometimes this led to collaborations, more often we just tried out ideas on each other, asked advice, and did that social grooming that all communities need once in a while.

It has turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined to bump into colleagues accidentally on the internet, or to collar just one person for a few minutes after a meeting. At our last Advisory Council we were discussing the ICS seminars, how to make them more accessible and how to involve more people. The question of networking came up. Seminars are valued, at least in part, as meeting places, occasions when we come together, when new members are introduced into the group, when e-mail pals make closer connections face to face. It seems paradoxical that at time when our communication as a virtual community is literally managed mostly through actual networks, we are noticing more than ever the limits of the virtual and the downsides of the Sublime. It has been interesting spending some time in Utopia, but it has made me realise more clearly the value of our non-virtual existence. I am looking forward to coming back to earth.

by Greg Woolf

Open Access publishing by the Institute of Classical Studies

Dr. Liz Potter, ICS Publications Manager, reports on an initiative to make the Institute’s publications freely accessible online.

In the UK and EU, there are a range of initiatives currently aiming to make research widely and freely accessible to all. Publishing on an ‘Open Access’ (OA) basis makes research outputs free at the point of use, and thus aims to maximise their impact. OA publication is concerned to make research more easily accessible and reusable for as wide a range of audiences as possible—for research, for innovation, for teaching, and to support public engagement.

In line with these initiatives, the ICS is starting to make its publications available on an Open Access basis. The Institute’s activities have included publication since its early days: the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (BICS) was first published in 1954; and the Bulletin’s associated Supplements have been published on an occasional basis since 1955. For our Open Access work, we are starting with our recent Supplements.

We are publishing these Supplements via the Humanities Digital Library. This is the Open Access publishing platform for the University of London Press. Six of the research institutes which make up the University’s School of Advanced Study have Open Access publications on the platform: ourselves, the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Advanced Legal Study, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Latin American Studies. The Institute thus benefits from its connections with the wider University by being part of this platform, cross-referencing its publications with those of other Institutes, for example.

BICS Supplements available Open Access

To date, we have made available the following titles. They are all free to access as PDF versions online, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. There are also links on the site to purchase the title in book form for those who wish.

Eros and the Polis (BICS Supplement 119)

The articles in this edited volume take a historicizing approach to the conventions and expectations or erôs in the archaic and classical polis. Focusing on the poetic genres, they pursue issues including: the connection between homosexual erôs and politics; sexual practices that fell outside societal norms; the roles of sôphrosynê (self-control) and akrasia (incontinence) in erotic relationships; and the connection between erôs and other socially important emotions such as charis, philia, and storgê.

Creating Ethnicities and Identities in the Roman World (BICS Supplement 120)

This volume explores how practices of ethnic categorization formed part of Roman strategies of control across their expanding empire. It also considers how people living in particular places internalized these identities and developed their own sense of belonging to an ethnic community.

Persuasive Language in Cicero’s Pro Milone (BICS Supplement 121)

This innovative approach to Cicero’s persuasive language applies ideas from modern linguistics to one of his most important speeches. The reading of Pro Milone which emerges not only contributes to our understanding of late republican discourse, but also suggests a new methodology for using the study of language and style to illuminate literary/historical aspects of texts.

The Digital Classicist 2013 (BICS Supplement 122)

This wide-ranging volume showcases exemplary applications of digital scholarship to the ancient world and critically examines the many challenges and opportunities afforded by such research. As such it is a contribution to the development of scholarship both in the fields of classical antiquity and in Digital Humanities more broadly.

Profession and Performance (BICS Supplement 123)

This volume brings together six papers relating to oratory, orators, and oratorical delivery in the public fora of classical Greece and Rome. They range from the Athenian courts and Assembly to Cicero’s Rome, from the ‘Second Sophistic’ to the late Roman Empire. A final paper reflects on the continuing relevance of rhetoric in the modern, highly professionalized practice of the law in England.

Marathon: 2,500 Years (BICS Supplement 124)

This volume includes twenty-one papers originally presented at a colloquium in the Peloponnese in 2010 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon. It is a celebration of Marathon and its reception from classical antiquity to the present era.

Our aim is to publish more of our recent backlist on this platform in the coming months. Watch this space!

The BICS Mycenaean Studies

As I’ve previously reported on this blog, the abstracts from the ICS Mycenaean Seminar are also now published online on Humanities Digital Library. The seminar has been convened by the Institute since the 1950s, and summaries of the seminars have been published as part of BICS since 1963. Starting with the 2015-16 series, the Mycenaean summaries are now published separately online, and become far more widely available as Open Access publications. Click these links to read The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2015-16 and The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2016-17; the summaries of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 year are coming soon!

by Liz Potter

ICS Annual Newsletter 2019

Regular readers of this blog may also be interested in the first issue of the Institute of Classical Studies’ annual newsletter. You can read the newsletter by clicking on this link.

We also now have a subscriber list which you can join for occasional updates via email about ICS news and upcoming events. You can sign up here.