A number of Oxford academics presented at an Oxford High School event this month alongside colleagues from London and Birmingham.
This impressive event was organised by sixth form students, Hebe Robertson and Lucy Turner who compiled this excellent report:
Virtual Classics Conference
By Hebe Robertson and Lucy Turner
On the 4th of November we hosted a virtual Classics conference, which we started planning in early September. This initially seemed like a daunting task, as we’re both Year 12 students at Oxford High School with no prior experience of running an event like this, however we quickly devised a plan. Our aim was to make it accessible to all ages and levels of experience, giving a glimpse of the Classical world beyond the curriculum and hopefully inspiring a love of Classics along the way.
The morning was dedicated to a series of workshops aimed at Years 7-9. We wanted to choose a theme for the workshops that would engage this age group, deciding on ‘The Gory Truth of the Classical World’. The two of us kicked off the day with a presentation on five ‘Evil Emperors of Rome’, complete with a quiz and fun facts drawn from the likes of Suetonius and Herodian. An incredible workshop on Roman Slavery by Dr Olivia Elder followed, in which she encouraged her audience to consider the variety of experiences of Roman slaves by looking at primary sources and drawing their own conclusions. Dr Alfonso Moreno then spoke on the (brutal) Athenian justice system and its punishments, pushing his audience to think about what we can learn from it, and the relationship between justice and democracy.
The timings for the afternoon were tight, as we had six fantastic speakers to fit in, but thankfully everything ran smoothly. First, Professor Oliver Taplin opened with ‘Are Greek tragedies necessarily misogynist?’ He discussed several critical interpretations of tragedy, using Antigone, Medea and Clytemnestra as examples. Professor Rosalind Thomas came next, with an engaging talk on ‘Memory and Historiography,’ which introduced the idea of collective memory, and how different narratives of certain events can come into conflict, including examples drawn from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
After that, we heard from Professor Phiroze Vasunia on ‘Classics and Colonialism’, an interesting overview of the influence of Classical architecture on the British colonisation of India. Using images of ‘classicised’ Indian buildings he expertly illustrated the far-reaching effects of Classics long after the fall of the Roman Empire. Dr Alison MacDonald next gave an illuminating talk on ‘Identity and Mobility in Roman Britain,’ using the archaeological record to prove that Roman Britain was incredibly diverse despite its portrayal in the media.
Our penultimate talk was from Professor Llewelyn Morgan, with the vivid title ‘Vile Violence in Virgil’. Though much of the Aeneid deals with violence, Professor Morgan looked at Aeneas’ actions in Book 12 and how some - for example human sacrifice - would be considered reprehensible even to the Romans. Last but certainly not least, we welcomed Dr Henriette van der Blom, speaking on ‘Roman Oratory - Where are the Women?’ She focussed on the rare occasions when women were compelled to speak in public - one notable example being Hortensia, who spoke against the imposition of a new tax on women.
Throughout the day, over 700 secondary school students and teachers from around the country attended online, while approximately 250 Oxford High School students attended in-house bringing the total audience to nearly 1000. We both learned so much while organising this conference, and although we were nervous at first, we enjoyed the day enormously. We wanted to reach as many people as we could and give them a different perspective on the study of Classics, and from the feedback we received it seems as though we reached that goal!