An Inclusive Approach to Organising Conferences: ‘Visualising War’ with a blind participant

By Dr Alice König

The School of Classics recently hosted a two-day conference on ‘Visualising War: Interplay between Battle narratives across Antiquity’. As its title suggests, discussion revolved around images as well as texts. In fact, speakers had been specifically asked to explore interplay between different media and genres, so papers looked at Classical inscriptions, Hellenistic sculpture, Roman mosaics, engraved sarcophagi, triumphal columns and arches, Renaissance-era paintings and even modern photographs, alongside historical narratives, epic poetry and a host of ancient technical treatises – many of which included detailed diagrams showing battle formations and camp layouts. This was a conference with a heavy emphasis on sight, in other words.

I’ll be honest: my first reaction on discovering that we had a blind attendee was to gulp. How could we make this image-focused conference inclusive enough? Happily, I found several key sources of advice and support from around the University, in particular Paresh Raval, who manages the University’s Alternative Format Suite. His advice helped me liaise with our blind attendee to identify the best way of sharing handouts and presentation materials ahead of the conference: not via braille, it turned out, but via searchable pdfs and screen-reading technology. He also helped me put together a useful list of “do”s and “don’t”s for our conference speakers: e.g,, do announce and identify any foreign language material before it crops up; do offer detailed descriptions of images, diagrams, tables, etc; don’t say ‘as you can see here…’.

Also key was funding. One of our postgraduate students (whose mother is visually impaired) kindly offered to act as a sighted assistant during the conference. The Classics Head of School found some surplus in the School budget so that we could pay her for this work. That formalised the arrangement, making it easier for us and our attendee to discuss the support he would need, without worrying about imposing on our PG’s good nature. Having a paid sighted assistant made a huge difference to me as conference organiser: I was able to delegate many of the additional logistics (route-finding, food-guidance, care of the incredible guide dog, etc) and concentrate on the more routine aspects of conference management (missing speakers, IT malfunctions, the supply of biscuits…). Crucially, our postgraduate assistant was already experienced in this work; it was her expertise above all which made things work so well.

Of course, our blind attendee played a major (and very good-humoured) role in advising us, and he was generous in his praise for the efforts we went to: it sounds as if few conferences try as hard as we did to be inclusive. While some speakers struggled to provide handouts and powerpoints as early as requested, the majority made it; and all speakers took pains during delivery to embrace non-sighted as well as sighted listeners. In fact, many said that they had learnt a lot from the experience. I certainly confronted paper-giving habits of mine (e.g., the flashing-up of large chunks of text on screen, to be absorbed while I race on with the talk itself) which I would do well to overcome, whether or not my auditors are sighted!

What else did I learn? That there’s no advice like expert advice (having people like Paresh and our PG to turn to makes all the difference); that your first and last port of call for guidance should be the attendee him/herself; and that Universities should routinely make funding available for the kind of logistical support we were able to provide. It was a steep learning curve, as we evolved new procedures to make our conference more inclusive, but an important and rewarding one. It was also very much a team effort, involving administrators and School managers, as well as AV experts and academic staff. We did pretty well, I think; but we could always do better.


Nineteenth Roman Military Equipment Conference (RoMEC XVIIII)

We would like to thank everyone involved with RoMEC XVIIII, hosted by the School of Classics in St Andrews, 6th-11th June, 2016.

The conference featured twelve panels of academic papers, with a total of 49 speakers. Ninety attendees came from 24 countries. Panels were divided between those which dealt with the conference theme, ‘Cavalry in the Roman World’, and those concerning other Roman military equipment issues, especially new finds. There was an opening reception in MUSA, a whisky-tasting in Swallowgate, and a closing reception and dinner in Upper and Lower College Hall. The latter event featured a pipe band display in the Quad, a tabletop wargame recreation of Mons Graupius, and a charity draw in support of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. The one-day coach excursion visited Roman museum collections in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Antonine Wall at Rough Castle, and The Kelpies (natural to the theme!). Two afternoon cavalry displays, by the re-enactment group Comitatus, exhibited reconstructions of long-reining; sword, spear and lance practice; and target-shooting at the gallop with javelins, darts and bows. This was all made possible by substantial financial sponsorship from museums, publishers, and generous individuals.

Conventiculum Dickinsoniense: latine loquamur!

By Juan Coderch

I would like to give a short summary of my experience attending the Conventiculum Latinum at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, at the beginning of July. This is another one of my experiences with Greek and Latin as live languages (two summers ago I attended a spoken Latin course at Rome, offered by the Polis Institute of Jerusalem in combination with the Università Pontificia della Santa Croce; I have also visited Vivarium Novum, the Latin and Ancient Greek speaking college in Rome.). I’m very interested in the renaissance in teaching Latin as a spoken as well as a written language within university classrooms: it is something I have found very useful for St Andrews Latin and Greek beginners in particular over the last few years.

This Conventiculum is directed by Prof. Terence Tunberg and Dr Milena Minkova. Both of them teach at the University of Kentucky and direct the Conventiculium Kentuckiense during the second half of July, but they offer also a similar one in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the month. As the beginning of July suited me better, I decided to attend this one.

The Conventiculum takes place entirely in Latin, and it is a combination of different activities aimed at activating your live usage of Latin language. It is not a Latin learning course: you are not supposed to go there to learn how to use the gerundive; you are already supposed to know Latin (almost all of us were teachers of Latin either at university or at secondary education); it is rather a course to make you gain fluency in its active usage, to make you exteriorise actively what you already know passively (although of course you will also learn new expressions, idioms, etc.).

The range of activities was very diverse: from commenting on the content of some texts that we had previously prepared (the texts had been sent to us by e-mail around a month before the Conventiculum) to talking about different themes (travelling, classical art images displayed in front of us, etc.)—of course all of it in Latin.

There were 34 of us there. Few of the sessions took place with all of us together, because for most of them we were divided, but in two different ways: sometimes we were divided into tirones (beginners) and peritiores, and the activities carried out in each of both halves were different. It must be stressed that the division between tirones and peritiores isn’t a division between people who know more Latin and people who know less. It’s more about the level of your experience with spoken Latin: you can be in the group of tirones and know more Latin than some of the people in the peritiores because they have more experience in using it as a spoken language. Moreover, you yourself decide in which one of the two groups you want to be.

At other times we were divided into smaller groups without any distinction between tirones and peritiores (in fact taking care to mix tirones and peritiores together), so that each of us could have more chances of joining in with the activity in our small group.

The day began with all of us meeting at the dining hall for breakfast, where our ‘only-Latin-spoken’ day began; then, after the ientaculum, we met in a large classroom that was a kind of ‘operations base’, where we received the instructions (latine, scilicet) from Terence and Milena) and then we went to our group and started the activities. Activities went on until lunch (latine, scilicet), with short breaks from time to time, and then in the afternoon until around 6 pm.

The ‘only-Latin’ technique was applied not only inside the classroom, but also outside. Arte solum latine loquendi utebamur non tantum in conclave sed etiam extra conclavem. All of us were living in the same building, a residence that during the academic year is used for students, and any conversation that took place when passing in the corridor etc. took place in Latin; also, ut supra dixi, during breakfast and lunch we spoke only Latin in the dining hall of the college. Even walking down the street and having dinner in town we went on talking Latin. In one restaurant somebody sitting at a table nearby asked us what language we were talking and was very surprised by the answer. Of course, we had to speak some English: Fer mihi, quaeso, Neapolitanam placentam probably wouldn’t work for ordering a Neapolitan pizza in Pennsylvania…

One of the nicest things of all was meeting in the evening in the common entrance of the residence (there was a kind of common sitting area with some armchairs) to read and comment on the text that we were supposed to talk about on the next day—not as part of the official activities of the Conventiculum: I think that’s a good sign of how committed everyone was.

Et, ut finem faciam, hoc dicam: at one point I asked Terence and Milena whether, in their normal professional contact apart from the Conventiculum they spoke between them in Latin or in English—for example during the winter at the University of Kentucky—they said that they have never talked to each other in English except when there are other people present: they have talked to each other in Latin only for years and years.

Sunt qui appellent linguam Latinam ‘linguam mortam’. Nonne oporteret ‘linguam immortalem’ eam appellare?

StAGE 2015

Congratulations to the organisers of this year’s StAGE (St Andrews-Glasgow-Edinburgh) postgraduate conference (Matthew Payne, Michael Furman, Maria Giulia Franzoni, Eugene Durrant, Manlio Fossati and Ellen MacDougall) on the award of Cohort Development Funding from the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities. The conference will be held in St Andrews on 20-21 March 2015, and will involve experts on numismatics, papyrology, museum curation, epigraphy, forensic anthropology and virtual reality reconstruction, in addition to papers on the theme of materiality from postgraduate contributors from across Scotland.

View call for papers.

Conference in honour of Jill Harries

medium (9)Historians of late antiquity gathered on 11th and 12th October for a conference to mark the retirement of Professor Jill Harries at the end of 2013 after more than 37 years teaching and researching at St Andrews. The papers given by friends, St Andrews colleagues and former pupils included discussions of how to study Roman law, of the impact of the Franco-Prussian war on Latin philology and the shape of late antiquity. A brief report is available, written by a delegate who spoke on Bishops and Zombies.

Details of the conference, including a summary of Jill’s long career

AMPAL conference proceedings available online

standrews-ampal2013-210x147The Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature was held at the School of Classics in June 2013. The edited conference proceedings are now available.

For further information about AMPAL, please view the conference website.