#CA2013: A Twitterer’s Perspective

By Robert Harris

I tweet a lot – that much needs to be clear from the outset. I’ve been asked to share some thoughts on my experience at this year’s Classical Association conference, but to do so requires that I first make this admission. I must also assume that individuals reading this have at least a passing familiarity with Twitter and how the microblogging service functions. If you don’t, a few minutes of research will repay you with an overview more accurate and informative than I have the space to offer here. My goal in this piece isn’t to provide an introduction to the way Twitter works, but rather to illustrate specifically how it worked for me in Reading. Despite the growing number of individuals within the academic community who’ve embraced the service, Twitter still seems to have a somewhat troubled reputation. It’s often popularly portrayed as a bastion of banality, or at the very least, as a distracting triviality with little practical value. I’ll readily admit that Twitter is not without its faults, but it’s also not without its virtues, and prolific twitterer though I am, even I was taken aback by the degree to which it helped positively shape my time at the conference.

Really, it all began with the drinks reception on Wednesday evening. I was, in a word, nervous. Unlike many of the other delegates, I wasn’t attending with any colleagues (who in my case would have been my fellow MA students); even more worrisome was the fact that this was my first CA conference. While I knew I wouldn’t have trouble meeting like-minded individuals at the paper sessions, walking into a room packed to the gills with established academics is surely an intimidating prospect for any junior scholar. Certainly it was for me, and I must confess that after ten minutes I retreated to the Irish pub across the street to rethink my plans for the evening. Here Twitter came into play, as I quickly discovered that another delegate – one with whom I was already acquainted via Twitter – also happened to be a Reading local, and was at that time no more than a stone’s throw from the very pub I was sitting in. Arrangements to meet were quickly made, and I passed the rest of the night in pleasant (and beer-filled) conversation on all things Greek and Roman.

Thursday came and went in a blur of Herodotus papers and a snowy trip to Silchester (an excursion which generated no shortage of tweets by itself), but it was again in the evening that Twitter really revealed its usefulness, after Charlotte Roueché’s brilliant plenary lecture. In the minutes that followed, after I had breathlessly tweeted my own energized response, I read through the other tweets marked with the #CA2013 hashtag. It soon became clear that I was hardly the only delegate to have taken to Twitter to enthuse – in fact, as it turned out, one such individual had been sitting in the row in front of me the entire time. It seemed absurd to have been so close but to have not met in person, and so I tweeted the obvious solution: I inquired whether fellow conference twitterers would be interested in meeting in person during the next day’s coffee break. Responses came within minutes. To my surprise, all of them were positive, and so the plans were set.

Friday arrived, and after an excellent session of papers on Classics and Children’s Literature, I made my way to the front doors of the Palmer building at the University of Reading, where we’d arranged to meet. A half-dozen delegates soon arrived, and we made our introductions, finally putting names to faces (or at least to profile icons). It’s fair to say that folks hit it off: the half-hour coffee break flew by and proved to be insufficient time to chat, so it was suggested that we meet again for lunch. In the meantime, another twitterer and I trotted off to the e-learning paper session. Both of us ended up live-tweeting it (a subject to which I’ll return shortly). By the time lunch rolled around, our numbers had doubled to over a dozen twitterers, including two of the “Greenshirt” student volunteers. As with the coffee gathering, this lunch meeting proved a success – so much so that a few hours later, an invitation spread (via Twitter) for the same group of individuals to meet for an evening meal. Though I had to decline (I was attending the conference dinner), I’ve no doubt it went well.

Finally on Saturday came the second set of papers on Classics in Children’s Literature. I was live-tweeting this session, and things were running relatively normally until we came to Helen Lovatt’s paper on The Roman Mysteries book series by Caroline Lawrence. I knew from past experience that Lawrence was active on Twitter, and so I mentioned her in a few of my updates. This got her attention: moments later, she was responding, and indeed actively following the discussion via the #CA2013 hashtag and my own tweets. I asked if she wanted me to convey a message to the delegates present, and she generously offered free copies of some of her books to anyone attending that session. There was something of an astonished gasp when I relayed that offer to the audience; that the author could be present in this way seemed remarkable for many individuals. It even prompted one delegate to ask me to question Lawrence about the state of German translations of her books. Again, within minutes, the delegate had her answer, along with the promise of a free German edition of the book of her choice from Caroline Lawrence herself.

What can one usefully make of all this? What do these incidents reveal about the potential utility of Twitter at conferences? Firstly, there’s the social networking aspect. That word networking is key, since it’s a common refrain that this is one of the primary reasons to attend conferences: the chance to meet new people and make important professional contacts. If Twitter can help facilitate that kind of interaction, so much the better, but the social benefits of the service run deeper. Perhaps helping to salvage the night of a slightly overwhelmed delegate, or giving a group of strangers other people to sit with at lunch, seem like trivial use cases, but for me, and doubtless for some of the others who attended the informal “tweetups”, they made a great deal of difference. In my view, the use of Twitter offers a point of common reference for conference-goers, one which can smooth the way for new attendees who might otherwise end up isolated.

I said I’d return to the subject of live-tweeting, but the truth is that it’s a topic far beyond the scope of this piece. There are too many important questions: to what extent does the practice disrupt paper sessions, for example, or how appropriate is it to paraphrase a presenter’s words outside of their immediate context? To these and all the other vital questions I have no obvious answers, but what I will say is this: I know I personally benefited from live-tweeting at the conference. Having to quickly digest and relay the speaker’s salient points forced me to pay better attention, to truly understand what was being said in order to adequately rephrase it in 140 characters or less. It also allowed me to catch up later with material I’d missed from sessions I wasn’t able to attend.

Perhaps more importantly, I also know that others benefited from my live-tweeting. I have a fair number of followers, the vast majority of whom are not Classicists. One might have expected them to voice some dismay as I merrily filled up their timelines with conference chatter, but their response was quite the opposite: I received nothing but enthusiasm from them. Simply by being at the conference and sharing a small sliver of my experience, I was able to generate real excitement for the field of Classics amongst people who would otherwise have very little exposure to this kind of material. One individual even mentioned that it had helped finalize their decision to pursue a Classics degree. I don’t mention this to brag, but instead to illustrate that the power and promise of Twitter is in just how vast an audience it can reach, and how varied that audience can be, including everyone from authors under discussion (as in the case of Caroline Lawrence) to students considering their futures. Though live-tweeting obviously can’t offer a follower the whole experience or advantages of attending a conference in person, there are clear benefits to actively engaging with these external voices.

In the absence of Twitter, my trip to Reading would not have been wasted. Too many people worked too hard for that to have ever been a potential outcome, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped make the conference possible. In the simplest terms, I’m sure I would still have met many people and learned many things – but reflecting on the examples I’ve shared, I’m also quite sure that without Twitter, my experience would have been much less rich overall. Far from being a frivolous waste of time, Twitter was in fact key to me making the best use of my time in Reading, and I’ve no trouble believing it would prove equally useful to others.


Robert Harris is currently an MA student at the University of Birmingham. He intends to start a PhD this year and tweets under the name @foalpapers.

To see all the tweets from the CA conference in Reading, search Twitter for the hashtag #CA2013, or view them all on Storify here.

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Peer review is absolutely central to academic publishing and here at the CA, half of the office is given over to managing the flow of books and reviews that makes up Classical Review.  All this activity hinges on the work of two editors: one to place books with reviewers and one to edit the reviews when they come in.  A while ago, outgoing editor Dr Neil Hopkinson gave his thoughts on his time as Editor….

The Classical Review appraises more than 250 books each year. One of its Editors commissions reviews and the other copy-edits them for publication. No doubt the ideal copy-editor is an obsessively pedantic enthusiast for the minutiae of hyphenation, capitalisation, font size, and so on. There are some advantages, however, in a professional Classicist such as myself doing the job as an amateur: when a contributor’s English was obscure I was often able to divine the meaning and produce a more lucid version. On the other hand, there was always the danger that too much interest in the subject-matter would distract me from my proper task. I hope that I didn’t let too many misprints through; but I have to confess that the editing was made bearable chiefly by my constantly learning new facts about the ancient world, its language and literature, its history, philosophy, archaeology and reception.

Although it is now possible for every reader to post an opinion online, there is still a place for academic journals which publish detailed and judicious evaluations by scholars of research by their peers. As more and more Classical books pour from the presses, review journals can present a synoptic view of current research and direct scholars towards what is likely to be worth reading. My seven-year stint as Editor is over, and when I open the next volume of CR pleasure will not be mingled with apprehension.

Classical Review is an indispensable reference tool, essential for keeping abreast with current classical scholarship and until the end of March, you can read the ten most popular reviews from the last five issues free of charge!


Dr Neil Hopkinson is Director of Studies and Lecturer in Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. His article first appeared on the Cambridge Journals Blog on 9 January, 2013.

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It’s conference time again!

Yes, that’s right, members will have noticed the usual conference handbook in with their December issue of CA News and bookings for our 2013 conference in reading are open now!  To find out more about the conference (where there’ll also be a CUP stall) and how to book your place, see the conference page on our website.

Meanwhile, across the pond at the APA conference, look who was spotted on the Cambridge University Press stall…

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Merry Christmas!

We’d like to wish all our members, Twitter followers, Facebook likers and blog readers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  The office will be closing on 21 December and we’ll be back on 7 January, when bookings will open for the CA 2013 conference in Reading.

If you’re a member of the Classical Association, look out for your December issue of CA News which will be arriving during the Christmas break and remember, if you’d like to renew your membership and subscriptions for 2013, you can do so any time here.

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A long way for a little bear!

Percy has been out and about again…

In October 2012, Percy Bear walked along Hadrian’s Wall, from Bowness on Solway to Wallsend.

Percy fortifies himself for the day ahead with breakfast at Four Wynds, Nigel Jarvis’ very well-situated B&B at Longbyre, near Greenhead.

He was interested to meet Tony Wilmott, recently hailed as ‘archaeologist of the year’, at Birdoswald. Percy heard how parts of the site have suffered from erosion and the Roman cemetery is poised precariously above the river Irthing.

The highest point on the walk – Percy checks his bearings (sorry!) on Green Slack summit.

Although it was very muddy underfoot, Percy didn’t find the going too arduous.

He visited all the major sites and at Vindolanda he was able to see for himself how difficult conditions have been for archaeologists this year.

He was surprised to come across some imperial bears at Carvoran, and seized the chance to have his photo taken in such illustrious company.

Percy was thrilled when Catherine Jarvis introduced him to Minimus at Longbyre (though Percy did wonder if Minimus should perhaps have been called Maximus!).

At Chesters Museum, Percy (with Alan Beale) admired a very realistic little Roman dog ….

…and living near Chester himself, Percy was interested to see the boar, the emblem of the twentieth legion which was stationed there.

The Corbridge lion might have been a bit scary….

….but Grrricola, the Corbridge museum guide, was very friendly and showed our bear round.

There was another bear with a back-pack, too  – Ed, a representative of Tyne and Wear Museums – who showed Percy his museum pack, full of interesting things to do – a brilliant idea for visiting families.

Percy felt a real sense of achievement on reaching Wallsend.

He was pleased that Hadrian had had the wall built and that the Path was there for an adventurous bear to follow.


The Secretary would like to thank Frances Culver (whom the Secretary suspects did the actual walking…) for such a fabulous travelogue!

Got your own Percy Bear? Been on any interesting adventures with him? We’d love to hear from you!  To purchase your very own Percy Bear, visit the CA shop.

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Why Percy?

By now, you’ve all met Percy, the chirpy (and adventurous) CA teddy bear. But why is he called Percy? Surely a Classical name would be more appropriate? Why not Archimedes? Caesar? Cleopatra? Sophocles? Ursula? Percy doesn’t sound all that Classical, does it? Well no, but that’s because Percy takes his name from a man whom many regard as the founder of The Classical Association.

In November 1902,  John Percival Postgate wrote an article in The Fortnightly Review entitled ‘Are the Classics to go?’His article appeared in response to the education reforms of the day which he felt would threaten the study of Latin and Greek. Postgate was the Editor of Classical Review at the time, and his editorial published in July of the same year includes a stark warning. The upshot of his article in The Fortnightly Review was a series of correspondence resulting in the founding of The Classical Association in December 1903.

Don’t forget, if you’d like a Percy of your very own (moustache not included), he’s available online here.

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Percy visits Cambridge University Press

Percy recently went to visit behind the scenes at Cambridge University Press.  As you might suspect, there were quite a few books…

Some groovy machinery…

Pssst! Percy! I don’t think you’re supposed to sit on that…

…or that!

And some serious-looking people…

After such a fun day, Percy was exhausted.  He spent the evening working on a jigsaw of Ancient Rome.

The puzzle is timed and there are prizes for the fastest.  Have a peep at the CUP blog for more details.


Have you got a Percy Bear?  If so, send us a picture of Percy on his travels – we’d love to hear from you/him!

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Sport and Competition

Those of you who were at our conference in Exeter earlier this month may remember a rather engaging plenary given by Percy Bear Prof. Chris Carey entitled “What Makes a Winner?” with a distinctive Olympic theme.

If you missed it, or if you were there and it whetted your appetite for more Olympics-related Classics, good news!  You can hear more from Prof. Carey (and others) at a two-day conference:  ”Sport and Competition in Greece and Rome” which brings together archaeologists, sports scientists, ancient historians and many more.

The conference will be held at the British Museum, and is just one in a series of events to celebrate the return of the Olympics to London.  You can find a full list of events  here.


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The Classical Association Conference: Exeter 2012

By first time attendee, Sophie Raudnitz

As an MA student contemplating a PhD, I decided to attend the CA conference this year in an endeavour to ascertain ‘Who’s Who’ and ‘What’s going on’ in the world of Classics. I had some trepidation in advance, on both intellectual and social fronts. This was not only my first Classical Association conference but my first academic conference of any kind since my undergraduate days almost twenty years ago. Also because I am a distance learner with OU, I knew that I would not have any contacts via a university faculty and that as a mature student, most other people in my position academically would be very much younger than me.

In the event, I found the conference hugely rewarding intellectually. Although I had gone with a view to finding out what was being studied, it was even more interesting and instructive for me to think about how different scholars were approaching ancient material, that is, by way of history, politics, literary theory etc. This was not in the spirit of pigeonholing but rather in terms of the ways in which different approaches could complement each other and what they had to offer in practice. This, I know, will help me in no small way to clarify my thinking about my own projected research.

Socially, the reality was as difficult as I had anticipated.That said, I did stumble into someone else taking my course and also managed to meet a few women in similar situations to myself, largely thanks to Twitter, which provided not just a photo for identification purposes but also a pretext for opening a conversation, especially where I had corresponded with the person already.

I was hugely impressed by the smooth running of the conference, especially given its size and scope. This is a tribute to the vast amount of preparatory and behind-the-scenes work that must have gone on. I was also agreeably surprised by the diversity of the academic classical community, particularly in terms of the male/female split. Though there were clearly fewer women in senior positions, it is to be hoped that some of the large numbers of young women presenting papers will eventually help to swell their numbers.  I was delighted too that Will Griffiths received the Classics prize, especially as someone who had very little (and no positive) experience of Classics at state school in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Overall I am very glad that I battled my demons and attended the conference. In addition to being ‘character developing’, it was useful, very interesting and even (I can say this in retrospect) fun.

Sophie Raudnitz is an MA student with the Open University, an ex-English teacher and a mother of three boys. She hopes to start a PhD in 2013.

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Birmingham & Midlands CA Sixth Form Conference

By Polly Toney

Following on from a successful re-launch in October of last year, which saw Lindsey Davis as guest-speaker, the Birmingham and Midlands CA held its first Sixth Form Conference on Saturday 10 March. Expected to become an annual event, with the potential to roll out the formula beyond Key Stage 5 to supplement GCSE teaching and learning in future years, the Sixth Form Conference demonstrated the BMCA’s ongoing commitment to facilitate and enrich classical learning in schools and colleges.

Proceedings took place at the University of Birmingham and we were delighted to welcome students (and several teachers) from a range of schools and further education institutions; from the relatively local, e.g., King Edwards Five Ways, to the further afield, e.g., Leicester Grammar. In an even more impressive vein, we were delighted to procure the speaking services of academics from across the country, including Professor Ingo Gildenhard, who travelled all the way down from Durham and Professor Oliver Taplin, whose busy schedule literally saw him jump out of a taxi, give his lecture to rapturous applause, then almost immediately set back out again to Oxford (the jet-setting lifestyle of the academic, eh?).

With the aim of providing support for both the AS and A-Levels syllabuses in Classical Civilisation and Latin, the day’s programme consisted of three pathways from which students could pick and choose. Following registration, Birmingham’s very own Professor Ken Dowden, kicked off the day in style with his keynote address. Covering AS and A-Level Latin, Professor Ingo Gildenhard (Durham), Dr Elena Theodorakopous (Birmingham) and Dr Chris Whitton (Cambridge) gave presentations on Cicero’s In Verrem 2, Ovid’s Amores 3 and Tacitus’ Annals 14 respectively. For AS and A-Level Classical Civilisation, Professor Oliver Taplin (Oxford), Laura Snook (Birmingham) and Dr Niall Livingstone (Birmingham) spoke on Greek Tragedy, Greek Art and Architecture and Greek Comedy. While our third pathway, designed as a miscellany of general interest talks, invited Emma Southon (Birmingham), Dr Carl Buckland (Nottingham) and Dr Niall McKeown (Birmingham) to muse on Caligula, Women in the Ancient World and Slavery in the Ancient World. After lunch, the entire cohort got together to hear Dr Juliette Harrison (OU and Birmingham) present on Virgil, rounding off the day with Dr Liz Gloyn’s extremely well received talk on Classics and Film.

As this was our first Sixth Form Conference and due to the relative newness of our re-formed CA branch we made sure to survey our attendees for their feedback and feel that all future events will benefit from their helpful suggestions. For example, with talks beginning at 10am through to 3.30pm we feel that the programme could be condensed and would benefit from drawing to a close around the 1-2pm mark, especially considering the lack of catering facilities on campus at the weekend. Moreover, we anticipate that the programme for next year’s conference will be available much earlier in advance to ensure maximum attendance and will expand its remit to support the AQA, as well as the OCR, syllabus.

With our new logo in circulation, courtesy of Luke Holliday, a Graphic Design student from Solihull College, the re-formed BMCA will soon be entering into its second year of proceedings and would like to extend its thanks to all those of you who have attended events thus far. Consolidating this year’s successes, the next promises to be even better, kicking off in October (exact date to be confirmed) with Professor Edith Hall as speaker for our Autumn Lecture.

You can find further details of the Birmingham & Midlands Branch on the CA website here, or by searching Facebook for ‘Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association’.

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