Spot the Classicist – Bikers, the AIA and Beignets in the Big Easy

logocWe have a game, I’m not sure who started it or how wide-spread it is (or even if it’s not something that I’ve just made up in my head), called ‘Spot the Classicist.’  It’s quite simple.  You stand in a crowd of people and try to find the classicists – there are many different qualifying factors as to what makes a classicist and I had the best time playing it at the AIA conference in Chicago last year.  Being at a hotel in downtown Chicago, business clothes were not the only indicating factor of a professional student or academic, as they’re sometimes known.  I figured this game would be slightly easier to play in New Orleans since our field is full of… well… nerds.  What absolutely cracked everyone up this year was how incredibly easy this game was to play at the AIA hotel because there was one other conference being hosted by the Marriott this year.  And it was a biker convention.  Best game of ‘Spot the Classicist’ I have ever played – we were either all dashing through the crowds trying to get away from them as fast as possible or staring at them intently as if trying to learn all of their secrets simply through observation – and why wouldn’t we want to?  They looked like they were having the time of their lives.  All I can say is that whoever booked both conventions to be happening the same weekend was an absolute genius and I hope that they got to sit in the lobby and watch the two groups interact with one another.  It was certainly one of my favourite parts of the conference, though an unexpected perk of my first ever trip to New Orleans.  The true reason why I was there, why all the Classicists had left their comfy armchairs and books, was to attend the AIA’s Annual General Meeting (you may think I’m exaggerating but I assure you, I did have longing thoughts towards my couch and a good book).

IMAG0348In the end, three of the FSTS family were lucky enough to go to the conference.  Haley was presenting a paper she co-authored on Etrusco-Corinthian pottery called ‘Put a Bird on It!’ and Chelsea’s research on Local Identity in the Remote Mani Peninsula, Greece was being presented by her collaborator.  I’m not ashamed to say that the reason why I was in New Orleans was because when it was brought up that we had submitted a poster to the conference, I saw the chance to visit a city I’d heard legends and tales of and jumped at it.  Though I suspect that the location of the conference was definitely a contributing factor to many’s decision to submit abstracts this year.

As with everything else in our project, the poster was a collaborative effort between the multiple facets of our group.  Six of us worked on it over the fall semester, each one of us working on the part of the project that we belonged to.  Lisa wrote up a summary on the technical aspect of the squeeze scanning; Maude on the history of the project.  Haley and Emma worked on translating the squeezes we were using as case studies while Chelsea and I made sure all the components came together and designed the poster.  I had never made an academic poster before, and the amount of information we could put onto one 3 x 5 ft poster astounded me.  Plus once it was all in one place, we were all incredibly proud of the clarity of the images and how well the case studies worked.  It just happened to be a perk that the poster, which we printed through UBC, was on a “travel friendly” medium which ended up being a type of fabric.  We’re still not entirely sure what kind of fabric, but it definitely didn’t wrinkle on the trip down to NOLA.

The poster session this year was larger than it has been previously.  It seems the secret is out that if you have something you’re working on, especially if it’s archaeological, a poster is sometimes the easiest way to tell people about it.  Plus, you get a lot more interaction with interested parties than during a question session and sometimes you’re lucky enough to make connections and learn things about your own work that you didn’t even know.  This was definitely what happened with us.  Like enthusiastic children with new toys, we pinned up our fabric poster (seriously, we loved that it was fabric), put up our new informational postcards and business cards featuring our new logo and information, and proudly stood by our poster… which was at the back of the ballroom.  You had to walk past 2 rows of boards to squeeze into an area about 6′ wide and walk past at least 6 posters before reaching ours.  We were, needless to say, less than thrilled about our location and worried that it would mean that people wouldn’t be able to find us.  Nevertheless, I pulled out my phone and started tweeting like mad to remind our followers to come chat with us!

We had to stand at the poster from 11-3, no small feat by yourself but as always we were a team and traded off in shifts so that we could all go eat and go to whatever talks or meetings we needed to.  Between the three of us, we talked to many different scholars in the field who were interested in the project or who had come to find us.  It was such a great feeling to have people who followed us on twitter and were watching the progress of the project come talk to us and give us feedback on how we are doing.  We are getting a better idea of how big this is getting and how many people are aware that we’re here, but when you spend the majority of your time on the UBC campus it’s difficult to believe that someone in South Africa is actually looking at your project.  Even for me, when I run the website, Twitter and Facebook account, it was surreal to have a complete stranger come up to the poster and say “Oh yeah, I follow you on twitter and thought I’d come see.”  We all shared a moment with one another going “wow, this is working.  Academics, scholars, students, they care!”  I’m sad that Lisa, who had recently posted about how much the squeezes could drive her nuts sometimes, wasn’t there to get the immediate feedback from the public.

AIA poster

Chelsea (right) and I (left) stand proudly by our poster, ready to greet everyone.

We all had different experiences chatting with our visitors, too.  Haley had an extended discussion with a scholar who was working on open-access online databases who commented that it was difficult to let the public know that these were online.  Haley told him of our burgeoning success with Twitter and blogging and he responded that the generational gap made it difficult for him to use those tools.  This was something that we hadn’t considered – we work so hard to get our generation aware of the project that we forget to let those who, say, aren’t glued to their smart phones aware of it as well.  The nature of a digitization project is, of course, to be online but how do we make it easier for those who are less technologically savvy to access it?  This was something that we may have eventually worked out, but it definitely would not have been one of the first things for us to work on.  We also spoke with Alexander Meyer from Western University about his work on all the squeezes in Canada (of which our collection is a large proportion) and Colin McCaffrey who works at the Yales Classics Library.  We had librarians, students, friends, directors, colleagues, supervisors and anyone else who was in the hall wander over to the poster and inquire about our work, all of whom were asked to “touch the poster”.  It was cool! It’s fabric.  In case you hadn’t heard.

Chelsea, though, summed up the experience best.

The most rewarding visitors for me, however, were all of our friends, mentors, colleagues, peers, project directors, professors, students, and acquaintances who we have met over the years through various university classrooms and archaeological projects, all of whom sought us out to congratulate us and support us. There is nothing better than knowing our hard work is recognized and appreciated by those who made us who we are.

Haley during her talk, "Put a Bird on It!"

Haley during her talk, “Put a Bird on It!”

We are so happy that we had the chance to present at the AIA this year, for me it was a chance to prove that our project has merit and application in the larger Classical world.  My dig director asked me why we should use these images instead of going to the epigraphic museum.  I’m not going to lie, any of us would love to have access to the epigraphic museum whenever we wish it.  Those who are lucky enough to go to the American School at Athens do get to pop over to check out the inscriptions, but this isn’t the case with the majority of Classical Archaeologists.  We have the misfortune to specialize in civilizations who come from a completely different continent, never mind from over two millennia ago.  So yes, if you are lucky enough to be in a city in North America (or Athens itself) that has a museum with an extensive epigraphic collection, you can go see the inscriptions whenever you wish and work on your research.  For the rest of us, open-access collections like this one give you the next best possible thing.

I also attended a workshop on publishing geo-spatial data and got to hear from many archaeologists who were also trying to work out the kinks within the realm of digital humanities.  While it’s unfortunate that it is still extremely difficult to make everything work long-term, there is an amazing community of scholars out there who are working on all of the problems that we run into ourselves and hopefully, together, we can make projects like our little one available to anyone who wants it for as long as they want it.  It also made me so appreciative for Digital Initiatives because they have knowledge that the average classicist doesn’t and without them, it would have taken so much longer to jump-start the project.

IMG_3370IMG_3375In case it seems like the trip was all about the poster, never fear, it wasn’t.  Haley was brilliant during her talk, despite the lights going out completely.  Twice.  I have it on good authority as well that there were many southern foods and drinks sampled, shopping completed, souvenirs bought.  Everyone had a chance to reunite with their far-flung friends (one of the perks of a mega-conference like the AIA).  The only thing about the weekend that was disappointing was the weather.  The Canadians, at least, were not too happy that it never seemed to want to go above 10 degrees (that would be Celsius) until the last day.  I myself ate beignets to… warm up.  Haley helped.

Did you see us at the AIA?  Have a poster at the AIA? How was your experience different?  We’d love to hear from you!

We’ll see you all at the SAA!


About Kat Solberg

Kat has her MA in Classical Archaeology from UBC, where she first became involved with the project. Its Media and Communications director, she is the voice of the project and all of its public dealings. When she's not glued to her computer, she can be found digging things up and obsessing over the Romans.

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  1. Pingback: Worlds Apart: Conferencing as both Classicist and Archaeologist - From Stone to Screen

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