The Classical Association 2011: Go Team Durham!

So this year the Class Ass (as it is affectionately known) visited us at Durham. It’s a global conference held in a different university around the UK every year, and this year we played the host to some 400 odd guests, ranging from v.  famous academics, mortal academics, teachers, graduate students and undergraduates. Over the course of three days, academics present papers on their latest research in panels (consisting of 3/4 papers), with several panels running simultaneously while all our guests zip in and out of panels visiting whichever papers catch their eyes. It’s an organisational challenge, putting it mildly. In fact, the run up to the Class Ass has been a long road, but our chief made sure that we could not have been better prepared. The team of helpers all had timetables, lists and agendas detailing what we should be doing, where, when and who with. Let the Big Push commence!

Saturday:

Don’t remember being up this early in the morning before. World’s strongest cup of tea at 6.40am. While I spend the rest of the morning coming to terms with daybreak, the highlight of the morning has to be the fabulously well-stocked bookstalls. A variety of publishers, and a second-hand shop, brought some of their latest books for sale at knock-down prices. It was a great chance to play “spot the Durham academic”.

After a hasty lunch, I met Louise at the coach. We’d volunteered to be Responsible Grown Ups and help a member of staff leading an excursion in the afternoon. As RGUs, we were in charge of ticking passengers’ names off a list and making sure that we didn’t lose anybody. Was terrified that we would “misplace” an eminent professor. These fears were swiftly killed when the realisation that there was a child under 5 on the trip hit us like a heavily loaded lorry. Now there was a *real* danger of losing a *child*, which is in a totally different league from losing an academic, since they have mobile phones and credit cards and could make their own way back if they had to. So as Louise ticked names, I began to do headcounts with a more than convincing impression of OCD.


First stop: Gibside National Trust property. A lovely landscaped estate complete with, crucially and most importantly, a fully functional tea room. Experiencing tea-deprivation, we swiftly made our way through the gardens to the tea room for cake and tea. V. nice. On the stroll back, we took in the very pleasant architecture and promenades, while on our way to the second tea room, which is also a gift shop. We made good time, and had to get back to the rendezvous point soon, so I hastily purchased several large jars of organic luxury pickle and we hotfooted it back to the coach. I don’t think I really thought through the pickle purchase, because I then spent ten minutes standing near the coach and pointing at it to various academics who couldn’t find their way. It got quite heavy after a while, perhaps I should’ve just bought one small jar. After counting, and double-counting, the guests, we were off.

Second stop: Penshaw Monument, which is a Victorian folly of a Greek temple, and it’s on the top of a very large hill. I had obviously forgotten this when I decided to wear heels and a wrap dress that day. I realised this to my horror at the top of the hill, which, coincidentally, had views as stunning as the scenery was windswept. Oh dear. On the way back, I succumbed to the obsessive headcounting, but this time decided to lift the spirit of the (by now slightly bored and reasonably tired) small child by doing my impression of the Count from Sesame Street: “Vohn Clazzizt, Tu Clazzizt, Tree Clazzizt, Vor Clazzizt, Vive Clazzizt…” I’m sure that all the important academics who were on the coach still take me seriously after this…

On arrival back at base camp, there was a wonderful hot dinner waiting for us. We spent a lovely evening in the company of our fellow cohort of graduate students/conference helpers, and were delighted to catch up with some old friends who were visiting for the CA (one of whom was LVP!).

Sunday:

On Sunday my role as helper mostly focused on making sure the panels ran smoothly – which means sitting in on them and giving out handouts, while keeping my fingers crossed that the projectors work (turns out that I had to poke 4 projectors into working on one day, but it was all okay). A panel entitled “Seizing the Means of Production” was highly enjoyable; it focused on how Classics could be more widely Open Access (free to look at over the internet) and asked some really daring questions like “Do we really need publishers?” and created a debate about why we should publish research in book format (status? Elitism?) and not electronically, which blew my mind. I think that this panel asked some really important questions about the future of academic publishing, and it began a very energetic discourse with the audience.

Sat in on a couple more panels (one of which I gave a paper in), and relieved some of my co-helpers on the registration desk during break.


Monday:

We had a half day of panels on the final day. One in particular, “Classics and the Land: Receptions” included some very interesting papers.  A South African academic, Mlambo, came to talk to us about how Mugabe appropriates and twists Late Republican discourse to justify his regime. I think that the whole audience really appreciated how courageous this paper was, and felt honoured to listen to him talk about what it’s like to be an academic under such a government. Barbara Weiden Boyd’s paper on Mad Men was highly enjoyable, and illuminated all the parallels between the Odyssey and Don Draper’s story – fascinating! And yes, we watched a few clips too 🙂


The Class Ass this year was an absolutely fantastic weekend, and everyone seemed to be having a really good time. For me, the best bit of the conference was the huge team effort the graduate helpers put in – always supporting each other and going the extra mile, but the price we paid for this awesomeness was zombie-like sleep deprivation on day three…

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