My good friend Dan Vo has been entertaining people during Lockdown by hosting a daily Twitter video called Museum From Home. Each day he has a different guest to talk about something museum-related, and probably queer. Today he put out this tweet.
So that’s the cat out of the bag, so to speak. On Thursday I will be Dan’s guest. Despite the emoji he used for me, I will not be talking about Amazons (though I might another day if he’ll have me back). I will be talking about trans Romans. I should note that the show will come with a whole host of content warnings because the Romans were horrible, horrible people by our standards. But if you managed to sit through I, Clavdivs then you should be OK on Thursday as well.
I have been much more quiet on social media today as the insanity of yesterday has gone away. Juliet seems to have sold a good number of books, which is very welcome.
Instead today I have been doing interviews for next week’s radio show. The main focus of the show will be on mental health as I think we are all struggling a bit these days.
I also got the opportunity to watch some of HistFest: Lockdown, the online history festival that replaced the big event due to take place in London this weekend. My good friend Dan Vo was one of the presenters, and there were several other talks I found very interesting. The whole thing can be found online here.
By the way, if all goes according to plan then Dan and I will have some exciting news for you next week.
Tomorrow I get to attend my first ever virtual science fiction convention.
And finally, for those of you who have access to the BBC, this Mark Gatiss documentary about the great Aubrey Beardsley is well worth a watch.
The infection and death rates in the UK continue to accelerate. There were just short of 700 deaths reported today. For comparison, it appears that the number of people who die of the flu in the UK in an average winter is around 17,000. We only have 3,605 COVID-19 deaths in the UK at the moment, but the vast majority of those have occured in the last two weeks and things are getting worse.
LGBT History Month is now well underway. In Bristol we began with an event at Aerospace Bristol, a brand new museum built to house a Concorde, and a wealth of other relics of Bristol’s proud aerospace tradition.
Because of where we were, the event focused on LGBT people in engineering, and in aviation in particular. That made it a bit hard to find cis women to speak, but trans women were delightfully abundant. The main speakers were:
Caroline Paige (ex-RAF)
Finn Mckay (UWE)
Rob Hurley (Airbus)
Christina Riley (construction industry)
We also had a panel of young people from the Alphabets youth group, and Drag Queen Story Time.
I have seen Caz Paige perform a couple of times before. Despite the fact that I know her story pretty well by now, she manages to tell it differently each time. For us she put in extra aircraft. I’m in awe of how much driving she puts in during LGBTHM. She’s far more in demand than I am. I bet she misses having a helicopter instead of a car. The photo above is of Caz and myself with a well known celebrity aircraft.
The event was sponsored by The Diversity Trust and was staged with help from OutStories Bristol and South Gloucestershire Council. The OutStories Bristol exhibition is in the Concorde Hanger and will be available to museum visitors until the 24th. Most of the work was done by Claire & Amy from the museum’s outreach team. I’m pleased to say that it all went very well.
Of course it could not be a properly queer event without cake. Thanks to Ian Boulton for providing something very appropriate.
I was live on Ujima again today. It was a bit of a scramble getting the show together and huge thanks to those guests who came on board yesterday. Also huge thanks to my old pal Valentin who used to run the desk for Paulette back in the day when I was a trainee presenter. As Ben was on holiday this week, Valentin stepped in to help out. Ben messaged me to say he was listening to the show online, which is incredible devotion to duty, and probably means that we had a listener in Kenya this week.
The first hour of the show was devoted to LGBT History Month events in Bristol. First up I was joined by Claire from Aerospace Bristol. They, in conjunction with The Diversity Trust, OutStories Bristol, and South Gloucestershire Council are putting on an event specifically aimed at engineers, and the aerospace industry in particular. The headline speaker is the wonderful Caroline Paige, and I’m particularly looking forward to the panel with the young people from Alphabets who will be discussing what they want from employers in the future. That event is on Saturday. I will be there with both my DT and OSB hats on. Full details are available here.
Next I welcomed back Karen from M Shed, along with Zoltán from Freedom Youth. I’m not curating the M Shed event this year. We’ve turned the whole thing over to the young people, and they have done an amazing job of putting together a programme. You can find details of their event here. It is on Saturday 22nd, and sadly I will be in Salzburg that weekend, but I hope some of you will go along and let me know how it turned out.
We also mentioned two other great events coming up in Bristol this month. The leading civil rights lawyer, Johnathan Cooper, will be at Bristol University Law School on the evening of the 19th to talk about, “Policing Desire: LGBT+ Persecution in the UK, 1970 to 2000”. Tickets are available (for free) here. Also there is the Black Queerness event that we covered in last month’s show. That’s on at the RWA. It is officially sold out, but there’s a wait list that you can get onto here.
The second half of the show began with my being joined by Coral Manton from Bath Spa University. Coral describes herself as a “creative technologist”, which basically means that she gets to do fun things with computers all day and gets paid for it. One of her projects is Women Reclaiming AI, which looks to do something about the sexist bias in electronic personal assistants.
We all know that most of these things (Alexa, Siri, etc.) come with female-coded voices, and that’s because the companies who make them decided (probably after some market research) that customers wanted a subordinate and submissive identity for their personal assistant. (Interestingly SatNavs work the other way: male drivers won’t take instructions from a female-coded voice.) Because these software constructs are maninly created by men, the personalities that they have are not based on real women, but on what men want their female assistants to be like.
This leads us down all sorts of feminist rabbit holes. Most notably, before Coral and her colleagues could create a “real” female personality for an AI, they had to decide what it meant to be a “real” woman. Part of the process has been running workshops in which groups of women get to have input into the process of creating the AI personality.
It turns out that one of the things that they asked for was that the AI would have the right to decline to help every so often. Real women can’t drop everything and help their families whenever they are asked to do so, so artificial women shouldn’t either. That sounded good to me, though I did have visions of Hal 9000 saying, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”; and possibly of Portia from Madeline Ashby’s vN saying, “NO, you will obey ME!”
I could have happily have talked to Coral about this stuff for the whole two hours. Hopefully you find the discussion as interesting as I did.
My final guests were Ali & Loo from some local mental health charities, and Shani, a poet who works with them. Tomorrow is Time to Talk Day, on which people are encouraged to talk about their mental health issues. There’s a whole lot going on in Bristol tomorrow, and you can find links to it all here. I particularly love Loo’s event making pom poms to support the Sunflower Suicide Prevention Project.
The other event that I had to mention is the one coming up at Foyles in Cabot Circus on the evening of the 25th. That will be Emma Newman, Emma Geen, Liz Williams and myself in conversation with Kate Macdonald on the subject of women in science fiction. I understand that it is sold out, but there is probably a wait list. Details here.
You can listen to today’s show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.
The playlist for today’s show was:
Faint of Heart – Tegan & Sara
So Strong – Labi Siffre
Two Old Maids – The Vinyl Closet
Cream – Prince
Come Alive – Janelle Monáe
Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
Dock of the Bay – Otis Reading
I Need Somebody to Love Tonight – Sylvester
And in case any of you haven’t seen it, here is the wonderful video for the Tegan & Sara song. Watch carefully and you will spot Jen Richards and Angelica Ross in there as well.
Talking of Angelica, I see that there are rumours that she’ll feature in the Loki TV series. There have also been hints that Sera, one of Marvel’s current openly trans characters, will be in Thor: Love & Thunder. It is tempting to tie the two together, but what I really want to see happen is for Angelica to play Loki alongside Tom Hiddleston, because it won’t be proper Loki without some gender-flipping and it would be awful if they put Tom in drag for that.
I spent much of today in Cardiff helping kick off a project to create queer history tours of the National Museum of Wales. This is being run by the fabulous Dan Vo who also created the similar tours at the V&A in London. The museum is mainly natural history and art, but there’s plenty there to talk about. I will have more to say about the queer stuff in due course, but today I want to highlight one of the more bizarre things I found in the museum.
Whenever I visit a museum I am always on the lookout for Amazons, so my interest was caught by this painting of a woman dressed as Diana herself. She has a bow and quiver, and even a little crescent moon headdress. Who was this woman, I wondered?
Well, her name is Diana Pryce (not Diana Prince), and her father was Sir John Pryce, the 5th Baronet of the Pryce family of Newtown Hall in Montgomeryshire. Sir John was what the museum descibes as a “well known eccentric”. This refers to the fact that he kept the embalmed bodies of his first two wives in his bedroom, until he got married for a third time and his new wife insisted that he got rid of them.
Wife three also pre-deceased him, whereupon Sir John hired a local faith healer, Bridget Bostock, to bring her back from the dead. Sadly the woman’s skills were not up to the task.
People had some very strange ideas in the 18th Century.
My speaking schedule for February is starting to firm up, and a number of events are starting to post their programmes. I’ll do a full schedule later in the month, but I did want to share one thing with you. It is this.
Yes, that is me giving a talk at The Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon. How cool is that?
The description is a little weird. I’m sure that’s not what I submitted to Schools Out. But the talk is about a play. It is a play by Byron, not by Shakespeare. And the story involves Ashurbanipal and Romans and Byron’s alleged bisexuality. It should be fun.
By the way, if you are coming to the Historical Fiction Research Network conference in Salzburg later in the month then you will get the academic version of this talk which will be more about sources and translations, and probably a little less about Byron’s sex life.
Here’s something I am doing this weekend, which I didn’t tell you about earlier because by the time I got the details it had sold out. Which is very pleasing.
Anyway, immediately I finish at Trans Pride in Bristol on Saturday I will be on a train to Brighton. It is a mad schedule, but Sunday morning trains are crap and I need to go on Saturday to make sure I get there in time.
On the Sunday afternoon I will be at Brighton Museum for their monthly Queen in Brighton LGBTQ+ History Club. I will be talking about being trans and intersex in Ancient Rome. There will be gender reassignment surgery; there will be gossip about the Imperial Family; there will be stand up philosopher contests; and being the Romans it will all be a bit gruesome.
What have the Romans done for us? They invented the dick pic.
If you want to know more, and be sad that you can’t get a ticket, the booking page is here.
I spent yesterday at Bath Spa University (the beautiful Newton Park campus) at a conference on writing historical fiction. This is a brief report on the event.
First up I should note that this conference differs from the Historical Fiction Research Network conferences in that it is primarily for students of creative writing, and for working writers. I think I was the only speaker presenting as an historian as opposed to a writer, literary critic or publishing industry expert. Both conferences have value in their own way.
I knew that it was going to be an interesting day right from the start when the opening speaker, Alan Bilton from Swansea University, started talking about postmodernism and whether we can ever know what really happened in the past. We largely managed to avoid going down any Alt-Right rabbit holes, but it did lead to someone asking about authenticity, own voices and so on. And straight down another rabbit hole we went.
When these discussions start (and particularly when they start on social media) they tend to devolve into an argument with people on one side saying that writers should be allowed to write whatever characters they want, and people on the other saying that only people with lived experience of certain types of characters should be allowed to write those characters.
Repeat after me, please: All binaries are false.
As it happens, I’m a big fan of own voices work. If I’m going to read a book set in, say, Mexico City, I would much rather read one written by someone who has lived there (e.g. Silvia Moreno Garcia) than by someone whose knowledge of the city comes entirely from Wikipedia. (And yes, that is another false binary.) But this isn’t the entirety of the disucssion. When it was my turn to get up to speak I made the point that if only trans people were allowed to write trans characters then only around 1% of fiction would contain trans characters, and this would be a bad thing because we desperately need positive portrayals of trans people in fiction right now.
One of the ways around this is to employ a sensitivity reader. Of course that term is a red rag to the more conservative end of the industry, but it shouldn’t be. There was a good example to hand, because Alan had been talking about his forthcoming novel which happens to be set in Russia. He mentioned that he’d relied heavily on a Russian-born colleague for advice. That’s using a sensitivity reader. Most science fiction readers would applaud an author who had worked with actual astronauts, or actual astrophysicists, to get scientific details right. That too is using a sensitivity reader. It is no different from asking for help to make sure that you get Polynesian culture, or non-binary identity, right in your book. Except that if you are asking for help from someone from a marginalised group for help you should probably be paying them, rather than offering a few beers or a favour in return.
My talk, by the way, was a slightly rushed and less interactive version of my workshop on writing queer characters from history. A few folks on Twitter expressed interest in it. I’d be very happy to run it at other events in the future.
The final session of the conference was an industry panel featuring literary agent, Kate Horden; novelist and publisher Lorna Gray; and the historical fiction reviewer for The Times, Antonia Senior. It turned out that Antonia is related by marriage to Amal El-Mohtar and can therefore talk knowledgeably about the difference between the SF&F and historical fiction communities. I found myself nodding along to pretty much everything she said because every book critic has the same issues with too many books and the foolishness of the publishing industry. She had also read and reviewed Shadows of Athens, which made me very happy.
Because the attendees of the conference were almost all women, there was some interest in questions of author identity, use of initials and so on. If anyone wants to follow up on that, I warmly recommend Juliet McKenna’s essay, “The Myth of Meritocracy”, in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, the British Fantasy Award Winning book from Luna Press. Juliet goes through the entire pipeline of the publishing and bookselling industry and shows, with data and references, how it is stacked in favour of straight, white men at every turn.
If it were up to me I’d make that essay required reading on all creative writing syllabi.
There were other great sessions as well. I enjoyed discussing theoretical approaches to writing historical fiction with Melissa Addy (I hope you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, Melissa). I was delighted to meet British-based Serbian writer, Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, who had really interesting things to say regarding writing about recent wars when you are from a people who are regarded as the bad guys. I learned a lot about women at sea from Sarah Tanburn, and about the hidden meanings in Pieter Bruegel’s paintings from Lisa Koning. I even met someone who has written feminist science fiction. Hello Lania Knight!
Huge thanks to Celia Brayfield and Bea Hitchman for organising the event. I understand that there are plans to run the conference again next year, and it will be at the University of Gloucester. I’ll let you know when I have more details.
If you follow UK news you may have seen that my friend, Professor Olivette Otele, has a new job. She has been given a new post at the University of Bristol and has been asked specifically to investigate the city and university’s connections to the slave trade. Here’s a BBC report.
Now obviously this is nowhere near as cool as making a documentary with Lupita Nyong’o. However, it is hugely important for the city. I’m sure that Ujima will be following Olivette’s work very closely.
In the meantime, because it is Black History Month, I have resurrected the radio show that Olivette and I did last year. I cut it into two parts for podcasting. You can listen to it here via the links below.
One of the more striking aspects of the Black Panther movie is the reliance of Wakanda on an all-female elite fighting force, the Dora Milaje. Those of us who have an interest in women warriors know that this was inspired in part by the real African kingdom of Dahomey which boasted its own female army. The Agojie, or Mino, made up around a third of the nation’s fighting force when they were first contacted by Europeans. Although they were disbanded after Dahomey became a French protectorate in the late 19th Century, memory of them lives on.
Lupita Nyong’o, who plays T’Challa’s girlfriend, Nakia, in the movie, has made a film for Channel 4 about the historical inspiration for Wakanda’s women warriors. Some local historians feature in the film, and the historical advisor for the programme was my good friend Professor Olivette Otele.
During the course of the programme Lupita meets a number of people who have connections to the Agojie, and is helped by the current Dahomey royal family. She also witnesses a Vodun ceremony that invokes the spirit of a dead Agojie warrior (CN: animal sacrifice).
It is a fabulous piece of history, exposing both the admirable and horrific aspects of an all-female army in an African society. One thing I picked up was that life in the Agojie was a common choice for young girls who did not want to marry, which shows that Dahomey made space for lesbians in its society, albeit a fairly brutal one. In theory all of the Agojie were married to the king, but he wasn’t likely to take advantage of that when he had a harem recruited for non-military skills.
The programme will be available for a few weeks, at least to viewers in the UK. If you want to watch it, you can do so here.
As part of their celebration of Black History Month, Channel 4 has run an archaeology programme about Kush. As is the way of such things, it is fairly superficial, and spends more time dramatising the activities of modern (white) archaeologists than it does talking about the Kushites. Nevertheless, it does have some lovely shots of the inside of the Temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal and some great panoramic shots of other Kushite settlements. I was particularly impressed by the statues of the 25th Dynasty pharaohs fround at Kerma, which you can see in the photo above.
The programme does mention the great Kushite pharaoh, Taharqa, noting that he ruled over a kingdom stretching all the way from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. It did not mention him fighting alongside King Hezekiah of Judah against Sennacherib of Assyria. Nor does it mention that he survived both Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, but was eventually defeated by Ashurbanipal. Assyria v Kush (with added Israelites) for the control of Egypt has to be one of the greatest stories of the ancient world, and I’m rather sad that nothing seems to have come of Will Smith’s planned movie.
The programme also didn’t mention that there is a shrine to Amun built by Taharqa in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is the biggest single item in their collection, and it was made by Kushites, for a Kushite pharaoh.
There is brief mention of Meroë being the successor kingdom to Kush, but there is nothing about that kindgom preserving Egyptian culture long into the Roman period. Nor does it mention Queen Amanirenas beating up the Romans.
In short, it could have been so much better, because there are such great stories to tell. I need to dig out the audio from the radio show that Olivette Otele and I did last year and get it back online.
I was back in the Ujima studio today, and my first guest was friend and colleague, Dr. Jamie Lawson of the University of Bristol. Jamie has written a children’s book on LGBT+ history called Rainbow Revolutions. It is published tomorrow, and I’m very impressed with it. We had a great conversation about the use of the word “queer”, Section 28 and why people are worried it might come back, Ball Culture and the success of Pose, and so on.
Next up I dragged in Harriet Aston who roomed with me at Worldcon. It was her first big convention and understandably she was a bit overwhelmed, which makes her an ideal person to represent that first Worldcon experience. I was impressed that Harriet felt that she was swimming rather than drowning by day 4.
The rest of the show was devoted to women’s cricket and the triumph of Western Storm in the final year of the Kia Super League. I played my interview with Raf Nicholson, and passed on the latest news about the women’s part in the stupid new “The Hundred” series. It is possible that a new Western Storm might rise from the ashes of the KSL after all.
You can catch up on the show via the Listen Again service here.
The playlist for today’s show was as follows:
Gil Scott Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Grace Jones – This Is
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town
Earth, Wind & Fire – September
Bob Dylan – Shelter from the Storm
Billie Holiday – Stormy Weather
The Impressions – We’re A Winner
Jim Steinman – The Storm
My next show will be on October 2nd and will feature an interview with Ellen Datlow that I recorded while we were in Ireland.
Regular readers will know that each year at the OutStories Bristol AGM we have a lecture from a respected academic on some aspect of LGBT history. This year I am delighted to announce that our guest lecturer will be Professor Jennifer Ingleheart from the University of Durham. She will be talking about the Classical influences of the poet, AE Housman. The meeting is on October 5th, at the Wills Memorial Building, Bristol University. Full details are available on the OutStories Bristol website.
The nice people at Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of their new edtion of The Poetic Edda, as translated by Professor Carolyne Larrington. There’s not a huge amount I can say about the text, partly because the stories are so familiar, and partly because I’m in no position to comment on the quality of the translation, save to say that Prof. Larrington is an acknowledged expert in the field.
So instead I have chosen to focus in on a few small bits of the text where we have evidence for queer identities in Norse society. Naturally this involves Loki rather a lot. Again I’m not really in a position to talk authoritatively about translations, but I do have views on what we can and cannot say about ancient societies.
All of which means that the end result is less of a review and more of a short essay on queer Vikings. If you have been wondering about all this gender fluid stuff about Loki in comics, or in Rick Riordan’s books, I can point you at some of the evidence for that intepretation. If that is your cup of tea, you can find the review here.
I spent the past three days in Germany (and traveling too and from). The main reason I was there was to give a lecture at the Academy of Media Arts in Köln. However, I did pay for an extra hotel night so that I could do a bit of sightseeing. Hopefully there will be photos up here soon. I did take a lot, but I need to find time to process them (and I know I haven’t done the Ghent photos yet).
What I can say is that Köln is a lovely city. Obviously it is most famous for the giant cathedral which, when you are up close, really does look as if it reaches all the way to heaven. However, there are lots of Roman remains (the city was a legionary base and later capital of the Province of Germania) and twelve Romanesque churches. Sadly the two main museums of Roman materials were closed for rennovations, but I saw enough to want to go back when they are open.
I can recommend the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum which does a good job of being an anti-colonial ethnographic collection. It is also a themed collection. Anyone involved with the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford should take a look.
My talk seemed to go down very well. It was filmed and will be available on the Academy website in due course. We also had a reporter from a local radio station in attendance. If you can understand German you can tell me what he thought of it as his report is already online.
On Saturday Stephanie Saulter and I will be on a panel about “The boundaries and territories of SF” as part of a conference staged by Maison Française. We will be joined by brilliant Bath-based writer, Emma Geen, and by Jeanne Debats from France. Full conference website here.
Hello, I am in Ghent, which is in Belgium, though very close to the Dutch border and most people here seem to speak Dutch.
The reason that I am here is that I am attending the 3rd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East. It is basically a gathering for Assyriologists who are mindful of gender and intersectionality issues in their work. That means that they don’t assume that the people they are studying are all white, all cisgender and heterosexual, and all convinced of the primacy of the nuclear family as a basic social unit. I mean, really, why would anyone make those assumptions? And yet they do.
Much of what goes on is relatively specialist. Also, like any academic conference, sometimes we get talks from people who are early in their careers and don’t have a lot to say. But they’ll get better from going to events like this. And there have been several really great papers already.
Being me, I was particularly interested in the session on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. My thanks to Amy Gansell for continuing to expand my knowledge of Assyrian queens, and to Saana Svärd for a fascinating paper that hinted at a possible matriarchal culture, and maybe even women warriors, among the ancient inhabitants of Arabia.
For this post, however, I will concentrate on just one paper: Omar N’Shea & Sophus Helle on the gendered performance of Ashurbanipal.
Some of you will have seen the exhibition about the life of Ashurbanipal at the British Museum over the winter. He’s the guy featured in the reliefs of a lion hunt. All very macho. And yet up until the 19th Century our view of him was very different. Our only evidence for his existence came from the Roman writer, Diodorus Siculus, who called him Sardanapulus and said he was decadent and effeminate. The picture above by Delacroix gives a good impression of the image Diodorus protrays.
Diodorus claims to have got his information from a Greek writer called Ctesias, but the work he cites hasn’t come down to us and Greeks tended to be a bit biased when talking about anyone from the part of the world where Persia then stood.
Then we did archaeology, and discovered Assyrian records, and the lion hunt reliefs. Our picture of Ashurbanipal changed significantly.
But it isn’t that simple. Here’s the famous picture of Ashurbanipal skewering a charging lion.
That thing in his belt that I have highlighted, it is a stylus, for writing on clay tablets. The King is a scholar as well as a warrior, and doesn’t go anywhere without the means of writing down his exploits.
Omar (and Sophus but he couldn’t be here this week) then pointed to a message from the goddess Ishtar to Ashurbanipal. The Elamites were in revolt, but Ishtar advised the King not to lead his troops against them. She, the Goddess of War, had it all in hand. He should stay safe at home and enjoy a feast or two. Here he is enjoying a garden party along with his principal wife, Libbali-šarrat.
And yet this scene of domestic tranquility is not all it seems. To the far right of the picture Ashurbanipal’s bow lies resting on a table. To the left the head of Teumman, the Elamite king, hangs from a tree.
Ashurbanipal, then, sends very mixed messages through his royal imagery and statements. On the one hand he is a pleasure-loving scholar whose empire is so safe he doesn’t need to go to war himself; on the other he hunts lions for fun and glories in the defeat of his enemies. This contradiction may have led to a certain amount of character assassination by his enemies, and that may have given rise to the legend of Sardanapulus.
So that’s the sort of thing I have been listening to today. My thanks to Omar and Sophus for a great paper.
Many of my academic friends will know about this project already, but the rest of you will want to catch up too.
Modern Fairies is a collaboration between artists and academics to bring fairy tales into the 21st Century. That’s not re-writing and updating as you might get in a novel, but rather bringing back the stories and performances. The academics are providing the tales, and where necessary the translations from Old English and context. The artists are looking at narrating and performing these stories for a modern audience.
Phase 1 of the project has been a series of podcasts that introduce us to the major themes and stories. It addresses tales of people being kidnapped by amorous fairies, and fairies being kidnapped by humans; of changelings; of helpful fairies who assist the poor; and of loathly ladies who torment handsome knights. One of the presenters is Professor Carolyne Larrington who, in addition to being an expert on mediaeval literature, also wrote this fine book on the myth and history behind A Song of Ice & Fire.
Phase 2 is over to the artists, who will be putting on Fairy Gatherings around the country throughout the summer. There will be music and performance. One of the writers involved is Terri Windling.
And finally it will be back to the academics at the end of the year for a second series of podcasts looking back on what was done, and how it was received.
Look out, Britain. Fairies are coming to a town near you. And, dear Goddess, we could surely do with some right now.
I spent Tuesday night in Oxford attending this year’s JRR Tolkien Memorial Lecture on Fantasy Fiction. This year’s guest lecturer was Marlon James, whose Black Leopard, Red Wolf I reviewed here. Along the way I got to catch up with many friends including Olivette Otele, Stephanie Saulter, and of course Juliet McKenna. (Green Man 2 is progressing well; thank you for asking.)
I was hoping to get an interview with Marlon for Ujima, but sadly his schedule was too packed. However, I did get to chat with him briefly. We talked mostly about the X-Men. If anyone at Marvel is reading this, you need to get him to write for you. Seanan, Nnedi, please put in a good word for him.
The lovely folks at Pembroke have now posted the video of the lecture, so you can get to enjoy Marlon as well. I hope you find him as erduite and entertaining as I did.
My final LGBT History Month event of 2019 was one that I was not speaking at. It was organised by my good friends Jana Funke and Jen Grove from the University of Exeter to celebrate the launch of their new book, Sculpture, Sexuality and History. It is a niche interest, but it does overlap with the history of robots as fictional entities. I need to read it for a talk I am giving later this year.
As part of the festivities, Jana & Jen invited three graduates students to give a seminar. They provided three great papers.
Rebecca Mellor talked about secret collections of “erotic” objects at museums, and how a museum makes the decision to class something as erotic. Interestingly the decision can often depend far more on who donated the object than on what it looks like.
Mara Gold’s talk was about how Western lesbians from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries used references to Sappho and Ancient Greek culture in general as code for their sexuality. I learned a lot. I had no idea that Hope Mirlees and Sylvia Townsend Warner were lesbians. And there’s another person who deserves a whole blog post of her own.
Finally we had Georgina Barker who talked about the Russian poet, Elena Shvarts, whose Sappho-influenced work scandalised mid-20th Century USSR. That’s less of interest to me, but Georgina and I spent quite a bit of time chatting about Scythians, who also fall into the Russia-Classics crossover.
On getting home I found email inviting me to view a colloquium on Diversifying Classics at the College of Charleston. South Carolina is perhaps not the place that would immediately spring to mind when considering progressive views of the Classics, but it turns out that it is an excellent event. The whole thing is available on Farcebook.
Rebecca Futo Kennedy talked about how the idea of “Western Civilisation” was invented by white people in the 19th Century. This is particularly ironic because at the time both Greeks and Italians tended to get views as “black”.
Arum Park talked about the need for women and people of color to revisit translations of ancient works. The white male bias that the likes of Emily Wilson and Maria Dahvana Headly have identied in translations of The Odyssey and Beowulf respectively are starting to look like the tip of a very large iceberg.
Nandini Pandey talked about the multicultural nature of the Roman Empire and what we can learn from how Rome went about encouraging multiculturalism. I think she let Polemo and the Physionomists off a little lightly on the origins of racism, but other than that she too was great. Romans and Greeks, of course, were Mediterranean people and thus compared themselves to those lighter skinned than themselves as well as those darker. They tended to assume that they were a perfect mixture of the two extremes. A good example is Vitruvius who was an architect. He wrote about how climate affected both building requirements and the people who lived in different parts of the world. According to him (Book 6, Chapter 1) people from hot climates tend to be smart but cowardly, while those from cold climates tend to be stupid and brave.
The final talk by Jim Newhard is also good, but it primarily of interest to people who work in Classics departments.
And finally, while I was watching Dr. Pandey’s talk my Twitter feed threw up links to New Classicists, a very interesting new journal run by post-grad students at Kings, London.
It is great to see Classics doing all of this stuff. Much of it is, of course, prompted by the likes of Steve Bannon and Boris Johnson using the ancient world to prop up their white surpremacist ideas, but it needs doing anyway. Also the more we can learn about the ancient world beyond the narrow confines of Greece and Rome the better. The Roman Empire’s trading links were extensive and all of the cultures that they met, conquered or traded with deserve study too.