Adventures in Epigraphy

in-front-of-herculaneum-and-vesuviusIn June of this past summer, I had the privilege of participating in the taught-abroad course History 308: Rome: Building and Living in the Ancient City. Over the course of the month, our small group analyzed the cultural and historical significance of several extant aspects of Ancient Roman society, including sculptures, monuments, temples, aqueducts, inscriptions, and even the layout of the ancient city itself. We began our studies in the small medieval town of Narni, proceeded to the Bay of Naples (where we explored the preserved ruins of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and the Villa of Poppaea), and concluded the final two weeks of the course in Rome itself.
Each day, we would learn about Ancient Roman society and culture while exploring the city or town we were visiting and directly engaging with its Ancient Roman remains. While I found this an exciting way to learn in itself, we were also responsible for a number of assignments which complemented the knowledge we had gained through exploring our environments. These included giving two presentations on important structures or sites, collaborating with other students in a group video project, and writing a scholarly blog. The blog assignment in particular encouraged us to explore our specific interests, as we each chose a broad theme related to Ancient Roman culture and researched any number of narrower topics within that theme.


For my blog assignment, I chose to focus on epigraphy and other public writing, a subject of particular interest to me because most of the ancient inscriptions I would encounter would be in Latin. I have taken all of the Latin courses offered at the University of Saskatchewan, and in April of this year I actually completed the last of the requirements to obtain the Certificate in Classical and Medieval Latin. Since I find the language fascinating and have enjoyed studying it for the past three years, I was excited at the prospect of studying this language in its original context. However, my experience in Latin was primarily in Latin prose, and epigraphy is a vastly different medium. In my research, I had to adjust to the challenging conventions specific to epigraphy. The most prominent of these conventions is the consistent use of abbreviations, which was an obstacle in translating and situating the inscription in context.

Over the course of my blog, I explored the cultural implications of different kinds of inscriptions, such as honorific, dedicatory, funerary, and imperial epigraphy. I addressed a range of topics: I discovered that the epitaphs in the Tomb of the Scipios were, curiously, written in verse form; I learned of varying interpretations and implications of the inscription on the Arch of Constantine; and I explored the conventions of Ancient Roman and Early Christian funerary inscriptions. We encountered new and diverse inscriptions each day that I could analyze and incorporate into my personal research. In fact, there were so many inscriptions available for study that I could not even address all of the epigraphs I wished to, and so I hope one day to be able to return to Italy and study Latin epigraphy in person once again.

My interest in this topic also correlated with the subject of my group video project, which was ancient graffiti . Although in one of my blog posts I did investigate some graffiti scratched into the pavement, as well as the inscribed game board alongside it, I tended to focus my research on more formal epigraphy in an attempt to produce an assignment with different content. That being said, I nevertheless appreciated the way in which I could address this broader theme of inscriptions in all of my assignments, and the fact that I could draw on my daily experiences to create my blog posts. I was able to incorporate my research on inscriptions into my presentations on the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum, and the Arch of Constantine. We even visited and studied the Vatican’s epigraph collections as a class for an extended period of time, which was a truly fascinating experience that I was able to include in my blog.

The entire experience was incredible. The way the course allowed me to engage so directly with the remnants of Ancient Roman society, and enabled me to see personally what I read in the course textbooks, made the class so much more interesting. It was fascinating to walk through such remarkable feats of architecture in a city with such ancient roots. Even the assignments contributed to this experience, as they were so diverse and relevant to our everyday activities that they enabled us to explore subjects which interested us in far greater detail. I am so grateful that I was able to take advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.

By Jaclyn Morken

CBC Ideas and Utopia for 500 Years

cbcIn association with our international conference, Utopia for 500 years, we are hosting a panel discussion on the continuing resonance of this seminal work and its relevance to our own social and political realities. CBC Ideas Executive producer, Greg Kelly, will moderate a discussion of this work by Erica Lee (Idle No More), Hayden King (Carleton University), Terry Downy (St. Thomas More College), and Ann Prescott (Barnard College).
Free Admission.
Please arrive promptly as this is a recorded program.

September 24 at 3:00 pm at the St. Thomas More Auditorium
1437 College Dr, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
All are welcome!

Registration for the academic portion of the program is now open. See the conference webpage for details.

Big Science and Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies

What happens when you put a group of chemistry students and humanities students together and set them loose on some ancient cultural artifacts armed with a synchrotron? We are going to find out!

Okay, we aren’t exactly going to set these students loose. Tracene Harvey of CMRS and the Museum of Antiquities, Tom Ellis of the Department of Chemistry, and Tracy Walker, Education Programs Lead at the Canadian Light Source will be instructing and guiding, but this really is imagined as a joint-exploration project, certainly the first of its kind in Canada, and perhaps even unique in North America. (If anyone else has attempted such a course, we would love to hear about it!)

CMRS/CHEM 398 Using Big Science for the Study of Material Culture examines the possibilities of applying one tool of “Big Science”–the synchrotron at the Canadian Light Source (CLS)–to the study of cultural heritage objects of the Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance periods. In this seminar course, students will learn about the technology and methods of spectroscopy for the study of the chemical and material composition and properties of such objects as medieval manuscripts and ancient glass, pottery, and coins. They will also consider the implications for the results of such research for the study, preservation, and assessment of these objects and also for our understanding of the cultures that produced them. Students will explore the scientific and scholarly literature and then select a material object or objects from one of our university collections (The Museum of Antiquities or the Murray Library Special Collections) and a research problem as the class project. The class will then develop a research plan, use one of the CLS’s synchrotron beamlines to for spectroscopic analysis of the object, and then interpret and write-up the results.

And what to we hope to accomplish? The overall objective of this course is to connect students with scientific technology and methods that can be applied to humanities-based research in the area of material culture. To this end, students will gain knowledge and experience in scientific research applications in material culture through the use of the Canadian Light Source. Throughout their course work, students will have the opportunity to learn from and consult with science and humanities experts who have used scientific applications in material culture based research. By exploring the current state of synchrotron-based scientific research methods on material culture objects, students will learn how to formulate scientific questions surrounding material culture objects, perform experiments at the Canadian Light Source on selected cultural heritage objects from our university collections in order to find answers to those questions, and then interpret these findings within the larger archaeological and historical contexts to which these objects belong. Once the experiments have been performed, students will then have the opportunity interpret and present their research in the form of oral presentations, conference posters and research papers. Upon completion of the course, the students will have a significant understanding of the use of scientific technology and research in the humanities and will have the ability and confidence to work in a team environment to apply this knowledge and research in their future academic endeavors as desired. A particularly innovative outcome of this course is to have students gain an appreciation for the similarities and differences of research methods, cultures and epistemologies across disciplines.

If you would like to know more about this course, contact the director of CMRS, Brent Nelson, for advising.

Medieval and Renaissance Texts in Performance

Over the last year, keen observers of the medieval and renaissance scene at this University (members of Comitatus! Students, faculty, and fellows in CMRS! Helpers at the Museum! Lots of others) will have seen advertisements for some unexpected events. First, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Stafford, Richard II and his bride, Anne of Bohemia, gave what was billed as the world premiere of the first part of Geoffrey Chaucer’s new work, “The book of the Tales of Canterbury”. Although Geoffrey lived around 1340 to 1400 and wrote his Canterbury Tales in England between 1386 and 1400, it appears we have had to wait until April 2015 for the first ever presentation of his work (which indeed debuted at the Greystone theatre on 9 April, in front of an audience of around 100 people, themselves acting as commoners and aristocrats of England). Geoffrey returned to Saskatchewan, this time to the Woods Tavern in December, with his good friend John Gower (named in a recent poll as the most uninteresting man in England), for another performance, this time of the Miller’s Tale before a lively audience of pub-goers.

CaptureNor was this the end of these strange episodes of resurrection of supposedly long-dead authors and their works. In February, St John’s cathedral in Saskatoon became St Paul’s Cathedral, London on 29 January 1625, and the Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne, gave us his “Second Prebend Sermon”. In March, Thomas Malory will presented part of his remarkable cycle of Arthurian stories, and in April (it is rumoured) Geoffrey will return for another of his new Tales of Canterbury.

The common thread behind these performances is Colin Gibbings, formerly an undergraduate and then an MA student here in the Department of English. In the course of his undergraduate career, he showed a remarkable gift for performance of Middle English literary texts. This led his MA supervisor, me, to propose that his MA project should be based around a performance of the General Prologue of the Tales. I had my own agenda. Too many years of research into the manuscripts of the Tales has led me to speculate that one of the manuscripts very close to Chaucer himself (now thought to have been written by his own scribe, “Adam”, who may have worked for Chaucer for two decades) has a spelling which reflects how the poetry should be spoken. Recently too Paul Strohm (in his wonderful book Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the road to Canterbury) has argued that Chaucer first performed parts of the Tales for select groups of his friends. Further, the dramatic events in the English court around 1386 to 1389, when Richard first lost power to the vicious “Lords Appellant” and then gained it back in May 1389, suggested a historical context: that in June 1389 Richard might have celebrated regaining power by inviting his favourite poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, to come and present part of the new work on which Geoffrey had been working while in self-imposed exile away from London between 1386 and 1389. Hence Colin and I hatched a plan: a performance of Chaucer himself presenting his new work to Richard II in Sheen Palace, London, in June 1389.

This performance was well received, with Colin’s performance (viewable at on YouTube) much admired. Professors Brent Nelson, Mike Cichon, Frank Klaassen and Sharon Wright joined with me in a proposal to the Curriculum Innovation Fund for support for Colin to make five more videos: four of these the Donne, Malory and two more Chaucer outlined above, the fifth being based on the Old English/Cree Wanderer project developed in the University several years ago. I argue that the best way to appreciate medieval Literature (perhaps, any literature) is through performances such as these. I am using the videos in my English honours class on medieval literature this term, towards exactly that end; we hope many more will follow!

– Peter Robinson

Book launch of Homer Through Other Eyes: Perspectives on the Iliad a Great Success

At our launch last month of Homer Through Other Eyes: Perspectives on the Iliad, we celebrated a fruitful collaboration between John Porter and a group of students from CMRS 110 Greco-Roman Tradition, Evolution and Reception, and Jeanette Lynes and a group of her students in the MFA in Writing program. Professor Porter had asked his CMRS students to write a first-person account of a portion of the Iliad from the standpoint of one of the characters in Homer’s epic poem (see our previous post here). The results were so promising, Professor Porter talked with Professor Lynes about workshopping some of the stories produced by his students, and Homer Through Other Eyes was the result! At the launch CMRS students read from their work, and a number of the MFA students were there (along with some friends, family, and members of the CMRS community) to show their support.

From left to right: Ben Kmiech, Brent MacFarlane, Jeanette Lynes, Alexandra Edmunds, Leah MacLean-Evans, Corianne Bracewell, John Porter, and Texis Walkem

Homer Through Other Eyes: Perspectives on the Iliad


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In the Fall of 2014, students in the course Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies 110, at the University of Saskatchewan, were asked to compose a first-person account from the standpoint of one of the characters in Homer’s Iliad, or a character of their own invention, with a view to eliciting further insights into Homer’s poem or developing alternate perspectives into the world of the Iliad— its characters, values, social structures, or what-have-you. The model for this exercise was Julian Barnes’ revisionist account of Noah and the Flood in A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, but the authors were given free rein to adopt any approach they might chose. This collection of eight pieces offers a sample of the results.

Homer Through Other Eyes_Page_01Our authors draw inspiration, directly or indirectly, from a variety of sources and present an interesting register of tones: from the comic exasperation of James Wood’s Hades (Disney’s Heracles) and the existentialist bureaucratic hell of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, to the more somber figures of Vergil’s Fama (Rumor) and the obsessive prospector of Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” We view the heroes’ quest for glory through the eyes of a carrion-raven (who sings of the heroes’ achievements while dining on their fallen foes) and the narcissistic Paris, but also in the utterly humane viewpoint of the fallen Patroclus. At the same time, we are led to reflect on the later reception of Homer’s poem in the tormented uncertainty of the war-prize Briseis, who recalls the characters of that name in Homer’s Iliad and Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy while at the same time highlighting the generic and cultural constraints under which those characters labor.

The goal of the assignment was to encourage a fresh examination of Homer’s poem, to provide students with a space in which they might explore more fully, and through a different lens, both the issues that Homer addresses and those that he either suppresses or ignores. These pieces achieve that goal in a wonderful fashion, both in their overall conception and in the many, often exquisitely subtle touches that you will find scattered throughout each.

– John Porter

You can find this e-book on iBooks or on pdf here:

Deadline extension for Utopia for 500 Years


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The organizers of Utopia for 500 Years, a Conference on Thomas More’s Utopia to be held at St. Thomas More College, University Of Saskatchewan 22-24 September 2016, have extended the deadline for submissions to 15 February 2016. Please see the original call for papers here.

Utopia CFP (002)

My Undergraduate Research Experience with CMRS

TuckMy name is Courtney Tuck, and I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan last spring with a double-honours in History & CMRS. I am currently a graduate student at in the History Department here at the University of Saskatchewan, working with Dr. Angela Kalinowski on my Master’s thesis. My thesis will be looking at the practice of female gladiators in ancient Rome and how they would have been perceived by the spectators and contemporary society as a whole. While working on my undergraduate degree, I gained many research skills that have been a great benefit to me in my current studies. Here are some of the amazing research opportunities I was able to take advantage of during my undergraduate degree.

CMRS 401 – “Medieval Genres: Representing the Past in the Digital Age”
This CMRS capstone course was my introduction to the exciting and burgeoning world of the digital humanities. I learned about new ways to present research in a digital format to reach more people and hopefully create a broader impact. I learned how to use new tools like Omeka, which allows one to create on-line collections and exhibits. I also learned how to create a digital, interactive timeline using Timeline JS. For my CMRS 401 project, I taught myself how to use these tools and chose the theme of Renaissance artworks depicting the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes. I used Omeka and Timeline JS to find interesting and interactive ways to present these artworks and find new ways to group, organize, and visualise these pieces. As a historian who uses material culture in her research, I knew I would use these tools in the future. It turned out I was right! I am currently using the Omeka platform to create an online catalogue for the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Saskatchewan. The project will soon branch out to include other plaster cast collections from around the world in the hope of being able to foster more communication and collaboration for these types of collections on an international scale. You can access the website I created for CMRS 401 here.

CMRS 402 – “Directed Research” – My Honours Thesis Titled: “The Imago in Public & Private Life: Ancient Roman Ancestor Masks & Their Function During the Republican Period”
This project allowed me the opportunity to explore what writing a thesis in graduate school would be like. It also afforded me the opportunity to explore ancient Roman social history, which I discovered to be my preferred area of concentration. I also honed my skills in working with ancient primary sources, both literary and artefactual. I practiced not only my research, but also my writing skills and had the opportunity to defend my work in front of a committee of faculty members. This was great preparation for my current work as a graduate student. I also ended up working under the supervision of Dr. Kalinowski, and it made me confident that she would be the best choice as an academic supervisor for the next step in my academic journey.

CMRS 403 – “Analysis and Public Exhibition of Cultural Artefacts”
This independent study course allows students to study the process of researching, designing and mounting an exhibit. As someone who hopes to have a future in museum work, I knew this course would be invaluable to me. The title of my exhibit and accompanying research paper was “Poison on the Palatine Hill: Poison during the Julio-Claudian Dynasty of Ancient Rome”. I looked at aspects of both gender and nationality in relation to those who were accused of plotting to poison members of the Imperial family. Murder by poison was particularly rampant during the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, which is why I chose that time period. This project was a massive undertaking, as I chose to include more than six stations within my exhibit. I borrowed coins from a numismatic enthusiast in Alberta with whom the Museum has a relationship; I commissioned a replica bust from my sister who just happens to be an amazing sculptor; I utilized pieces already in the Museum’s collection; and I fabricated both display and interactive pieces to be included as well. The accompanying research paper that went with this exhibit was, again supervised by my current academic supervisor, Dr. Kalinowski.

Medieval Codes
During the senior year of my undergraduate program, I was fortunate enough to be hired by Dr. Yin Liu to be a part of the SSHRC-funded Medieval Codes Project. Knowledge of the Classical world is always a benefit to any Medievalist, but I did feel as if I was a Classicist moonlighting as a Medievalist. I discovered branching out into a new realm of history was a great challenge for me. I was able to gain experience in accessing textual sources and approaching them in a new way. I was also able to gain more experience in the digital humanities. I learned how important research dissemination can be to a project and how to create and use a blog as a way to publish research findings to engage new types of readers. I also worked as part of a team, which was a great experience.

The Museum of Antiquities
The most impacting experience I gained during my time as an undergraduate was the four years I volunteered and worked at the Museum of Antiquities here at the University of Saskatchewan. During that time I held the positions of Education Coordinator, Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator, and Assistant Curator. In being allowed to try on many different hats, I was able to find where my passion and talents lay. I was able to feel as though I made a great impact there with my work, and I was able to gain meaningful research, inter-personal, leadership, design and public speaking skills. I also found a supportive mentor in the Museum’s director, Dr. Tracene Harvey. I am currently able to continue my work with the Museum of Antiquities as a graduate student this semester under a graduate research fellowship. The work of this research fellowship is the aforementioned Omeka-based project. During the last four and a half years, the Museum of Antiquities has been my on-campus home away from home and has been the cornerstone of my educational experience at the University of Saskatchewan.

~ Courtney Tuck

Utopia for 500 Years: A Call for Papers


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A Conference on Thomas More’s Utopia to be held at St. Thomas More College, University Of Saskatchewan, 22-24 September 2016, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the work’s publication.

In the five hundred years since Thomas More published his Utopia, the work has had a profound influence on political and philosophical thought. But it has likewise held an important place in modern aesthetic and cultural developments—in literature, in art, in architecture and design—and has inspired political change, social experiments, and radical countercultural movements.

This conference seeks to address the varieties of utopia and utopianism that More’s work and those influenced by it have dared imagine. Does the utopian impulse mark a practical response to political, ecological or social crisis? Does utopia reflect a nostalgia for some lost golden age or optimism for a better—if perhaps impossible—future? Do utopian fictions allow us to explore previously unseen possibilities or confine us to the realm of mere imagination? What about dystopias? How are imagined dystopias informed by the tradition begun by More? Are they a straightforward antithesis of the utopian impulse, or could it be that dystopia is somehow a product of utopianism? Finally, what is the place of Utopia and utopias in historical change? Can we identify historical or modern social, economic or ecological experiments that display some utopian vision? In short, how has utopia been used as a tool to think with and how have people translated that thought into action.

We invite proposals on a range of topics that address More’s Utopia, its context, reception and influence, but also those that more broadly address the idea of utopias and utopianism in other political, philosophical, literary, social and historical contexts. We hope this conference will bring together a range of scholars working on Utopia and utopias from diverse disciplinary perspectives.

Dr. Anne Prescott, Emerita Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English at Barnard College, will deliver a keynote address.

St. Thomas More College is a Catholic liberal arts college that is federated with the University of Saskatchewan. The College’s Shannon Library holds one of six extant copies of the 1518 second edition of More’s Utopia. Together with the Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Program and the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan, St. Thomas More College invites proposals for individual papers or complete panels that address the conference theme. Applications for funding to cover travel costs will be made available to those whose papers are accepted. Please send proposed titles and abstracts (no longer than 300 words) by email to by 15 February 2016.

View poster here.

One CMRS Student’s Study Abroad Experience

CMRS student Kathryn Bloski spent last year as a visiting student at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and we asked her to tell us about her experience.

My Year Abroad
Kathryn Bloski

Kathryn and classmates

Kathryn and classmates

It has now been a year since I left to begin the adventure of a lifetime as a visiting student at St. Anne’s College at Oxford University in England. Although I am now back home, my year there will no doubt have lasting memories and experiences that I hope to never forget. As a third year CMRS student at the University of Saskatchewan, I saw the opportunity to apply to Oxford as a way to get closer to the rich sources of history through Oxford’s prestigious Museums, world renowned libraries, and distinct tutorial system, and I was not disappointed. My time there was filled with the most rigorous work I have ever done, but I loved every minute of it. I took tutorials on Cicero and Catiline, Ancient Greek and Roman coinage, Latin, and Ancient Roman religion. But these were no ordinary classes. Oxford is based on a tutorial system. I would write one 1,500 word essay each week, and when the mad rush to finish it was over I would have an hour long meeting with my personal tutor to get grilled about the subject on which I wrote. It sounds stressful, and believe me it was, but I have some of the best memories just thinking about walking in to the Dumbledore-like offices of my tutors—some of the top minds in their area of study—and having thought provoking discussion that truly made me think like a historian. For my Greek and Roman coinage tutorials I even had the privilege of having each tutorial in the Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean Museum. With every topic we studied, we were able to hold and analyze the ancient coins from a vault inside the Museum, and I had many ‘pinch me’ moments, especially when holding one of the rarest coins, made from a melted down gold statue of Nike.  I took my love for the class further by volunteering in the Coin Room, working with a brand new technology that was able to document and photograph coins in order to put them into a brand new database, a definite once in a life time opportunity.

Kathryn suiting up for Oxford

Kathryn suiting up for Oxford

When I wasn’t in the breathtaking libraries of Oxford, walking down the cobblestone streets, or at the Ashmolean Museum, I was playing soccer, or as the British call it, football.  While there I was lucky enough to make the University’s Women’s football team as a starting defender.  Playing football in England is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The team bonding allowed me to make some amazing friends that I will truly miss, and the team spirit allowed me to experience the deep seated, but thrilling Oxford rivalry with Cambridge. I also took it upon myself to attend one of Oxford’s many formal black tie events, at the St. Hugh’s ball, where I attempted to fit into the lifestyle of the ‘posh’ English population. Another incredible experience! The guys came dressed in black tie suits, while the girls dressed in their nicest gowns and danced the night away, with other surprising options of bumper cars, cotton candy, carnival swings and a silent disco! Needless to say, my year was jam-packed with amazing days, nights, friends, and memories that I will never forget! I can definitely say that I came home an improved student with a new love for what I am studying, and a great appreciation for the places that CMRS has taken me.

See here for more information on this and other study abroad opportunities at the University of Saskatchewan.