Presidential Letter - Annual Meeting Location (Pt. 1)

In my first presidential letter, right after the annual meeting last January, I wrote about the need to consider not only where we meet, but at what time of year. This letter addresses the first question; I will write separately about the other one.

When I wrote my previous letter, we had already signed contracts for meetings through 2024, and since then we have signed another for 2025; the details are here. So, no immediate change is possible, but we still must move quickly since we have to make decisions that far in advance in order to get the venues we want, when we want them, and at an affordable price. It will soon be time to sign a contract for 2026, no matter where, or on what specific days we want to meet.

With that in mind, I wish I could say there are no other constraints, but in reality there are some powerful ones. Apologies to those who already know all of this, but from talking to quite a few members over recent months, I’ve got the impression that explaining the basic issues might be beneficial.

The first point is very simple, but very important:

SCS members and AIA members agree that they want SCS and AIA to continue holding a Joint Annual Meeting.

I know this seems so obvious that I shouldn’t have to mention it, or spell out the equally obvious corollary that an SCS-only meeting would be just half the size of what we’re used to. Size is crucially important because a meeting of 2,000 is just too big for most cities, but not quite big enough for some others. By and large, the fourteen cities we have visited over the past twenty-three years define the universe of possibilities. Some we’ve visited more than once (Chicago 1997, 2008, 2014; Philadelphia 2002, 2009, 2012; San Diego 1995, 2001, 2007; Boston 2005, 2018; New Orleans 2003, 2015; San Francisco 2004, 2016), others not (Anaheim 2010; Dallas 1999; Montreal  2006; New York 1996; Seattle 2013; San Antonio 2011; Toronto 2017; Washington 1998). What they all have in common are facilities adequate to handle a meeting our size, plus good service by air and rail carriers. Most also offer meeting venues close to a vibrant downtown area affording excellent dining, cultural, and other off-hours attractions.

People often ask about other cities that seem like good prospects, but that do not compare well to those on this list. Atlanta and Orlando are warm-weather cities that have the facilities we require; one is a major air travel hub, and the other is not hard to get to. The main reason we haven’t gone to either place is that members, when polled about annual meeting venues, have not ranked them very high. Maybe in light of recent experiences that will change; and in any case, what we say we want to do and what we actually do are sometimes very different things (see further below). People also ask about cities they especially like, but that could never accommodate a meeting the size of ours. Take Santa Barbara, a city where I once lived and now visit as often as I can; but getting 2,000 of us into town within 24 to 36 hours, and then out again within 12 to 18, would be physically impossible; and even if we did get in, I can’t imagine where we would sleep, or meet, or eat, and what it would all cost.

Another complication is that some states have passed laws that discriminate against some of our members. The main category of such laws targets the LGBT community. There are eight states that have passed such laws, but Texas is the only one  which has cities capable of hosting our annual meeting. For ethical reasons, we will not be going back there while these laws are on the books. In practical terms, it is also the case that employees of the state of California — including those affiliated with public universities — cannot get reimbursed for their travel to those states. In these cases, ethics and practical considerations align, but it is worth remembering that factors outside our control can play a role in where we can hold the meeting.

I’m always glad when people ask me about such things, because I’m grateful for the opportunity to explain — even though I wish this weren’t the case — that there really are only a few places that can accommodate our meeting. In fact, it was the experience of fielding such questions that gave me the idea of writing this letter.

What else goes into selecting a site? By custom, we try to mix it up by moving from East to Midwest to West from year to year, including Canada in the rotation about once every ten years. Apart from that, it’s basically a matter of getting the best deal on rooms and meeting space for our attendees. (Here it’s worth remembering that we could certainly get better rates if we were smaller and could go to different cities. But we are in a bracket that puts us in competition with the corporate sector for the facilities that we need. That is another factor that will come up in my next letter about where we meet, because we can do better if we meet when the corporate world is less interested in doing so. But I’ll save that for later.)

Finally, there is the matter of actual attendance. Here are the paid registration figures, from best to worst, for 1998–2018:

2012 Philadelphia 2,833
2008 Chicago 2,566
2014 Chicago 2,477
2016 San Francisco 2,476
2005 Boston 2,471
2009 Philadelphia 2,464
2015 New Orleans 2,408
2007 San Diego 2,271
1998 Washington 2,264
2017 Toronto 2,188
2013 Seattle 2,159
2018 Boston 2,094
2004 San Francisco 2,094
2006 Montreal 2,049
2002 Philadelphia 2,031
2011 San Antonio 1,974
2003 New Orleans 1,945
2010 Anaheim 1,905
2001 San Diego 1,882
1999 Dallas 1,407
Twenty Year Average 2,198

Now, SCS is in the business of breaking even, not making money. So, too, with the annual meeting our goal is not to lose money. The break-even point is a total paid registration somewhere between about 2,000 and 2,200. (The actual break-even point fluctuates because some cities are just more expensive than others.) As the chart shows, we have usually been within or very near that range. When we’ve been over it, that has meant a good year for the Society in financial terms; but when we’re below it, it has meant a very difficult year. So, we do have to hold the meeting in places that will attract members.

A complication: It turns out, as I mentioned above, that there is some tension between where we say we want to go and where we actually show up. San Diego, where we will be meeting next January, always polls well, but our last two meetings there drew an average of just over 2,000 — on target for breaking even, but offering no cushion in case of an off year. Chicago, on the other hand, a name that sets people to grumbling — understandably after 2014 — has averaged over 2,300 attendees, a number that gives us some flexibility regarding sites we choose in other years. But also, quite apart from financial viability, my (admittedly subjective) experience has always been that a well-attended meeting is a more successful one from every point of view: there are more people going to paper sessions and participating in discussions, meeting old friends, making new ones, and so forth. So, to state the obvious once again, it’s going to continue to be important to meet in cities that will attract attendees, and there just aren’t that many of those.

I’ll close on that note and give you some time to digest this before I write about the related, and more difficult problem of whether we should meet at a different time of year.

- Joe Farrell

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Recently, the SCS has focused attention on the importance on the variety of career paths pursued by those earning a Classics PhD. The Society has held a Career Networking event in 2018 and 2019 at its annual meeting, and will publish this summer a graduate student of edition of "Careers for Classicists", which will provide advice about seeking jobs inside and outside the academy. In recognition of the variety of types of employment open to Classics PhDs and in response to a request by an ad hoc group on graduate student issues, a precursor to the current Graduate Student Committee, the Career Planning and Development Committee has developed the following statement on the importance and value of many different careers. This statement has been endorsed by the SCS Board of Directors.   

Statement on Career Paths for those earning the PhD in Classical Studies

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Tue, 06/25/2019 - 9:20am by Erik Shell.

The Society for Classical Studies is proud to announce an upgrade to our Precollegiate Membership category.

In addition to enjoying all their current benefits, Precollegiate members will now enjoy full member benefits. These benefits include voting in SCS elections, serving on SCS boards and committees, and the opportunity to submit abstracts for the AIA/SCS annual meeting.

The annual dues for this membership will be $38 as of September 2019. Membership can be completed by joining online at scs.press.jhu.edu/membership.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 06/25/2019 - 9:01am by Erik Shell.

The twenty-second biennial New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies will take place 12–14 March 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. The program committee invites 250-word abstracts of proposed twenty-minute papers on topics in European and Mediterranean history, literature, art, music and religion from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries. Interdisciplinary work is particularly appropriate to the conference’s broad historical and disciplinary scope. Planned sessions are also welcome. The deadline for all abstracts is 15 September 2019; please see the submission guidelines on the conference website.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/24/2019 - 10:02am by Erik Shell.

The Presence of Plotinus: The Self, Contemplation, and Spiritual Exercise in the Enneads

Poznań, Poland, 9th-10th June 2020

An international conference organized by the Scientific Committee on Ancient Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences
and
the Department of Classical Studies of  Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

Invited speakers:

Sara Ahbel-Rappe (University of Michigan)

John Bussanich (University of New Mexico)

Martin Laird (Villanova University)

Christian Tornau (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg)

The subject

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 9:21am by Erik Shell.

(Written by David T. West)

Grace Starry West (1946-2019)

Grace Starry West, 72, died of complications from lung cancer on Sunday, May 19 at her home. She was a member of the SCS since 1973, Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee in 1999, and trustee of the Vergilian Society from 1986-1989. Her name will be especially familiar to Vergilians on account of her groundbreaking UCLA dissertation on “Women in Vergil’s Aeneid” (1975), and to students and colleagues from the University of Dallas, where she helped Classics grow into an outstanding program with three tenured faculty members and a steady flow of majors. As John F. Miller, Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia, recently observed: “Her work on Virgilian women was pioneering; her leadership at Dallas admirable.”

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 9:12am by Erik Shell.

'Addressing the Divide' is a new series of columns that looks at the ways in which the modern field of Classics was constructed and then explores ways to identify, modify, or simply abolish the lines between fields in order to embrace broader ideas of what Classics was, is, and could be. This month, we look at the divide between classical archaeology and philology by speaking with archaeologists Sheira Cohen, Eric Kansa, Kristina Killgrove, James Newhard, and Alison Rittershaus

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 7:55am by Sarah E. Bond.

The American Academy in Berlin invites applications for its residential fellowships for the academic year 2020/21.

The Academy seeks to enrich transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy through the development and communication of projects of the highest scholarly merit. Past recipients include anthropologists, art historians, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, musicologists, journalists, writers of fiction and nonfiction, filmmakers, sociologists, legal scholars, economists, and public policy experts.

Approximately twenty Berlin Prizes are conferred annually. Fellowships are typically awarded for an academic semester, but shorter stays of six to eight weeks are also possible. Benefits include round-trip airfare, partial board, a $5,000 monthly stipend, and accommodations at the Academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center, in the Wannsee district of Berlin. 

For 2020/21, the Academy will also award three specially designated fellowships: two Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities, for work that demonstrates an interest in the topics of migration and social integration, race in comparative perspective, or exile and return. In addition, in memory of its founder, the Academy will name a Richard C. Holbrooke Fellow for a project that looks at diplomatic approaches to resolving major global issues, from armed conflicts to environmental challenges to the impact of new technologies.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to Davina C. Lopez (Eckerd College) and Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech) for their 2019 ACLS Development Grants!

You can read the full list of 2019 recipients on the ACLS website.

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(Photo: "library" by Viva Vivanista, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:21am by Erik Shell.
The Sphinx of Naxos. Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Picture by Yoandy Cabrera

This month, we spotlight the graduate research of Dr. Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, who recently defended his dissertation on the portrayal of human emotions in ancient Greek myths and in modern literature from Spain and Latin America. 

My dissertation was an interdisciplinary one, intertwining different approaches and fields such as classical reception, queer studies, affect theory, and Hispanic studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:46am by Yoandy Cabrera Ortega.

Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/07/2019 - 6:48am by William M. Short.

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