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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Four fragments of pottery with different marks on each. Beneath each photo of a pottery sherd is a drawing of that sherd. From left to right, the sherds are labeled Geometric Mark, Complex Mark, Script Sign, and Multi-sign.

Today we take our saturation in a graphic world for granted. When we see baseball caps with logos or nonsense writing on graphic t-shirts, we don’t immediately recognize them as evidence for writing. But in the case of the Late Bronze Age script of Cyprus (ca. 1600–1000 BCE), the undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script, we have more baseball caps and t-shirts than longer texts. Multi-sign texts with two or more contiguous signs, likely to represent words, number around 250. Most of these multi-sign texts are quite short, consisting of only one or two words.

The baseball caps in this analogy most often take the form of what are called Cypro-Minoan “potmarks,” mercantile vessels bearing single-sign texts. The potmarks contain both Cypro-Minoan script and non-script marks without equivalents in the Cypro-Minoan script. The single-sign text potmarks number over 1000. Like a Yankees cap or a graphic tee, the potmarks employ recognizable and non-recognizable elements of writing. But should they be taken as evidence for literacy?

This is the question at the heart of my dissertation. If the single-sign text potmarks were made by literate individuals, then Cypro-Minoan is not a meagerly attested script, but a mercantile script in wide use within Cyprus and, less widely, outside of it. Significantly, it would be one of the few scripts in the region that survive the Late Bronze Age collapse, and the only one that would be well-documented during this transitional period.

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Call for Papers: AMPRAW (Annual Meeting for Postgraduates in the Reception of the Ancient World)

AMPRAW is an annual conference that is designed to bring together early-career researchers in the field of classical reception studies, and will be held for the tenth year. It aims to contribute to the growth of an international network of PhDs working on classical reception(s), as well as to strengthen relationships between early career researchers and established academics.

AMPRAW 2022 will be held at Yale University from Thursday 3rd November to Saturday 5th November 2022, with the generous support of the Department of Classics at Yale University, the ARCHAIA program, and the Whitney Humanities Centre.

We anticipate holding this conference in a hybrid format. We hope that participants will be able to join us in person in New Haven, but will also allow remote access for both speakers and audience members.

This year’s theme is “Islands”. Possible topics may include, but need not be limited to, the following:

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Classical Studies and the Americas

CIUDAD DE MÉXICO 1-5 / AGOSTO / 2022

The upcoming triannual Congress of FIEC will be a virtual conference, hosted in Mexico City.

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The FIEC International Congress for Classical Studies returns to this side of the Atlantic Ocean searching to arouse a plurality of voices. 

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A dinner spread atop a mosaic-printed tablecloth. Two small glasses of red wine, a round bread loaf sliced into eighths, a terracotta bowl of green olives, and a bowl of pesto with a wooden spoon.

In the latest issue of the CADW magazine, the organ of Wales’ official heritage body, the discussion of the Roman fort at Caerleon was accompanied by a graphic designed for children on the subject of Roman dining. With a Horrible Histories-type tone, the cartoon features a boy asking his mother if his friend can stay for dinner. “I thought we’d go Italian,” says his mother, but it’s not the demanded “Pasta? Pizza? ICE CREAM?”; rather, “Rich Romans had things like…Parrot heads or…dormice…and … sea urchins maybe” (to which the boy says “I feel sick”). But the “lush” counteroffer of fast food “meat patties in bread” — “Roman burgers” — is quickly scotched by the obligatory “fermented fish gut sauce”: the dog says, “Not even I’m eating that!” The closing reference to garum here, seen as undeniably negative, underscores the complex nature of our response to research on ancient foodways; one wonders what would happen if Worcestershire sauce, as standard in Welsh rarebit, were revealed to readers as similarly derived from fermented fish.

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34th Biennial Conference of the Classical Association of South Africa

Order and Chaos

22 - 25 November 2023

University of Cape Town

FIRST CALL FOR PAPERS

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The University of Turin and the De Wulf-Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Philosophy (Leuven) are glad to invite you to the conference "Providence and free will from the post-Hellenistic age to the Middle ages" that will take place in Turin on June 8th-10th
 
The conference will be held in person, but a connection will be made available for those who wish to attend online. To register, please write to filosofia.antica.to@gmail.com by Monday 6th
 
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A stone sculpture of Sabina's head from the front. She has a subtle smile and wears a fillet on her hair, which is styled into an updo.

The portraits of Sabina represent a shift in the representation of imperial women in the Roman Empire. Sabina is the first empress to appear as the obverse portrait of a continuous coin production at Rome and the first woman to appear on all of the main denominations at the central mint. Her portraiture is also more varied than that of any previous empress. She is represented on imperial coinage with five different portrait types—i.e., modes of representation—most easily distinguished by hairstyle, all of which are depicted below. This is matched by an increased presence of Sabina’s portraits in provincial coinage and sculpture. This greater visual prominence for the Empress set a new standard that was followed by subsequent administrations, making the portraits of Sabina an integral corpus in the history of Roman imperial portraiture.

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We are organizing an international e-conference entitled “Archaeology of Izmir-Smyrna” that will take place on November 17-18, 2022 on Zoom.us. We warmly invite contributions by scholars and graduate students from a variety of disciplines of ancient studies related to these objects. The video conference is free of charge. We would be delighted, if you could consider contributing to our e-conference and contact us with the required information before September 9, 2022. Our e-mail address is: alevcetingoz@gmail.com

We kindly request that you alert any persons within your research community who would be interested in participating at this e-conference, either by forwarding our e-mail through Academia, Researchgate, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other similar social media, or by printing this circular or poster and displaying it in your institution. We hope that you will be able to join us on Zoom, and look forward to seeing you in May 2022!

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A pink flyer titled "A Conversation with Luis Alfaro." Shows a hand holding up an illustration of a theater, with images of theater lights behind it.

I first met Luis Alfaro at the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies, where he delivered a deeply moving keynote address in which he discussed his adaptations of Greek tragedies and how his plays have brought reimagined ancient stories to new audiences, to provoke social change. This profoundly important event was made possible by a partnership with my former employer, the Onassis Foundation USA, the Classics and Social Justice affiliated group, and the SCS. As many of us will recall, this conference was also marred by the ugliness of racism, which reared its awful head amid an already tense, ongoing conversation about the state and future of our field that has since spilled into the wider public discourse, perhaps for the worse. But there is hope, and I sincerely believe that Alfaro’s work can be one of those mechanisms of change, if only our field would embrace it.

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