Disseminating research virtually: reflections on online conferences – by Thomas Alexander Husøy.

In this week’s post, Thomas Alexander Husøy reflects upon his experiences of engaging with the wider academic community during lockdown, notably giving conference papers. Thomas is in his second year of PhD study and is supervised by Dr Maria Pretzler. His research interests include the Greek Koinon, ethnogenesis, regionalism, myth and memory, mythography, Greek historians, myth and identity, ancient interstate relations.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, many research seminars and conferences were cancelled or postponed until autumn 2020 or further back to 2021. This spring I was supposed to present four papers, two at postgraduate seminars (in Exeter and Liverpool), one at a postgraduate conference in Exeter, and one at the Classical Association conference in 2020. Sadly, I could only present one of these before the lockdown began; however, initiatives were taken and spread via the Liverpool Classics List for online conferences and seminars and it was not long before I had replaced the three cancelled talks with new ones. In this post, I shall focus on my experiences of giving papers at seminars and conferences online. I have given two out of three papers thus far and look forward to presenting more papers in this format.

The first paper I gave online was for the online conference, Stranger Things: Fantasy in Ancient Historiography and Reception organised by scholars from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. This conference was held on the 20th of April through the medium of Zoom and was originally intended to be a one day conference. Because of the popularity of the theme, this was expanded to be a two-day event. This was a highly successful conference, with speakers from several countries attending – something that might not have been possible had the event run as a traditional conference. My paper was entitled ‘Xenophon, Callisthenes, and Diodorus: The Importance of the Oracular Prophesies and Omens at Leuctra’, which was well-received. The presentation went very well and I enjoyed the feeling of holding it in the comfort of my own home. The organisers are currently working towards publishing the papers from this conference.

The first PowerPoint slide from my Stranger Things talk

The second paper was held in a seminar series organised by the same scholars as the previously mentioned conference as part of an ongoing series called Classical Mondays at the Sun. This paper was presented a week after the conference and was entitled ‘Ambitions and Sacred Wars; The Phocian Ethnos from the Persian Wars to the mid-fifth century’. Unfortunately, this paper was not as successful as the talk from the previous week, due to technological problems. First, the microphone on my laptop refused to work so no one could hear a word I was saying. I managed to get around this by borrowing my partner’s computer. Secondly, the manuscript I had for my talk was on a tablet, which crashed in time for my talk to begin, necessitating me to locate a copy from my computer. Third, my PowerPoint, and I swear this might have been the best PowerPoint presentation I ever made, refused to load on my partner’s computer. Thus, there were many technological problems for the first half of the presentation, which stressed me out severely. Eventually, I managed to get my act together and the final half went much better as I decided to just power through and do my best without my beautiful PowerPoint. The people watching the presentation were understanding of the technological problems and told me afterwards to not worry about it. However, from this, I learned that there should always be a contingency plan in place for situations like this.

I will hold the third talk on the 3rd of June entitled ‘ Thessaly and Phocis: What Xerxes’ invasion can tell us about the Phocian ethnos. I am looking forward to holding this talk and have contingency plans ready in case of another technological nightmare. Holding conferences and seminars through Zoom, Skype, or other similar platforms is an interesting model which allows for more speakers, from more countries who otherwise might not have had the chance to attend the event. Thus, this format is highly useful and I recommend people to take advantage of online events such as this, with the advice that they prepare a contingency plan for technological problems just in case! Since the conference and seminar, I have connected with several of the participants on various social media platforms and believe that these conferences have made it easier to build strong academic networks and share research in unprecedented times like these. I also try to attend the Classical Mondays at the Sun and Herodotus Helpline seminars as much as possible to support this format and I have attended an early career conference on numismatics organised by the University of Warwick through Zoom as well. I strongly hope these online seminars and conferences continue after this crisis is over as I believe the academic community can strongly benefit from a combination of the traditional format and the online concept, making it easier to share research and knowledge to a wider audience.

Me giving a talk through Zoom.