Anyone done any work on Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown project?

It seems that there was some commentary in Syllecta Classica (which is on my To Be Read pile) but I know very little about Reception in music so I’m looking for some broad thoughts…

It is a ‘modern folk opera’ based on the Orpheus myth and I heard about it on the Radio; partly because, although it was started a while ago, she is planning a stage show which might eventually come to the UK.

I am hoping to actually sit down and listen soon but I would welcome thoughts from any classicists who’ve heard it or can offer some background on the various Orpheus poems/operas etc already out there.


So.. the development officer at Mills Archive is keen to expand their internet presence by making their blog more active and keeping their social media accounts active.
As such she has asked me to write a few pieces and ideally to do so regularly.

Two thoughts occur to me: 1st – What on earth should I write about & 2nd – will this get me back into the habit of researching and writing regularly albeit in short bursts.

1: Broadly speaking I mostly input the details of books onto a pre-written form and then put the books onto shelves. I enjoy it but there is a limit to how exciting you can make it sound. Similarly, although I have been working on creating a classification system I don’t have any idea whether anyone else is interested in why I think some books should be considered similar to others – though I think at some point I will try and explain it…
This means that I need to come up with something else about the library that interests me and deserves a mention and that means looking at it from the perspective of ‘collections’. Two types of collection seem to be key – books donated by particular Mill experts (especially those that are legacies connected to archival collections) and books focused around particular specialist topics – so my next step is to pick 2 or 3 of these to write about and then do a little research around the topic.

2: For various reasons I have not been able to concentrate on writing for a while and I think my brain is turning to mush. Producing short (c.500-800 word) summaries on some things I know very little about has got to be good for my self-discipline right?
The plan is to combine writing 1 blog post a fortnight with reading 3 academic (peer-reviewed and within my research fields) journal articles and writing notes on them in the same time-period. Hopefully, this will get me back to thinking in a more academic mode and therefore able to write some of my research ideas down in something that looks more like a coherent paper itself…


Inspired by this post by an old secondary school friend (which is co-incidentally sort of about Mills) – I have been thinking a little bit about conceptions of space and how it influences us.

The author of the piece comments in the footnotes that (as a consequence of growing up in Cornwall) “for a long time [I] believed that everywhere could be divided into: Cornwall, Up-Country, North, Scotland. I think Wales somehow came under Cornwall, or perhaps Elsewhere. Anyway, it resulted in a belief that Newcastle and Birmingham were right next to each other, as indeed were Dorset and London, and that everywhere in Scotland was between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The realisation that this was not the case has resulted in an enduring fascination with pyschogeography and perceptions of place, and occasionally, some very dubious travelling decisions.”

Having also grown-up for the most part in Cornwall and, although I had previously given little thought to it being a shared conception, I also grew up with a slightly vague sense of place which consisted of: Cornwall; up-country (everything between Plymouth and London, and Wales); London; The North (everything from London to Glasgow except Edinburgh but probably including most of Ireland); and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow & everything north of Glasgow). I also sort of absent-mindedly believe there is nothing to the west of Cornwall but The Sea (anything but the Atlantic ceases to feel like ‘real sea’) and that going east covers the entire rest of the world.
I have always considered that my sense of geography is simply very poor through lack of knowledge – I would struggle to locate most European cities on a map, am similarly bad at naming any of the old Soviet bloc countries and get considerably worse the further outside the realms of the Roman Empire you ask me to go; indeed my geography of Cornwall itself is somewhat hazy and is based entirely on up, down, and over from my home village (plus anything north of about St. Austell was suspiciously close to up-country). However, seeing a strikingly similar sense of place articulated by someone with a similar (and yet notably different) background has drawn me back to half-formed ideas in my thesis.

As part of of my research I read Katherine Clarke’s “Between Geography and History” and began to think about how time and place are entwined and separated in our writing and in that of the ancient Greeks, at the time I wanted to analyse approaches to ancient writing about Britain without really going into its meaning for more recent historiography but..

  1. How is the concept of place, when it is subjective, centred on one’s own location and judges other places based on their proximity and relevance to that location, echoed in the process of writing local history?  The local historical text is able to outline the development of the place as situated within the flow of people, knowledge and goods to and from it as well as literally describing events from that place’s point of view (in some senses this has more in common with historical writing that privileges individual actors than say process-driven historiography like Marxist writing – how does this affect how we view it?).  Although Cornish writers are often painfully aware of the peripheral status of Cornwall in relation to the political hub of London (or Rome) they are able to re-centralise it within the narrative and are often keen to do so. The idea of this historical imagination ‘mapping’ onto/paralleling the geographies constructed by Cornish peoples suggests a psychological connection as well as the overt political one though perhaps that should be considered a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.
  2. How does this fit into the process of geographical writing and especially travelogues… Most travel narratives (and antiquarian texts especially) that I have read featuring Cornwall describe both the physical features and the historical points of interest (to be fair that was of course why I was reading them) and come from either an outsider on a journey or as a guide for tourists to the county – presumably this is because one does not describe the countryside you see everyday to someone else who sees it everyday – but I have not compared whether the spatial journeys to-and-from have an impact on the way the historical component comes across

Food for thought at any rate..


I mentioned a little while ago that I had started volunteering at an archive so I thought I should say a little more about what I have been up to…

When I first started the team got me started digitising photographs. I worked on a collection related to the Holman Bros., a millwright company in Kent – mainly looking at their agricultural machinery – and on albums from the collection of the late Rex Wailes specifically connected to Essex mills. I learnt quite a lot about distinguishing different types of mills and a little bit about the internal machinery of windmills but it would be fair to say that I am not just not an expert but also that sadly large gear wheels often look very very similar to me and identifying the individual parts by name was very tricky.
I believe that digitising archival content in this way is a vital part of the role of a modern archive – not only does it allow the archivists to keep a more accurate record of what they have (because lets be honest there are still plenty of boxes marked e.g. “letters” or “photographs” without even vague indexes of the contents let alone detailed information – and I’m guessing that’s common particularly in large collections with limited volunteers and cash) but it also means that more material can be made accessible without people having to travel to the archive and/or original material being damaged. However, I have to admit that photos aren’t really where my interest lies – I am a texts kinda girl (even in Classics I often avoid the art history elements in favour of textual analysis).
This project was sort of a holding pattern within the Archive which is currently making the switch over to AToM as part of its accreditation process.. (I am really looking forward to seeing it in action but haven’t yet had the chance)

It is perhaps not surprising then that I have moved on to doing work in the library section of the archive. Mainly I have simply been inputting data from the backlog of books that hadn’t yet made it onto the system- however, I am also trying to help push forward a new cataloguing structure for the library and hopefully also suggest some helpful additions that will make it more user friendly on the internet as well as more searchable.
The problem is pretty much the same as any specialist library in that no standard system exists that goes into sufficient detail to divide the books  that are held and simultaneously many would normally be categorised as though they were completely unrelated. Therefore I have been trying to devise a structure that both connects and differentiates whilst remaining broadly user friendly.
This means that I had to work out was important to the average researcher and consider how to prioritise items at the intersections of different topics. Luckily I have had 2 helpful start-points; primarily 1 of the archive founders wanted the new system to be analogous to her home library in that it would be based around differentiating firstly power sources  and then processes and industries and as a secondary guide I had the existing lists of categories used for keywords and pamphlet collections. It also turns out that many of the archive users are localists who search for information about regions or counties and that my structure would have to make it easy to zoom into location within any topic.

Its undoubtedly been a challenge, and one made worse by some rather crippling anxiety of late, but hopefully soon we will see what happens when when we try putting it into practice.

Thinking about collaboration – Classics & Law

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to justify spending money on conferences… (there have been some family related things recently which mean we are being cautious about cash!)

And it occurred to me that what would make it better is if my partner and I could go together.
She is a law lecturer and – though her specialisms are a long way from mine- some of the most glorious moments of our courtship involved arguments about the meaning and relevance of Sophocles’ Antigone to social reform and protest movements and the place of Roman inheritance law in modern society.

Over the last few years we have seem the decline in interest in the classics within law degrees as increasingly not only have they dropped Latin terms but also they focus on practical skills over ‘history of the legal system’, ‘comparative law’ and ‘law and culture’. There can be little doubt that there is lots for students to get to grips with and ancient legal systems are hardly a priority but it is also difficult to believe that acknowledging the processes of development doesn’t help prepare future lawyers for work in a multi-cultural jurisdiction and that by applying skills learnt in Reception they are better equipped to deal with juror bias…
It would be nice to just present a paper on the importance of classics to the study of law, it would even be nice to consider the role of law the development of heritage management and translations but what about how the study of law itself offers something to classicists?

 Is there something in the way that we analyse the impact of media etc on contemporary law-makers that is of relevance to considering how it might have affected ancient ones? Similarly, we are increasingly looking at the role of economic pressures on writing and interpreting laws – how has that crossed over into classics? Have we compared how The Eumenides & Antigone are taught by classicsts and how they are taught by lawyers?
I don’t know enough about research into ancient law to know how much impact legal anthropology and sociology have had on it but now I’m curious…

Some Bibliography on Roman Britain & Time-Travel

Mostly for my own reference (apologies for the mixed referencing styles):

Primary Sources

  1. E. Nesbit (1906) The Story of the Amulet
  2. S. Cooper (1977) The Silver on the Tree
  3. G. Clews (xxxx) Jessica Jones and the Gates of Penseron
  4. J. Jarman (2001) The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle London: Andersen Press [Also online resource: Julia Jarman ‘The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle’ 17 March 2009 http://www.juliajarman.com/books/booksinbetweens/143-ttcromaneagle.html ]
  5. Haynes, Toby, dir. 2010a. ‘The Pandorica Opens’ [New] Doctor Who 5:12 (212a) UK: BBC One [First broadcast BBC One: 19 June 2010]
  6. Weiland, Paul, dir. 1999. Blackadder: Back and Forth UK: New Millennium Experience Company, Sky, Tiger Aspect Productions [33 mins.]

On Time-Travel

On Classics in fiction & British life

  • Haverfield, Francis. 1912. [2nd ed.] The Romanization of Roman Britain Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Hingley, Richard. 2008.The Recovery of Roman Britain 1586-1906: A Colony So Fertile Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • P. Ayres (1997) Classical Culture and the Idea of Rome in Eighteenth-Century England Cambridge University Press: Cambridge/New York
  • V. Hoselitz (2007)Imagining Roman Britain: Victorian Responses to a Roman Past Royal Historical Press/Boydell Press: Woodbridge
  • S. Stroh (2009) “The long shadow of Tacitus: Classical and modern colonial discourses in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Scottish Highlands,” in Transcultural English Studies: Theories, Fictions, Realities, F. Schulze–Engler & S. Helff. Rodopi: Amsterdam/Atlanta pp. 339-354.
  • Goodman, Penelope. 2010. ‘Doctor Who and the plastic plastic Roman’ Weavings and Unpickings:  http://weavingsandunpickings.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/doctor-who-and-the-plastic-plastic-roman/ 
  • Hobden, Fiona. 2009. ‘History meets fiction in Doctor Who, “The fires of Pompeii”: A BBC reception of ancient Rome on screen and online’Greece and Rome (Second Series) 56.2: 147-163 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0017383509990015
  • Joshel, Sandra et al. 2001 Imperial projections: ancient Rome in modern popular culture Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • S. Piggot (1989) Ancient Britons and the antiquarian imagination: ideas from the Renaissance to the Regency Thames and Hudson: London 
  • S. Smiles (1994) The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination Yale University Press: New Haven CT/London
  • K. Trumpener (1997) Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ

On the individual books/authors

  • Bar-Yosef, Eitan. 2003. ‘E. Nesbit and the Fantasy of Reverse Colonialization: How Many Miles to Modern Babylon?’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 46.1: 5-28
  • Butler, Charles. 2006. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press and Children’s Literature Association
  • Drout Michael D. C. 1997. ‘Reading the Signs of the Light: Anglo Saxonism, Education and Obedience in Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising’ The Lion and the Unicorn 21.2: 230-25
  • Rahn, Suzanne. 1985. ‘News from E. Nesbit: The Story of the Amulet and the Socialist Utopia’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 124-144
  • Rheimer, Mavis. 2006.  ‘The beginning of the End: Writing Empire in E. Nesbit’s Psammead Books’ In E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: A Children’s Classic at 100. Ed. Raymond E. Jones. Lanham, MD, Toronto, and Oxford: Children’s Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, Inc pp. 39-62
  • Smith, Michelle. 2009. ‘E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: Reconfiguring Time, Nation and Gender’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 52.3: 298-311
  • Carroll, Jane S. 2011 Landscape in Children’s Literature New York, NY/Abingdon: Routledge
  • C. Butler & H. O’Donovan (2012) Reading History in Children’s Books Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke
  • V. Krips (2002) The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage, and Childhood in Postwar Britain Taylor and Francis e-publishing