History, Identity and Independence: Children’s Time-travel to Roman Britain
British writing has often pondered the question of which areas of history have had the most impact on modern national identity and over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries a dialogue about the influences of the Romans and the Celts developed which then spilled over into modern fiction. By looking at some examples of the way that “natives” and Romans are compared and contrasted in children’s literature this paper hopes to open up ideas about the way that specific qualities and ideals are both associated with specific peoples and are also brought together as exemplars for the modern Briton. I am particularly interested in how authors negotiate and marry the issues of “conquest vs. independence” with a desire to inherit both the Roman influenced intellectual developments of democracy and philosophy and the ideals of creativity and pastoral innocence allegedly embodied in the Celts. By looking at examples that focus on modern children travelling through time this paper aims to investigate how authors have called their reader’s attention to similarities and differences between ancient and contemporary societies and the way that the cultures are evoked within the novels. In this way I hope to demonstrate that Roman Britain was not only a key part of our conception of the major parts of British history but also a useful tool for discussing ideas about Empire and ‘multi-culturalism’.
I want to open this blog with some belated thoughts about key ideas and interesting facts that I took away from the Classical Association Conference this year.
Rejecting the Classics – I really liked the concept of this panel. It is well worth acknowledging that the places where we don’t use classics or aim to subvert them can tell scholars a lot about our preconceptions of what they represent. Where we draw boundaries between disciplines and topics is in itself significant as is whether we have a concept of doing the Classics the right way.
Ovid meets Titian – I didn’t really follow the cultural olympiad last year but I now need to go out and take more of a look at how contemporary poets have addressed Metamorphoses using Titian as a visual clue. The idea of a specific and explicit interaction between ancient, intermediate and modern interests me (it reminds me of how so many people only access texts through translation).
Roueché & Digital Classics – A big hit at the conference and a key area of growth. It was really good to listen to someone inspirational on the topic of collaboration and getting involved. There are so many fascinating projects that help make classics more accessible and allow us to interpret information in new ways – it makes me even more determined to learn some more technical skills.
Tony Keen – I was enthused by Keen’s discussion of Nesbit’s Amulet and its depiction of Roman Britain. Its going to help my paper later this year. I was particularly interested in the role of Nesbit in the development of children’s lit and the difference between active involvement in the past and passive reception of it.
Lisa Maurice – This paper also had some really interesting points to make for my upcoming paper, notably on the temporal distribution of books relating to Roman Britain and the possible connection of the topics in the National Curriculum to eras commonly travelled to in time-travel literature.
Other Children’s Lit – There was a notable focus on Caroline Lawrence’s work (I think its got to the point where I really have to go and read some) but there were also a few insightful thoughts about how educational aims are represented and the ways tales from Homer were tailored for post-war Germany.
Goff on the WEA – it is always good to see projects that look at grassroots interest in the Classics. This was both unexpected and interesting.
Heather Ellis – Easily the most exciting paper of the conference for me. Dr Ellis was examining the way that the British Academy talked about and utilised Classical material, imagery and learning in their development of a scientific community. This has clear links to my thesis – the way that social groups and men-of-learning constructed identity by using the Classics even where such cross-over was a stretch of the imagination fits with the way antiquarians in Cornwall made use of multiple types of evidence and helps explain why they were so keen on Classical texts.
And because its just one of those things, I am sad I missed: Sommerstein on Translation, the papers about the Ure Museum, Robin Osborne’s address and the panel on Digital Classics.