Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)

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Conference-branded fan – a very useful freebie in a Japanese summer!

I’ve just gotten back to Cambridge from a trip to Nagoya, Japan, to attend a conference hosted by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – a group of researchers interested in studying writing in a huge range of different languages and scripts. The conference’s theme – ‘Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)’ – was what initially attracted me: as a classicist working on three-thousand-year-old writing system, I figured I could fit in with the ‘past’ part of the theme, and it would be an interesting opportunity to hear from researchers studying different (and more modern!) writing systems. (Not to mention an opportunity to visit Japan for the first time!)

As it turned out, the range of topics in the presentations was even wider than I’d expected – not only did languages and writing systems under discussion range from the origins of writing in ancient Mesopotamia to the contemporary Japanese use of emoji (by way of Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, early modern English, Catalan, minority languages in West Africa and Malaysia, and plenty more), but as well as linguists many of the presenters were psychologists working on the cognitive processes involved in reading and writing, which gave me a really fascinating new perspective – for obvious reasons experimental pscyhology doesn’t really come into classical linguistics much!

The ‘past’ part of the conference theme ended up being represented pretty strongly by Cambridge – I was talking about historical developments in the Linear B writing system and how these can be better understood by looking at contemporary variations in spelling, and my colleagues Rob and Natalia from the CREWS Project were talking about how the ancient Semitic language Punic represented vowels in writing and typologies of different types of writing system around the ancient Mediterranean, respectively (they’ll probably be writing their own blog post about the conference sometime soon!) It was the first time any of us had attended an AWLL conference but I think I can say for all of us that we’re already very much looking forward to the next one!

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Downtown Nagoya

If you’re interested in the work of the AWLL, there’s information about joining the association and/or signing up for their newsletter on the website, or you can follow them on Facebook.

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Santorini, the volcanic island

As promised in my last post about the conference I recently attended on Crete, here’s one about the short holiday I took en route back to the UK – a couple of days on the island of Santorini (aka Thera), the largest of several islands formed around and inside a caldera (crater) left by a series of volcanic eruptions. The first thing to say: even before getting off the ferry, the views of the steep cliffs forming the side of the caldera are stunning, and they only get better once you’re at the top:

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View from Skaros headland towards Fira (the main town of Santorini)

Continue reading “Santorini, the volcanic island”

International Congress of Cretan Studies

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ICCS poster at the new Heraklion Cultural and Conference Centre

I’ve just returned from a trip to Greece to attend the 12th International Congress of Cretan Studies. The ICCS takes place every 5 years in different locations around Crete – this time, it was in the capital, Heraklion, which I’ve visited a couple of times before. It’s a huge conference – several days of two or three simultaneous sessions going on at once, and that was just the Prehistoric/Classical stream I was attending (there are also streams on Byzantine/medieval and post-medieval Crete). This year’s theme was ‘mobility’, and within that was an extraordinary large range of papers relating to the movement of people (migration, travel, changing settlement patterns), goods (trade and exchange), or ideas (practices, ideologies, beliefs). Continue reading “International Congress of Cretan Studies”

Travels in Crete

As the Cambridge winter starts drawing in, the natural response (at least as far as I’m concerned) is to start daydreaming about warm sunny places in the Mediterranean. Fortunately, one of the advantages of Classics is that it provides the perfect excuse to go to said warm sunny places and sit on a beach eating ice-cream benefit from the informative and educational experience of visiting Classical sites and museums. New graduate students may like to know that you can apply for Faculty funding not just for research trips (conferences, library/museum visits, etc) but also for travel to ‘Classical lands’ (i.e., pretty much anywhere the Greeks and/or Romans got to) that’s not directly connected with your research, especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit said Classical lands before (information and application forms are on the Classics Graduate Moodle, accessible by current students only via Raven).

In the tradition of Res Gerendae travel tips for students visiting Classical (or not-so-Classical) places, I offer a few  recommendations from my recent trip to Heraklion, Crete, to study some Linear B tablets in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Continue reading “Travels in Crete”

A Classicist in Madrid

I recently had a flying visit to Madrid: two days’ conference, one day’s sightseeing, far more Spanish food than was reasonable given the length of my stay (top food tip: the Mercado de San Miguel, an entire market of stalls selling every possible kind of tapas…). However, as is traditional for RG travel repoCasa de la Panaderiarters, I selflessly devoted much of my free time to tracking down Classics-related features of the city for the benefit of our readers. First up: an iconographic tour of the city centre, starting with the Plaza Mayor, home to the Casa de la Panadería (‘House of the Bakery’, though it’s now a town hall). This was built in the 17th century, but in the 1990s the front was redecorated with a new series of frescos depicting figures from classical mythology:

Continue reading “A Classicist in Madrid”

A Visit to Athens

P1020243 - CopyJust before Christmas I was lucky enough to go on a research trip to Greece, where I spent a happy couple of weeks in various museum workrooms. Naturally I also managed to get in some sightseeing around Athens (helped by the fact that Greek museums are only open for work until 3pm), so I thought I would share a few tips of things to do/see for any RG readers who may be visiting in future.

Obviously, the first four things to visit in Athens are the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, the Agora, and the National Archaeological Museum, but I’m pretty sure most readers of this blog would already be heading for those as soon as the plane touched down. So, assuming you’ve already been in Athens a couple of days and have seen all of those, here are my top suggestions of what to do next:
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ORBIS: Google Maps for the Roman Empire

I’m sure many of you have often felt frustrated at the inability of Google Maps to accurately represent journey times within the ancient Roman Empire. Happily, a new online resource has been created for just such a purpose.

ORBIS, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, will calculate the fastest, shortest, or cheapest route between any two major cities across the empire, based on a range of factors such as time of year, whether you are a member of the military or merely a civilian, and your chosen mode(s) of transport (options range from “rapid military march” to “horse relay” by way of “ox cart”, “fully loaded mule”, “private travel (routine, vehicular)” and a host of others. It even tells you the price (in denarii) per kilogram of wheat transported via your chosen route. Continue reading “ORBIS: Google Maps for the Roman Empire”