Sunday, 17 November 2013

What is AKS? Defining a discipline

The acronym AKS describes something that does not really exist in many other places in the world. A freestanding academic discipline dedicated to the study of Ancient cultures and society, a.k.a. classical archaeology and ancient history – without Classics that are placed in different Department within Humanities at Stockholm and other Swedish Universities. Every four or a couple of years, the members of staff, PhD students and researchers come together to a conference that was held this year at Gothenburg.

For a new postdoctoral researcher coming from abroad this two-day conference gave a crash course of the content and breadth of the discipline, current research, challenges and achievements. It gave a possibility to meet the coming director of the Swedish Institute and see all the professors – all female – in one place at the same time. For myself the most important thing was to hear want the other researchers, including the PhD students, are studying.

The packed programme was criticized in beforehand, but for my purposes, i.e. presenting myself and learning the basics of the discipline in its Swedish incarnation, this intensity was a plus. Many of the questions discussed during the second day, including the content of the doctoral taught component, where such that I did not and could not have anything else than a preliminary opinion, so two days of discussions of streamlining of the researcher courses would have just taken time from my own work.

A more relaxed moment at Makrakomi (photo: Swedish Institute at Athens)

The PhD students and researchers presented topics that emphasised mainly the archaeological and art historical aspects of the research. Landscape archaeology and spatial questions got a prominent presentation in the talks of Axel Frejman (Uppsala) and Anton Bonnier (Gothenburg), basing on two important Swedish research projects at Labraunda and Makrakomi respectively. More topographical topics were presented in the talks of Patrik Klingborg (Uppsala), Fanny Kärfve (Lund) and Robin Lönnlund (Gothenburg), speaking about the Greek cisterns, the entrance mosaics and the function of Pompeian domus and symbolism of Greek akropoleis respectively. The more art historical themes were discussed in the presentations of Linnea Åshede (Gothenburg) and Julia Habetzeder (Stockholm). The former PhD student studies the hermaphrodites in [Roman] classical art whereas the latter postdoc tries to develop an intertextual way of studying Roman ideal sculptures. I myself presented my current work on the pre-Roman inscriptions in central Italy and Sujatha Chandrasekaran (Gothenburg) discussed her research in the eastern Black Sea region. We were the guest researchers of the conference and the only ones who gave their presentations in English.

The discipline tries to feed discussions through thematical networks and groups, although some have been more successful than others. It is clear that the gender studies, Greek religion and Roman studies have enough active researchers, many in the nearby universities, so co-operation is possible especially in the Uppsala-Stockholm and Gothenburg-Lund axis. Let’s see, if any of the new announced ones will be alive in two years time in Lund, when the discipline comes together the next time. Then the focus will be on the research presentations.

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