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Conference Recap: (De)Constructing Masculinity at King’s College London

Words by Grace Emmett; photos by Tavis Bohlinger

(De)Constructing Masculinity, a conference exploring ancient constructions of masculinity through interdisciplinary conversations between the disciplines of Classics and Theology, took place at King’s College London at the beginning of November. In conjunction with my co-organiser, Hannah Burke-Tomlinson, it was an enormous privilege to welcome students and scholars from across the UK and further afield to join us for this unique conference.

This was the first time this conference took place and we hope to organise a similar event next year. We were grateful to receive funding from the London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP) and Logos, which made the event possible.

A participant takes notes during one of the many engaging papers.

Initially intended as a conference for postgraduate students, interest in the topic was such that we opened it up more widely and were pleased that the final programme consisted of a fairly even mixture of PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics. In addition to the interdisciplinary nature of the conference, it was encouraging to see that it also became a place for individuals at different stages of their career to meet and share ideas.

Andrew Blunt presents a paper on “The Christological Transposition of Greco-Roman Masculinity: Strategies of Masculinisation in the Face of Suffering in 1 Peter.”

Day one featured thirteen short papers presented on topics ranging from gender-ambiguity in Sappho’s poetic fragments through to problematic sexual violence in the Babylonian Talmud. Panels were grouped around various themes to find common ground between the different disciples represented, including the perception of the male body, negotiated masculine identities, ambiguous gender performance, and the presentation of threats to masculinity by women.

Dr. Elina Pyy (University of Helsinki) is introduced before her paper on “Heroic Vulnerability in Flavian War Epic.”

Day two offered twelve short paper presentations, taking in texts such as the Homeric epics, 1 Peter, and Philonic literature. This was followed by the keynote address, given by Helen King, who is Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at The Open University. She gave an inspiring presentation that neatly wove the two major disciplines represented at the conference together, rounding off the two days’ worth of papers in a suitably interdisciplinary fashion.

Professor Emerita Helen King (The Open University) delivers the keynote address, “‘We Won’t Play Culture to Your Nature’: Turning the Tables on Gender.”

The conference was followed by a wine reception, which provided an opportunity to unwind after a busy schedule, and about a third of the attendees then proceeded to the local Bill’s restaurant on Kingsway for dinner. This additional social time created space for people to relax and have more informal conversations, hopefully establishing networks that will be beneficial in the months and years to come.

Attendees mingle at the wine reception closing out the conference.
Elaine Sanderson (University of Liverpool) presents a paper on “Hypermasculinity and Paradox in Seneca’s Thyestes.”

As PhD students organising our first event, this felt like a big undertaking in the midst of our doctoral studies. However, we were delighted by the interest it garnered and, despite the stress that inevitably comes with conference organising, we felt the event went well and were touched to receive lots of positive feedback, confirming that it had been well received by those attending. If you wish to see the entire conference program, you can access it here.

We intend to publish a volume inspired by the conference, featuring some of the papers presented alongside contributions from those who could not be there; for updates on our publishing plans, follow us on Twitter (@masculinityconf) or check our website (www.deconstructingmasculinity2018.co.uk) for the latest information.

If you are interested in contributing to a published volume on the topic of masculinity in the ancient world, please send us an email (deconstructingmasculinity2018@outlook.com) and we will send you further details.

Here are some more photos from the conference:

Grace Emmett (King’s College London), one of the organizers, introduces Helen King prior to her keynote address.
Dr John Moxon (University of Roehampton) in discussion with another presenter. John gave a paper on Day One entitled, “‘Jewish Women as Killers and Bearers of Martyrs: A Discourse of Female Courage in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.”
Katharine Mawford (University of Manchester) answers questions after her presentation, ”’πρόσθεν οὐκ ἀνὴρ ὅδ ̓ ἦν;’ Ajax’s Madness and Excessive Masculinity,” while Professor Joan Taylor (King’s College London) moderates.
Nathan Shedd (St Mary’s University, Twickenham) engages a colleague at the wine reception. He chaired a session on “Negotiating Masculine Identites” on Day One.
Joan Taylor and another attendee enjoying the wine reception.
The beautiful chapel at King’s College London.
Helen King answers questions after her keynote address.
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