New book echoes conference on classics, media theory

A new edited volume, “Classics and Media Theory,” features participants from a Cornell media studies conference exploring the interactions between media and antiquity.

The book, in the Oxford University Press “Classical Presences” series, gathers expert analysis from scholars engaging with myriad aspects of classical Greece and Rome, with a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives from fields including classical literature, art history, cultural studies, film studies, media theory and media history.

The contributors include Verity Platt, professor of classics and the history of art and visual studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.


Classics book cover

Revolving around issues of philosophy, cultural history, literature, aesthetics and epistemology, the volume highlights interactions between classical studies and media theory, why they matter and how they can be developed further. The book also explores the implications of the study of media for the study of culture, including the processes of cultural production and reception; and it encourages scholarly attention to media in the study of Greco-Roman antiquity.

The volume highlights several emergent fields within media studies ranging from cultural techniques to media archaeology; the persistence of Greco-Roman paradigms across different strands of media theory; and the conceptual underpinnings of cultural practices in the transformation of ancient Greece and Rome into “classics.”

Platt has joined researcher Till Heilmann and media studies professor Jens Schroeter of the University of Bonn, and the book’s editor, Pantelis Michelakis, reader in classics at the University of Bristol, to establish a network for the study of media and the premodern.

All participated in the international conference “Siren Echoes: Sound, Image, and the Media of Antiquity,” presented by the Media Studies Initiative on campus in November 2019.

Themes and topics at the two-day conference included “Antiquity in Media Theory,” “Sounds of the Anthropocene,” “Media Pathologies,” “Genealogies of the Image,” “Sacred Resonances” and “Image, Medium and Light.” The event “was a huge success,” said Jeremy Braddock, associate professor of English.

Michelakis, a Greek literature and classical theater scholar, organized a similar conference in Bristol, which also provided content for the book.

“Although the ancient world has played an important role in media theory, especially in scholarship on orality and literacy, ‘media studies’ tends to be associated with the technologies of the industrial and computer age,” Platt said.

There are many scholars at Cornell who focus on “modes of transmission, communication and reproduction in the premodern world and later cultural reception,” she said, “all of which can be put into fruitful dialogue with scholars focused on more contemporary issues.”

A second Cornell conference, “Media Objects,” planned for March 2020, was to feature content ranging from film screenings and internet art to architectural installations, exhibitions and digital collections.

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference will be staged during the 2020-21 academic year as a series of virtual panels, lectures and related events, Braddock said, with plans to culminate in an event in fall 2021 at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. A follow-up to “Siren Echoes” in spring 2021 is also a possibility, Platt said.

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