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Making a Mark: Graffiti in Early Text Cultures

13th March 2017, 11am-2pm, Ashmolean Museum

Workshop conveners: Tuuli Ahlholm (MPhil Ancient Greek & Roman History, University of Oxford), Julia Hamilton (DPhil Oriental Studies, University of Oxford).

Admiror parie{n}s te non cedidisse ruinis qui tot / scriptorum taedia sustineas

I am amazed, walls, that you haven’t collapsed in ruins since you bear the tedious outpourings of so many writers.
Graffito from the basilica of Pompeii (CLE 00957 = GraffPomp 00750)

This 3-hour workshop held at the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, will explore graffiti as a genre of epigraphic text, the methodological problems of studying graffiti in early text cultures, and how graffiti should be integrated into our corpora of historical writings. We’ll consider the problems of terminology in the course of the workshop, but as a starting point we consider a graffito to be a scratched or painted writing or drawing on a surface. We’re interested in graffiti as a medium for the display and
negotiation of individual or community identity, status, and belonging in ancient and pre-modern text cultures.

Making a Mark is affiliated with the Early Text Cultures project. Early Text Cultures is a multi-disciplinary project created for discussion of common and similar text types across ancient and pre-modern text cultures, and is intended to help students of different regions of the pre-modern world to meet and exchange ideas without being confined to the conventional discourses of particular disciplines.

Workshop format: 3-4 respondents (Faculty and PhD students) followed by discussion. 3 hours, including a 45min break for lunch (not provided).

Anyone welcome, including interested members of the public.

Potential, but not exclusive, points of discussion for respondents:

A. What are the varying tones and registers of graffiti in ancient and pre-modern text cultures?
1. Are these spontaneous or planned texts?
2. Who is the graffiti for, what is the audience?
3. Are these anonymous compositions? If not, how and why were authors attributed?
4. How do the motivations and articulations behind graffiti vary between different geographic, temporal, and social contexts? Is it beneficial or even justified to discuss e.g. graffiti in ancient Egyptian temples and Pompeian brothels under the same umbrella?
B. How can we use graffiti to reconstruct the ways people moved through and utilised spaces and structures (domestic spaces, public spaces, cemeteries etc).
C. What methods are used to study and publish graffiti?
1. How are graffiti published in a (traditional) site report?
2. What do modern imaging techniques (e.g., D-Stretch, or Reflectance Transformation Imaging [RTI]) contribute to the study of graffiti?
3. What is the potential for using photographic archives and documentary heritage, and what are the unique challenges posed by archival research?

In the last 20 minutes, the workshop organisers will reflect on the benefits of interdisciplinary perspectives on methods for studying graffiti as epigraphic texts and historical source material.