BSA @ Home. A Message from the Director
A year ago today, on St George’s day, we were in Orthodox Holy Week, so things were relatively quiet at the BSA. Our son was visiting us from the UK during his Easter break. The previous week had been busy, however, with a range of events, including an Upper House Seminar on Monday, the American School’s Annual Open Meeting on Friday and a personal outing to see The Marriage of Figaro at the spectacular Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre. How things have changed! As I write the worldwide number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has exceeded 2.5m and over 180,000 have tragically lost their lives to the virus; estimates suggest that half the world’s population is in some form of lockdown.
All of us – from large organisations to individuals – have had to change the pattern of our lives, limiting our movement and our interaction with both people and physical resources. In these circumstances the internet has become a vital service in offering access to friends and colleagues and to physical objects like books and the places where they are held. The BSA has for some time now been developing its digital resources. For example, just over ten years ago, in partnership with the French School at Athens, we initiated Archaeology in Greece Online. This platform took over the job of delivering summaries of recent archaeological activities in Greece from our journal co-published with the Hellenic Society, Archaeological Reports, which was reformatted to deliver periodic syntheses by region, period, topic or technique. Over roughly the same period, we have been building (using Axiell’s EMu system) a huge digital catalogue of BSA resources. Already some of these were available to the world through a web portal, but the current situation has forced us, like many institutions, to step up considerably our digital presence. Below is a summary of what is currently available or planned for the near future; each resource has a clickable link to access it.
One of our key goals – even before the current crisis – was to make accessible our rich archival collections. Earlier in the year we launched BSA Digital Collections, an interactive e-catalogue that searches for and displays material from our holdings. These include the Byzantine Research Fund and the SPHS Image collections. We will shortly make available notebooks by early-19th-century British travellers Sir William Gell and Keppel Craven, plus a notebook of Flinders Petrie, and records of the BSA’s early excavations at Kynosarges. Following those will be materials from Prof. Alan Wace’s excavations at Mycenae, a joint venture with the Cambridge University Classics Faculty that unites archives held physically there and at the BSA. Wace’s excavations began on St George’s Day 1920 and, in different circumstances, I would have been in Cambridge at a small conference to mark the occasion! One of the treasures in the BSA Archive is a diary kept in 1887 by Emily Penrose, daughter of the first Director, Francis Cranmer Penrose; this too will soon be available for browsing through BSA Digital Collections.
Emily Penrose will also feature in an upcoming episode of a Hidden Histories mini-series on women in the early years of the BSA, reflecting another strand of our digital presence, Telling Stories. The first Hidden Histories mini-series explored how memories were – quite literally – inscribed within the BSA’s fabric through the lens of Richard Jebb, who, as much as anyone, can be regarded as the BSA’s founder, but whose inscribed memory is notable by its absence in the BSA’s physical environment. Another strand of story-telling is our growing blog collection: the Fitch Laboratory has run a blog for nearly two years now, while more recently the Archive has produced a series of Archive Stories drawing on its collections and linking to materials recently made available. All these initiatives are accessible on our website, but are also shared via social media – Facebook and Twitter. In fact our Twitter feed, where we share notices of upcoming events as well as content from many other organisation that we judge of interest or relevant to our wider community, is now pinned to the front page of our website, so users can continue to access this content even if they do not have their own Twitter account. A recent innovation on social media has been our #Throwbackthursday stories, containing reminiscences of the BSA from recent and not-so-recent visitors.
The BSA’s prime purpose is, of course, to facilitate, promote and conduct research. This we do in conventional ways through our monograph series Studies in Greek Antiquity and Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies, plus our Supplementary volumes, and our two journals, both published by CUP: the Annual of the British School at Athens and Archaeological Reports, in association with the Hellenic Society. These are available – both digitally and in print format – to subscribers or through academic institutions; we were pleased that JSTOR (which archives both journals with a 5-year moving wall) and CUP have relaxed digital access during the current crisis, although neither is fully open access. In normal times we also host seminars, lectures, workshops and conferences, many of which also appear in print and digital format. For several years now, however, we have made available videos of many lectures and seminars in our Video Archive. These range in topic from annual presentations of the BSA’s activities to more specialised treatments of the Parthenon or the role of antiquities in contemporary Athenian life or Venizelos’ foreign policy. We are just about to launch a new series in response to the current situation – BSA Virtual Lectures. Using the Zoom webinar platform these lectures will offer up to 100 attendees the opportunity to hear and see a presentation and to interact with the presenter. For those unable to participate interactively on the day, a recording will join others in our Video Archive. Keep an eye out for further lectures in this series in the near future.
Bringing this blog full, circle: of course, research cannot take place without support. The Digital Collections already mentioned are an obvious resource, but the BSA has also recently produced a list of open access library resources to help in the current situation. AGOnline also offers a resource to anyone wishing to keep abreast of archaeological activity in Greece. But equally, any research community is only replenished and renewed by nurturing future generations. Bridging the divide between research and teaching is Attic Inscriptions Online, not strictly a BSA product, but one that reflects many hours of research in the BSA Library by its founder, Prof. Stephen Lambert, and others. The BSA is also contributing by offering image banks for teachers’ use, currently available on The Classics Library to any teachers who are registered with an account. Other resources for schools are in production at the moment and will be coordinated closely with the UK school curricula in Ancient History and Classical Civilisation. These will be delivered in collaboration with ACE , Warwick Classics Network and Leicester Classics Hub. We hope all of these resources will help future generations begin research careers, further enriched by the BSA’s undergraduate and postgraduate on-site courses here in Greece, when these can once again be run safely.
The Covid-19 crisis is imposing restrictions on us all in many different ways. We hope, however, that the range of digital content the BSA is offering will, in these extraordinary times and beyond, engage a broad community fascinated by the Greek world in all periods and across many disciplines.
Stay well, stay safe, stay home!