Papyri at the Intersections? Some pre-Conference Musings

Papyri at the Intersections? Some pre-Conference Musings

by Katherine Blouin

The program of the upcoming International Congress of Papyrology (ICP), which is taking place from July 28 to August 3 in Lecce, is now out. It came at an especially good time for me: It’s summer, I’m burnt out, and it just happens that there’s nothing like some data crunching to relax a nerdy historian’s mind.

Why would you think, let alone write, that, one might wonder.

Well, I like to say that data crunching is like making a cocktail: You take data. You crunch them. Then you’ve got a delicious blend of statistics to savour, alone or (better still) with your friends and colleagues, which makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something concrete really quickly for a change. Call it a refreshing, (dis)comforting cocktail for the mind.

All this to say that in the spirit of the panel Rachel Mairs, Usama Gad and I delivered at the 2016 ICP in Barcelona – and whose data you can find here, with a in-depth analysis of mine here – I’ve compiled some preliminary statistics based on the preliminary 2019 program. I must specify from the onset that beyond my tongue-in-cheek allusion to the relaxing effects of data crunching in the summer time, I hope that the following can contribute to current conversations regarding the nature of Classics and other Antiquity-related disciplines, as well as its relationships to themes such as diversity, equity and outreach. To be perfectly clear: I have absolutely no interest in assigning blame or point fingers. Rather, I want to highlight what one (does not) see when one looks at a conference program from an intersectionality-minded and disciplinarily-critical vantage point. And I want to ask how we can make it a more inclusive, especially for students and scholars from traditionally marginalized communities.

What follows must be taken as raw data. There is potentially more to compile, and way more to discuss. I shall provide a more in-depth reflection after the conference.


The upcoming ICP will feature a total of 64 sessions (including 6 panels and 4 workshops), spread over 3.5 days. There is also a plenary session on the last afternoon of the congress.

I’ve deduced the gender identity of the speakers based on my personal knowledge and, when I did not know the individuals in question, on their names and on the online information I could gather. I am aware that these are not always decisive markers of gender identity, and, thus, that the at time fluctuating male/female divide might appear reductive to some. For this reason, I conceive of the following as preliminary food-for-thought rather than as definitive, monolithic data.

Gender and country of affiliation

In terms of gender distribution, as was the case in the most recent ICP, we note a pretty balanced program. Of the 64 session chairs, 34 or 53% are male, and 30 or 47% female (in the cases of individuals chairing more than one session, I’ve counted them once per chaired session). Female are slightly more represented amongst poster authors (18 posters and 24 authors total, of which 13 or 54% are female). As for individual talks, the trend observed over the past ICP in favour of parity seems to be ongoing (I haven’t compiled these data yet though). As for countries of affiliation: 11 sessions will be chaired by papyrologists working in the USA. Of these, 4 are originally from the USA, 7 are originally from a European country, and 3 are female. Beyond them, all chairs work in European and UK institutions.

The 2019, Lecce conference is the fourth ICP in a row to take place in Europe (after Geneva in 2010, Warsaw in 2013 and Barcelona in 2016; the 2007 congress took place in Ann Arbor). Unsurprisingly, the majority of the participants are affiliated to European (including UK) institutions. One also notes that a substantial proportion of the papyrologists affiliated with non European (that is essentially North American) institutions are of European origin. A total of 16 Egyptian papyrologists will also be presenting papers at the congress. As for posters, all of them but one (whose author is working at Cairo University) are from papyrologists affiliated withone or more European (Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Poland) or British (in one case) institutions.

This prevalence of European papyrologists in the program no doubt results in part from financial constraints and practical considerations: Travelling to Europe – and all the more so to southern Italy – at the height of the touristic season, represents a substantial investment that is out of reach for many scholars living beyond (or not having family connections based in) the EU, let alone students and junior scholars without permanent positions. I know several colleagues based in North America, the UK, and the MENA who won’t attend the conference because they cannot afford the cost of it all. On the other hand, one might, and rightfully so, point out that holding the ICP in Italy makes it more accessible to papyrologists from the Global South (that is for the most part from Egypt) given the country’s (and the EU’s) substantially less constraining visa policies compared to those of the USA and the UK (see on that matter this recent piece).

Sessions’ themes/organizing principles

The ways in which sessions (including most panels) are organized is in line with the traditional, sub-disciplinary divides adopted throughout the history of the ICP, which I’ve compiled and analysed elsewhere. The groupings of the 2019 congress’ sessions can be synthetized in this way (bold: grouping criterion ; normal: names of sessions/panels/workshops):

  • Typology = 32 sessions (10 literary; 2 juristic; 4 paraliterary; 16 documentary):
    • literary 1-5; Herculaneum 1-5; juristic 1-2; paraliterary (+ paraliterary exegesis); magic 1-2; documentary = Ptolemaic 1-4; Roman 1-7; Late Antique 1-4; lexicon
  • Unpublished papyri = 9 sessions:
    • collections 1-3; documentary 1-2; literary; British Museum and British Library (panel 2); Late Antique Oxyrhynchos (panel 3); Nessana (panel 6)
  • Language/linguistic = 6 sessions:
    • Coptic 1-2; Arabic; linguistic 1-2; Latin
  • Digital Humanities = 5 sessions:
    • new technologies; experimental sciences 1-2; Trismegistos; digital palaeography (panel 4; also under palaeography)
  • Materiality = 4 sessions:
    • ostraca and other supports 1-2; archaeology and papyri; conservation and restoration
  • Abrahamic religion = 4 sessions:
    • Jews in the early Roman period (panel 5); Christian papyri 1-2; Islamic documentary papyri
  • Palaeography = 3 sessions:
    • palaeography 1-2; digital palaeography (panel 4; also under digital humanities)
  • History of the field = 1 session:
    • history of papyrology
  • Outreach = 1 session:
    • public-facing scholarship (panel 1)

All posters also fit within the above (in particular, one notes a cluster on digital projects and another (overlapping) one on multidisciplinary projects).

Modern languages

The official languages of the ICP are French, German, Italian and English. If one excludes the final plenary, 255 talks are listed in the program. Of these, 76% (194) will be given in English, followed by 15% (39) in Italian, 5.5% (14) in French and 3.5% (9) in German. These proportions are in line with the trends I’ve discussed in my analysis of the 1st to 28th ICPs.


The plenary session is entitled “Future of editing papyri: aspects and problems”. The chair of the session is female. Of the 7 speakers, 6 (86%) are male and 1 (14%) is female. 5 papers will be in English and 2 in Italian. The chair as well as all speakers are appointed in continental European institutions.

Policy on harrassment/Code of conduct/Accessibility

To date, neither the conference nor the Association Internationale des Papyrologues has a policy on harrassment (or on diversity and equity more broadly). Likewise, there is so far no conference code of conduct. This is in contrast with a growing number of Antiquity-related associations not only in North America, the UK, and Australasia, but also at the international level (I’m thinking for instance of the FIEC’s Conference Code of Conduct). Yet let’s be real here: Codes of conducts are only a first step. For, as this recent thread by Oxford Classics Ph.D. student Martina Astrid Rodda shows, they are not guarantees of inclusivity.

Disability and accessibility

Like most events in the field still (see however the most recent FIEC webpage as well as the SCS report ahead of the 2020 conference), the ICP website does not include a statement on disability or accessibility. See notably on this topic Annie Sharples’ recent Eidolon piece entitled “Disabling Ableism in Classics“, as well as the abstract of Clara Bosak-Schroeder’s even more recent paper “Cripping Classics: Disability Studies and Realities”, which was part of the 2019 FIEC/CA panel Who “owns” Classics? Redefining Participation and Ownership of the Field organised by Classics and Social Justice. More broadly, Classics and Social Justice’s website includes a very helpful list of relevant resources.

Family, on-site childcare

Lastly, I ought to mention the absence of any public statement or offer re childcare initiative or breastfeeding/pumping space on site. The ICP is not to be singled out in any way here. First, the organizers of the 2016 Barcelona ICP did not announce baby care, but they had some information ready for whoever approached them on this (I thank Sofía Torallas Tovar for this information). It is thus very possible that the same goes for this year’s conference. Second, while both the SCS (with the WCC) and the FIEC most recent conference websites include some resources aiming at helping parents in need of on-site chilcare, such initiatives remain far from the norm in all Antiquity-related fields (and in academia more generally). Yet although some students and scholars are able to take off by themselves or can afford bringing a childcarer along, many parents – especially (single) mothers and parents of infants and babies – are not in this situation. In this context, conferencing too often becomes either a logistical nightmare, or an opportunity one sadly has to skip (see on the matter Sarah Scullin’s Eidolon piece “ABD and pregnant“).

I hope to see many of the readers of this post in Lecce next week! And if you’re not coming but interested to follow the congress, check out for new posts on this blog shortly, as well as for updates on twitter (where I’ll use the hashtag #ICP2019).


One thought on “Papyri at the Intersections? Some pre-Conference Musings

  1. Hello guys,this is useful information for me.i love this blog.It’s not easy to get such quality information online nowadays. I look forward to staying here for a long time.


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