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Working from home with the Classical and Mediterranean archaeologists: ‘I should have been in Rome right now’

The archaeologists have been working from home three weeks now. Remotely, through Teams, we meet up with Miguel John Versluys’ research team, to see how they continue working in times of corona.

‘It actually goes quite well,’ Professor Miguel John Versluys elaborates. ‘In the beginning we only communicated through WhatsApp and e-mails, but now we go for a meeting via Teams on a weekly basis. Another fixed meeting point for most team members is the RMA Research Seminar in which tey participate via Kaltura on Wednesday afternoon. We are involved with many international collaborations and two members of the VICI do their work abroad, so we are quite used to this already.’ Fortunately, the team is well. ‘All individual team members are healthy and resilient.’ 

Travel plans

The first thing that comes up is the fact that many team members should have been elsewhere. PhD candidate Suzan van de Velde, part of the Anchoring Innovation Gravity Grant, for example: ‘I should have been in Rome right now, at the Dutch Institute there, and traveling to New York in a few weeks.’ She managed to rebook her research stay at the Dutch Institute in Rome to July. ‘But I am unsure whether that will turn out to be possible.’ 

Professor Miguel John Versluys reflects on the situation’s impact on the wrapping up of his VICI project. ‘One of the final conferences, organised with the Bard Graduate Center in New York on May 1, in which also professor David Fontijn would participate, has been canceled.' The conference was one of the finishing activities of Versluys’ Vici project. ‘I am worried about our even larger finishing conference in Rome, in October.’ Finishing conferences need to go on for the project’s wrap-up.

In the home office of Suzan van de Velde, Rome is never far away.

On track

On the other hand, being in the final phase of the VICI project in this period might be for the best. ‘Starting a project in such a situation seems more problematic.’ Versluys reflects. ‘All team members know what they have to do in the final phase, and everything we need to do is on track.’ Hardly finished with his sentence, the other team members burst out laughing. ‘Shall I leave for a bit, so you can talk with them alone?’ He adds grinning. 

VICI team members in pre-corona times, exploring Roman period tombs at the Euphrates in South East Turkey May 2019

Writing

We are relatively lucky that we are in a phase in which a lot of individual work needs to be done; for the VICI members and for Suzan, who has started her second year in the Anchoring Innovation project. The PhD’s of the VICI are currently finishing their dissertations, and our full focus now lies on writing articles, books, and other deliverables.’ Versluys explains. That also means that most of the online collaboration now takes place bilaterally, instead of in group form. 
PhD candidate Lennart Kruijer describes this specific example. ‘With Rebecca I talk about the final essays of the MA course Diversities of doing Greek we organised. With Miguel John I talk about the dissertation. With Suzan we discuss the hardships of academia.’ He laughs. ‘We certainly keep in touch as a group, but this goes mostly via e-mail.’

Remote education

In the meantime, education also takes place remotely. Postdoc Rebecca Henzel is organising the Research Seminar and she describes her first experience. ‘We use the application Kaltura Live Room. It is basically a virtual class room. We have been using this for the first time yesterday and I liked it!’ Kruijer, participating in the course, agrees. ‘It has the potential to be a fantastic medium.’

Teaching continues! Debating the (great) book on 'The infinite image' between Vienna, Leiden and Amsterdam.

Materiality

‘It works great if everyone has a good internet connection.’ Henzel continues. ‘If you don’t, you really run into issues. My internet connection at home is terrible, so I now use a mobile hotspot, but that is not a long-term solution.’ Since she will be moving house at the end of the month, there is no point in investing in better internet. 

‘This remains to be a large drawback,’ Versluys concurs. ‘I experienced the same during a course. A student had a presentation, but then something went wrong with the internet.’ Pondering, he adds: ‘It is the value of materiality. The interaction of a lecture hall is hard to move online. I hope we will be able to retain our physical interaction’

Kruijer plaintively agrees. ‘Especially because we have this nice habit, with our research group, to drink a glass of wine, together with the students, at the start of each new lecture series/blok. Another thing we cannot do right now.'

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