Monday, 13 March 2017

Our Mythical Childhood – Celebrating ERC Week

A big Thank-You to everyone who came along to last month's events, whether it was the launch for Military Leaders and Sacred Space, the Iris Project Festival, or my symposium talk at the Pitt Rivers Museum marking the opening of the Out in Oxford Cross-Collections Museum Trail (for which see

This week we're delighted to be celebrating ERC Week, cheering the ten years that the European Research Council has been funding cutting-edge research. We've made a new video to mark the occasion; if you haven’t seen it already, here it is!

We're very grateful to the ERC for funding our latest endeavour: an international multi-part research project called Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. Our Mythical Childhood is looking at the roles that ancient myth plays in young people's lives around the world. A central idea of the project is that myths are not passed on in a vacuum, but influenced and shaped by the conditions in which they are retold. These subtle (or, sometimes, not so subtle) influences include things such as the age of the intended audience, the purpose and style of the re-telling, or the values held by the author and society in which the myths are being retold. Over the next five years, the project will be shedding light on these dynamics and creating wonderful resources for academics, teachers, and members of the public to use, enjoy, and learn from.

Above, this info-graphic lays out the structure of Our Mythical Childhood.

For our part of the project, we'll be creating some new depictions of ancient mythical figures in the form of five new vase animations. You'll see the ancient poet, Sappho, re-creating tales of Troy on her magnificent lyre, and you'll see Heracles on the trail of adventure. Three more animations will give you a slice of the gods' lives, with Dionysus, Iris, Zeus, Athena, and Nike all making an appearance. As well as the vase animations, we'll be making a documentary and all sorts of other supporting materials (whoop!). The animations will be displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw and you'll find them and the other materials online on their own page of the Panoply website.

Above, Prof Katarzyna Marciniak

Our Mythical Childhood is being spear-headed by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak of the University of Warsaw. You may recall that Katarzyna was the brains behind the Chasing Mythical Beasts project, including the conference that we contributed to last year (there's a reminder video here). As well as keeping everyone on track, Katarzyna is coordinating an array of project publications, annual conferences, and a database, with help from a talented group of scholars and PhD students.

Above, Dr Susan Deacy.

Like us, Dr Susan Deacy is based at the University of Roehampton in London. Susan's Mythical Childhood research is exploring the special potential of classical mythology to engage autistic children. You can keep up-to-date with this fascinating project at:

Above, Prof Daniel Nkemleke.

Another wing of the project will see Prof Daniel Nkemleke and Dr Divine Che Nebe of the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon conducting a survey of traditional African myth. This will include seeking out storytellers and asking elders to put their old tales on record; it's not a million miles away from the work carried out back in the day by the great folklorists Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm!

Sometimes myth appears at home, in our books, and cartoons and in the stories we tell each other, and sometimes we find it in schools as part of our formal learning. At Bar-Ilan University, in Israel, Dr Lisa Maurice and a team of scholars will be examining the place that mythology has in school curriculums around the world. UK curriculums will be researched and represented by none other than Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, a researcher with specialism in classics in UK education and a friend to Panoply who many of you will know from her sterling work in UK schools through Classics in Communities.

Above, Dr Elizabeth Hale.

If all of this is starting to seem like a lot, you'll be glad to hear that Dr Elizabeth Hale and Associate Professor Marguerite Johnson of University of New England in Australia will be creating Children's Literature and Classical Antiquity: A Guide. Elizabeth, a Senior Lecturer in English and Writing, specialising in children's literature, will lead us through the complex web of myths told, retold, and told again.

Above, Some of the books in the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Perhaps you're now remembering the books that had your favourite myths in when you were young. Perhaps you're thinking of a small person in your life who might enjoy a bit more myth. Or perhaps you're feeling curious about the many ways your favourite myth might have been told differently by different authors. If that's the case, start looking forward to the project database: Our Mythical Childhood Survey. It will host summaries of items from children's culture from all over the world (especially children's literature), including details on how each work has represented myths and mythical themes. Many scholars (including me) are contributing to the database, and it's already shaping up to be tremendous. Above and below here you can see some of the books I'm working on.

Above, More books from the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Later on this week we'll be talking at An Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, at the University of Roehampton. We're delighted that people from a wide range of disciplines will be joining us to hear about the project. If you can't make it, watch this space (and Twitter: @SonyaNevin; @OMChildhood ) for Our Mythical Childhood news and updates. Tweet to tell us what your favourite myth book is!

All of this work is made possible by the European Research Council. Long may they keep up the good work :)

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who came to the Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, making super, and truly inter-disciplinary event. A couple of photos:

Above, Team Roehampton l-r, Dr Katerina Volioti (researching representations of the gods in Greek children's literature), Dr Susan Deacy, and Dr Sonya Nevin.

Above, Team Roehampton, the Panoply wing: Steve Simons and Sonya Nevin.

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