Digital Classicist London online seminars report

The Digital Classicist London seminar, one of the many research seminar series hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies, has been videoed and posted to our YouTube channel since 2013, and livecast directly since 2016. Both of these developments were by popular demand, since there was an international audience with an appetite for the content of these presentations of computational or quantitative approaches to the study of antiquity. We have always known that more people watched the videos online than attended the seminars in Senate House. The archived versions of the live webcasts also tended to double in views within a week of the seminar, suggesting a roughly equal number of people who watched live and who caught up shortly after the event.

Due to the global pandemic making in-person events impossible for the whole of summer 2020, this year’s seminar was run entirely online, with speakers, chairs, and sometimes a small “studio audience” of two or three guests participating via the streaming service Streamyard. In place of open discussion in the room at the end of the seminar (which was often not very well captured in the streamed version in previous years, since audio pick-up was via the laptop’s built-in microphone), we took brief questions from the in-call audience, and activated YouTube’s “live chat” feature for comments from those watching remotely in real time.

Screengrab from Thea Sommerschield's Digital Classicist seminar, in Streamyard

It was of course gratifying that these online-only seminars reached a very much increased and diversified audience, including people who for a range of geographical, professional and social reasons could not attend a seminar in London on a Friday afternoon. Even more striking, however, was the engaged and lively participation from the remote audience. Seminars live-streamed to Youtube have always had the option for the remote audience to ask questions that would be relayed to the speaker, either via comments or a Twitter hashtag, but this was almost never taken advantage of in previous years. After each seminar in the 2020 season there was vigorous discussion, not only among those of us in the call, but also between and among the remote participants via the YouTube “live chat” feature.

I think a combination of actively addressing and engaging with the live audience before and during the seminar itself, and the fact that there was no in-room audience to make remote viewers feel like outsiders or interlopers, led to this burst of enthusiasm for online discussion. It was very nice to see a mix of familiar names and new colleagues among those participating in the live chat, and a range of questions and comments that showed real engagement with the projects and topics under discussion. I hope that we can maintain this lively discussion in the digital forum even when seminars are being held in a room in meatspace again.

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