Visiting the 3rd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East

The Third Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East (GeMANE3) was organized in Ghent on April 8-10th, 2019. Heidi Kovanen, doctoral candidate with ANEE, attended the workshop and wrote about her experience.

Last week witnessed the third time that scholars from all around the world gathered together to share ideas and recent research on the topics of gender, methodology and the ancient Near East. The three-day GeMANE workshop that was first held in Helsinki in 2014 and later in Barcelona in 2017, found itself this time in the picturesque city of Ghent in Belgium.  Approximately 40 enthusiastic specialists and students from various different disciplines set themselves to discuss over a wide range of topics with an interdisciplinary approach. Although still a relatively small event – and more or less heavily biased towards women scholars studying women – The Third Workshop of Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East managed to raise diverse and concrete conversation about how to approach the very current questions of gender in the ancient Near East.

It was a murky and somewhat rainy Monday morning when I set myself to walk to the Royal Academy for Dutch Linguistics and Literature where the GeMANE3 workshop was held. As it was the first day of the conference and I was not familiar with the city, I made sure to arrive at the Academy early. This allowed me to glimpse the last minute preparations made at the venue: people running around the place to make sure that the lighting of the rooms was ideal for the presentations and that they definitely had enough folders and nametags to give to the participants as they arrived. I exchanged a few words with the organizers before taking a seat at the backrow of the luxurious main hall, and was surprised to find how welcoming they were: we were on first name terms right from the beginning, and there was no need to keep up titles or anything that would have indicated hierarchy. As a starting scholar, this was something new to me.

The collegial atmosphere continued as people started pouring in to the main hall. The welcoming committee – naturally – said the first words, but after going through some practicalities of the event, it was pretty much straight to the business. The talks and presentations that filled up the three-day schedule were arranged so that each of the speakers had a timeslot of approximately 30 minutes for both the presentation and some selected questions from the audience. Most of the presentations ended up raising not only questions, but also genuine conversation that was often put to an end only because of the strict timetable. This was another thing that caught my eye as the workshop proceeded: people seemed at ease to ask and to participate in the conversation during and after the sessions, no matter where their background in research lied. The general atmosphere at the event was overall very relaxed, and as the workshop came to a close, it felt like the people you had met and the connections you had made would actually end up being of value in the future. As a fellow PhD student I met at the event said to me: “it’s weird how easy going these people are.” And they really were!

So, after spending three busy days in the misty but springlike city of Ghent and listening to presentations that covered a wide range of topics from general (art) history and archaeology to religious studies, linguistics and interdisciplinary methodologies, it felt almost a shame to leave the familiar atmosphere that seemed to follow the workshop. Overall – at least from a beginning scholar’s point of view – the event was very useful in many ways. I hope that when GeMANE returns to Helsinki in spring 2021, we will manage to repeat and preserve the open atmosphere that has had a big effect on the success of the event.

Thank you to the organizers of GeMANE 3, and see you in Helsinki in 2021!

Director of ANEE, Dr. Saana Svärd gave a presentation on Arabian Queens: Constructs of Gender and Ethnicity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the GeMANE 3 workshop.

Svärd also chaired the last session on Monday, April 8th. The session named Sex and Gender hosted presentations by Ann K. Guinan and Natalie N. May, both discussing women in Mesopotamia.