Steinke presents paper at Oxford
Rugby native Stephanie Steinke is back at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks following a late February trip to England, where she presented a paper at renowned Oxford University.
Steinke’s remarkable journey began when her advisor in the Master’s program at UND saw a notice online for papers by graduate students to be given at a conference titled “The City and the Cities: From Constantinople to the Frontier”. Sponsored by the Oxford University Byzantine Society, the seminar’s subject matter covered many aspects of the Byzantine era including history, religion, economics, culture, archaeology and architecture.
Since Steinke’s Master’s Degree will be in history with a focus on ancient history, the subject was a perfect fit, and she enthusiastically wrote a 250-word abstract to persuade the society that her paper, “Performing Violence in Late Antiquity: Urban Landscape, Ritual, and Power,” would be interesting.
After a two-month wait, and much to her surprise, she learned in January that she was chosen.
“I didn’t think I’d be accepted,” she said. “UND isn’t well known and other students were from Brown, Berkeley or schools in the east.” In total, 48 people from 20 institutions all over the world presented papers.
After she was accepted, “I had to write the paper,” Steinke said with a laugh. A much longer version -100 to 200 pages on the same subject – will be her Master’s thesis, she added.
A short history
The Byzantine Empire stretched over a large area of land bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and included parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. The cities of Rome, Alexandria, Athens, Ephesus and Jerusalem were in the empire. The Byzantine era lasted from 350 A.D., until 1453 A.D., the year the capital, Constantinople, fell to the Turks.
It was a violent time, Steinke said, with lots of street riots, burning churches and other acts of lawlessness. Her paper put forth the premise that for some participants violence is akin to a performance, and with the planning and execution almost becomes a production.
“Violence is only useful when people see it,” she said. Maybe the audience members are the perpetrators themselves, or maybe it is bystanders. She cites the 1960s riots and protests involving college students as a modern-day example. Police and newsmen in helicopters could see patterns of design and organization that were visible from the air, but which weren’t obvious to people on the ground. And most protests were timed to make the 6 p.m. television newscast. “They knew they were being watched.”
She believes letting a certain amount of violence happen in a society distracts people’s attention from other things such as the economy or government corruption. That was true in ancient societies and still holds true today, even though some scholars think the Byzantine era was exceptionally violent. But she also theorizes that violence doesn’t really change anything, because for the most part the situation goes right back to the way it was.
Oxford University consists of many colleges and is spread out all over the city of Oxford, which is west of London. Steinke spoke in an old building where the faculty of history resides. It was originally a high school where T.E. Lawrence, the famed Lawrence of Arabia, was a student.
Steinke, 26, said she was not intimidated by being from a less-well-known university. Indeed, many people told her they were looking forward to her presentation. She spoke in a seminar room to about 40 people. After being introduced by a moderator, presenters had 20 minutes to speak, then 10 minutes to answer questions.
Before the event got underway, “I was incredibly nervous,” she said, but the jitters went away when she started speaking. “My paper was really well received. Violence is a hot topic right now.”
Ironically, before the trip she was so concerned she might not do well, she told almost no one why she was going to England.
Her presentation may soon reach a wider audience. “The conference proceedings are often put into a book and I’m on the short list for the book,” she said.
Steinke has been interested in history and archaeology all her life and has spent a conssiderable amount of time in the Middle East participating in archaeological digs and research. At the end of this school year she will be traveling to Greece as a staff member on a regional survey project which will cover the archaeology of an entire region. Following that, she’ll return to Israel to the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, where she has worked since 2011. She will interpret satellite images to identify other archaeological sites in the country.
Since coming home she has had time to reflect on her opportunity. “I think that it gave me a confidence boost that I really needed,” she said. “Pursuing academia is often difficult, lonely, and has few rewards other than your own personal satisfaction when you accomplish something. … So to present something, and have it go over so well, was great. But it also reminded me that I need to stay competitive and keep improving. There were some graduate students there who were simply brilliant, and I have a long way to go to get to that level of competency and erudition in the field and maintain it.”
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