Reflections on the Secret Mark Symposium, part 1

Now that a week or so has gone by since the Secret Mark Symposium, I think I’m ready to gather my thoughts about the event. Admittedly, much of it is a blur as I had to focus so much on the mechanics of the symposium, that I found it difficult to concentrate on the presentations and discussions. But I will begin with some comments on the planning and execution of the event.

The process began over a year ago with a series of e-mail exchanges between me and scholars Peter Jeffery and Allan Pantuck. We worked together to determine who would be the best scholars to contribute papers to the event. We tried to achieve a balance of perspectives, with a morning session aimed at presenting arguments for and against Secret Mark’s authenticity, and an afternoon session with other perspectives on the text (e.g., where it fits in, or not, with the works of Clement of Alexandria). The plan also was to invite only North American scholars—both due to budgetary restraints and to my long-term goal to support North American CA scholarship—and, ideally, those who had published a monograph or substantial article on the text. We had some prospective participants decline our invitations, some simply because of scheduling conflicts, some for no stated reason. In the end, we were happy with the group we assembled, and pleased that they had faith in us to accept our invitations to participate. Nevertheless, people have noted particularly the glaring absence of Stephen Carlson from the event; rest assured, he was invited.

Throughout September to December my colleague Phil Harland and I worked on securing funding for the event. Government arts funding was not an option for us, as they do not fund conferences by first-time conveners; so, we were restricted to internal funding. We ended up obtaining around $9000 from various university departments and grants. By January we knew the conference was a go, but we would have to be careful in our spending.

We scheduled the symposium for a date between the end of exams and the start of Spring session, primarily so that the participants would be finished with classes and grading and not yet heading off to other conferences and for vacations. The only problem with that decision is that many of York’s restaurant facilities were either completely closed for the week or on reduced hours. That made it difficult for finding a venue for a small reception the night before the symposium, a dinner for the presenters the next day, and a location for a celebratory drink at the end of the event. We also failed to order enough coffee and snacks for the day. We dealt with the problems as best we could, and certainly have learned some lessons for next time. I hope these didn’t colour everyone’s perceptions of the event too much—is it like a wedding, where all anyone remembers is the music and the food?

Another wrinkle occurred in the scheduling of the day. The goal was to have a day-long event with two sessions of papers and a more-casual evening event at which a few participants could answer some prepared questions and field questions from a wider audience—i.e., not just scholars and students. Unfortunately, we did not attract a large number of “outsiders” to the evening discussion; and those who did attend had been with us all day (such troopers!). Who would have thought 12 hours of Secret Mark could be too much for some people?   We were extremely pleased with the turnout for the day sessions, but if we want to mount an evening session again, we will need to work further on promotion, and also spread the sessions out over more than one day—which was the plan if we secured more funding in future years.

The next stage in the planning of the symposium is to publish the papers. We are considering some options for this and will pass on word when we have firm plans. We need also to think about next year’s symposium and would like to hear what suggestions you may have for a topic and other feedback you may have to help us mount future symposia.

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2 Responses to Reflections on the Secret Mark Symposium, part 1

  1. I am looking forward to reading more about the symposium. Thanks for the reports for those of us who would have liked to have been there. It sounds like your schedule is somewhat different from ours. Far from it being “between the end of exams and the start of Spring session”, for us 29 April was right in the heart of our exam / grading / end of semester rush.

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