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Liz Frood

By Elizabeth Frood, Associate Professor of Egyptology in Oxford's Faculty of Oriental Studies

An Egyptologist undertaking fieldwork in Egypt? It doesn’t sound very surprising, does it? Perhaps the subject of that research – ancient graffiti scribbled on temple walls – might be a little more startling. But I am that Egyptologist, and, as I sit in my office in the Sackler library in Oxford a few days after returning, I’m not just surprised, I’m completely stunned. Three years ago I didn’t think it would be possible to return to my work in Oxford, let alone go to Egypt. But I did it, and I still can’t quite believe it.

In August 2015 I went into septic shock due to an infection of unknown origin. The resulting damage to my body was catastrophic: I lost both my legs below the knee, the hearing in my right ear, the internal structure of my nose, and, I reckon worst of all, almost all the function in my hands. My major research project in Egypt, ongoing since 2010, has been to record, analyse and publish graffiti inscribed on the walls of the temple complex at Karnak, on the east bank of the Nile in Luxor. For me, epigraphic recording by drawing had been crucial to understanding the meaning of the graffiti. By drawing I could begin to access an individual’s decision to scribble their name, their image, or a picture of a god, at a particular time and in a particular place. For the longest time I thought my loss of manual dexterity would spell the end of this project.

Thanks to an invitation from Marie Tidball to speak about my fieldwork as part of her TORCH Disability and Curriculum series in October 2017, I began to tentatively explore possibilities for access and recording. It seemed completely abstract to me then – I think I used the word “fantasy” at least two or three times – but it got me thinking and moving forward. I started planning to go.

On September 17 this year I boarded a plane to Luxor, together with my husband Christoph and my three-year-old son Emeran. This first step was really only possible because of very recent radical improvements in my mobility on prosthetic legs and the increased stability and adaptability of what is left in my hands. And, of course, like any fieldwork project, it took a team – my “superteam”, which also included my photographer cousin Jane Wynyard, and two research assistants and coinvestigators, Chiara Salvador and Ellen Jones, postgraduate students in Egyptology at Oxford.

I tried to keep my expectations low (I can hear members of the superteam guffaw as they read this). I wanted to get a sense of the possibilities of Karnak for me as a site. This included testing different methodologies that would enable me to continue working on the graffiti, from ways of collating the drawings I had done before my illness to how we might make future recording possible.

Liz and ChiaraLiz and Chiara collating and discussing the graffiti.

Image credit: Jane Wynyard

The first few days were overwhelming. It was incredible to be able to see friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since before I got sick. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. And I walked a lot, into and around the temple.

I’m lucky that Karnak is a relatively flat site. Wheelchair access has also been made a priority here, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Antiquities and dedicated local campaigners. This afforded me smooth, even pathways to one of my project sites – the eighth pylon, a massive gateway in the south of the complex with a graffitied staircase inside. The sandy route to my other project site – a small temple dedicated to the god Ptah bearing many hundreds of graffiti – required a little more concentration and work, but I managed it.

One of the biggest physical challenges for me was, unsurprisingly, the heat. Temperatures could soar to 45 degrees. Prosthetic legs are heavy, hot and clammy under normal circumstances. So getting to my graffiti was a triumph. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I gradually lost perspective over the coming days.

Once I was there, standing in front of the graffiti, anxious about how much work there was left to do, I felt completely and utterly useless. If I couldn’t physically do anything to record, was there any point in me being there? Was I wasting time and money just to make a point? Grief is a sneaky beast – I knew it would hit while I was there, but I didn’t expect it to keep hitting.

Consultation with my team was needed, emotionally and analytically. We talked things through, strategised carefully, and decided to try different ways for me to work. At Ptah, Chiara and I examined our drawings against the originals, and discussed what changes and corrections were needed. I gradually became better at articulating what I saw and how I would have drawn them, so that she could write and draw for me. I struggle so much with feeling dependent. But I began to see this simply as a brilliantly productive extension of the collaborative process that is at the heart of archaeological fieldwork.

I even managed to assist Christoph, my archaeologist husband, to begin digitially mapping the location of the graffiti using an instrument called a “total station”. Incidentally, after 13 years together this was the first time he and I have collaborated in the field! 

Ellie undertook photogrammetry to create 3D models and orthophotographs of graffiti whose readings are still problematic, or those which are too high for me to access (I’m not up to climbing ladders just yet). Perhaps all this digital recording is a first step towards creating some virtual reality reconstructions of these graffitied spaces that I, or anyone, can move around in and explore via a computer screen? This was one of my fantasies from the TORCH seminar. It is most certainly an extremely efficient and effective way of creating images that we can now manipulate and work with here in Oxford.

Ellie was also responsible for surveying and checking some of the graffiti at the eighth pylon. As part of this work she took photographs of some highly unusual yellow painted graffiti that I had identified back in 2014. In the course of processing these photographs through a computer program called D-Stretch, Ellie discovered new yellow painted graffiti in the same area. We couldn’t quite believe it, although I should have known better... there is always more graffiti! Such a buzz!

There is no doubt that our work on the graffiti in Karnak has been moved forward significantly by our two weeks there. And I no longer harbour doubts about my role in the field. I need to be there for the continuation and completion of the project. I need to be standing before these walls, climbing these stairs, moving through these gateways, with my team, discussing, observing, feeling…

Some 3,000 years ago very many priests and scribes, even the temple “chef-pâtissier”, sought out shady places or places with good views of processions, festivals or just the temple itself, and decided to leave their names or draw a picture. Often they carved deeply into the stone, and at least one or two thought to use bright yellow paint. Every time I go to Karnak and find their names, I understand a little bit more about what they were trying to do. And I now know that I can continue to go to Karnak to do this. This is both extraordinary and exactly as it should be.


In fast-changing Western healthcare systems, to what extent has the idea of a ‘market’ come into play? And how has this affected and redefined healthcare?

A new book edited by Oxford academics – Marketisation, Ethics and Healthcare: Policy, Practice and Moral Formation – attempts to answer these questions.

The book’s three editors, Dr Joshua Hordern (Faculty of Theology and Religion), Dr Therese Feiler (formerly of the Faculty of Theology and Religion) and Dr Andrew Papanikitas (Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences), talk to Arts Blog about their work, which was highly commended in the recent British Medical Association book awards.

The project forms part of the Oxford Healthcare Values Partnership.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea for the book came out of conversations with doctors and others working in healthcare. We wanted to work together on understanding the changing ethos of the NHS and other health and care institutions nationally and internationally. So we formed a partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine and approached the British Academy for funding. They were excited about the project and awarded funding which was then renewed for a second year to enable us to bring the different strands of our work together in the book. We ran a conference and some workshops to bring people together and set up some conversations.

Core emphases for us and the British Academy have been on involving early career researchers at every stage and on developing enduring partnerships between healthcare practitioners, social science experts and humanities researchers, drawing especially on those working in theology and religion. From the start we wanted to find out the real issues which were shaping the practice of healthcare and then resituate them in ways which would open up new lines of inquiry. 

How do you define a ‘market’ in relation to healthcare?

In the book we tend to talk about marketisation and market-type processes operative in health and care. Broadly speaking, we’re talking about mechanisms of packaging, selling and paying for healthcare that are neither state-distribution nor solidarity- or charity-based forms of exchange. These are always mixed in with each other. So the key is to discern by which principles a given policy or system is governed.

Examples perhaps bring this out best – more obvious ones include the changing face of general practice with GPs running pharmacies to the role of private hospitals or doctors offering their services in private practice. But there are other important factors in the mix, including the efforts to create a functioning market in personalised social care through initiatives like personal independence payments; the role of pharmaceutical companies in contributing to and shaping the culture of healthcare; and the significance of diagnosis-related groups as a form of financial coding which has all sorts of intriguing implications for the ethos of healthcare.

What were your aims in carrying out this work?

We asked 12 authors from round the world – influenced by everyone from Marx to free market economics; Christian moral theology to analytic moral philosophy – to think together about the place and influence of market-type processes on policy and practice in healthcare. We wanted to look at institutions as organisations and examine the kind of ethic they embody and depend upon; but we also wanted to examine the way that people’s moral outlook and behaviour are shaped by marketisation processes within those institutions – questions of personal and professional formation. Think of trends like ‘defensive medicine’ which emerge for a variety of factors, but which impact medical professionalism at a deep level. All in all, we wanted to stimulate a conversation about policy, practice and moral formation which is worthy of the deep and existential questions that healthcare raises.

What were the key findings?

There weren’t any findings which all the authors shared. We as editors gave our own views in the epilogue of areas for further research. There’s a further clue, though, in the aphorism in Greek we quote at the start of the book – check it out to see what we think. If we are sincere in our respect for people, which is the ostensible basis for democratic society and healthcare ethics, then money should be a means and people should be ends in themselves. And if we understand how the things that should never be bought and sold connect with the material world, there is a chance they remain visible – even to those who now see the price of everything and the value of nothing. 

One overall point which Muir Gray highlighted in the foreword was the question of what will keep money and markets in position to serve health and care rather than distort people’s attention from what matters. A conceptual and policy theme which emerges is the idea of a healthcare covenant, akin to, but distinct from, the military covenant between the people of the UK and armed forces. That’s an idea to be taken into practice in the future. Other approaches include incentives and education.

How can the humanities interact with the medical sciences?

The best way for humanities researchers to make a contribution is in close learning partnerships with medical science researchers and others working in healthcare. Where that is happening, humanities researchers are increasingly in demand for the ways they frame challenges in healthcare. This is partly because of broad cultural transitions in healthcare ecologies which represent a turn from a dependence on a largely or even exclusively biomedical model of conceiving healthcare towards a greater balance between biomedical and social conceptions of healthcare. At the same time, the trajectory towards an ever more high-tech approach to healthcare, with a particular emphasis on the biosciences as key to the UK’s offering to the world post-Brexit, is provoking critical reflection on the very purpose of healthcare. In this context humanities disciplines have the capacity to provide historical perspective, conceptual understanding and other kinds of insight into what helps sustain and restore health for people and communities. Humanities scholars are able to examine and question an entire conceptual edifice that is often taken for granted. Not: ‘How can we solve problem X?’ but rather: ‘Is this even the right way to put the problem?’ When that kind of questioning is done in partnership, everyone may be prompted to try a different path.

All this means there’s a tremendous opportunity for healthcare and humanities researchers to find new and creative ways of understanding the challenges of our time. Humanities researchers are becoming more capable in developing these partnerships and shared agendas with colleagues in healthcare locally, nationally and globally. Mutually beneficial collaborations are enabling more focused and better-informed research which can target the needs and concerns of healthcare organisations. But there remains the strategic need to interweave the agendas of humanities researchers and medical researchers, alongside colleagues in other relevant disciplines, to address challenges which are best tackled in interdisciplinary ways, in partnership with patients, public bodies and private enterprise.

The book's editors express particular thanks to the British Academy for the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award which made this project possible. They are also grateful for funding from the AHRC (grant AH/N009770/1) and the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

Annie Kenney's letter

A previously unknown letter from Annie Kenney, the working-class activist who became the first woman imprisoned for campaigning for the vote, is due to go on public display for the first time after being uncovered by Oxford historian Dr Lyndsey Jenkins during her research.

Revealing the personal impact of this iconic political protest, the letter sheds new light on the first act of militant suffrage and is an exciting contribution to this year’s centenary celebrations of the first women gaining the right to vote in Britain.

Written from the Pankhurst family home at 62 Nelson Street, Manchester, the letter was sent from Annie Kenney to her sister Nell in October 1905, informing her that ‘you may be surprised when I tell you I was released from Strangeways [prison] yesterday morning’. The letter offers an intimate insight into the complex and competing emotions that Annie experienced as she left prison. She expresses delight at the impact her unprecedented act had made in the local community and her gratitude at the support from most of her family, but also records how another sister Alice, was ‘awfully angry’ about the incident.

Annie had been sent to jail after she and Christabel Pankhurst had attended a political meeting demanding to know from minister Sir Edward Grey: ‘Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?’ The speaker refused to answer, and the women were thrown out of the hall before both being jailed after Christabel Pankhurst spat at a policeman. The incident is now widely regarded as the first militant action, and the women became instantly famous around the world, attracting huge public sympathy. With the first use of the demand ‘votes for women’ on a placard, the two women created one of the most memorable political slogans of all time, kick-starting a revolution.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst with a 'Votes for Women' signAnnie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst with a 'Votes for Women' sign

Image credit: Wikicommons

The letter has lain unknown for more than a century. Nell Kenney later moved to Canada, and the document was for many years catalogued with general correspondence in the British Columbia Archives in Victoria. It was listed only as part of a collection belonging to Sarah Ellen Clarke, Nell’s full and married name, and, as such, had until now escaped wider attention. It was recently located by Dr Jenkins, who was researching the lives of the seven Kenney sisters as part of her DPhil research in Oxford’s Faculty of History.

Annie Kenney went on to become one of the most prominent leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). After Christabel Pankhurst fled to Paris in 1912, Kenney led the organisation through its most difficult and dangerous years. She served several prison sentences, went on hunger strikes that devastated her health, and eventually spent a year on the run from the authorities as a ‘Mouse’ released under the notorious ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. She was not active in politics after the vote was won for some women in 1918, but remained loyal to the Pankhursts and the WSPU for the rest of her life.

Dr Jenkins said: ‘Annie Kenney was one of the leading suffragettes, but, like other working-class women who played a central part in the fight for the vote, her story and significance is often underestimated and poorly understood. This letter provides new insight into Annie’s private thoughts and feelings at this turning point in the campaign for the vote, as well as showing the warm reception she received from the local community and other activists. This is an exciting and revealing document which deepens our understanding of the battle for suffrage and the women who fought it.’

Annie’s letter shows the close and loving relationship among the Kenney family, whose background was in the mills of Oldham in Greater Manchester, and several of whom went on to have important careers in political, professional and public life. The youngest sister, Jessie, was another leading suffragette who also gained notoriety for her acts of daring: dressing as a telegraph boy to attempt to heckle then Chancellor David Lloyd George and as part of a trio who attacked Prime Minister Herbert Asquith on his holiday.

Nell Kenney, who received the letter, organised a mass protest in Nottingham that narrowly escaped becoming a riot. Two other sisters, Jane and Caroline, also supported the suffragettes’ work, but dedicated their lives to becoming some of the first Montessori teachers in the world, studying with Dr Maria Montessori herself and joining forces with Alexander Graham Bell to pioneer Montessori education in the United States. Meanwhile, their brother Rowland was a leading socialist and the first editor of the Daily Herald, before becoming a pioneer of political propaganda in the First World War.

Author Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst and a leading campaigner for women’s rights, said: ‘One hundred years on from the first women winning the vote, we are still learning more about the remarkable women who led the campaign for us all to have that right. As this important and very personal letter from one sister to another shows, the campaign for suffrage involved high risks and huge personal costs – especially in these early stages when the cause was unpopular and the outcome uncertain. As we mark the centenary of their success, it is right that we remember their sacrifices and remind ourselves that women in the UK and around the world are still taking those risks to achieve true equality for all.’

The letter is on display at Gallery Oldham from 29 September to 12 January as part of the Peace and Plenty? Oldham and the First World War exhibition. It is on loan from the British Columbia Archives in Victoria, Canada.

Oldham Councillor Hannah Roberts, Elected Member Champion for the Suffrage to Citizenship Programme, said: ‘I am delighted that this letter has come to light, and how great that we get to see it being exhibited in the birthplace of Annie Kenney herself. We are very lucky to have it on loan from Canada. It will make a lovely addition to the suffrage artefacts already held by Gallery Oldham, and I hope people will go along to see this significant piece of Oldham’s suffrage history.’

Professor Jack Lohman, Chief Executive of the Royal British Columbia Museum and Archives, added: ‘We are so pleased to be able to share this poignant letter with Gallery Oldham and its visitors, and to add something so personal to the important story of the suffrage movement. The British Columbia Archives hold thousands of stories that connect us around the world, and Annie Kenney’s letter is an outstanding example of our shared histories.’

Annie’s letter

62 Nelson Street,
Oct 17.05

My Dear Nellie

You may be surprised when I tell you I was released from Strangeways yesterday morning. There were over one hundred people waiting. I had a lovely boquet (sic) of flowers sent me from the Oldham Socialists. Miss Pankhurst is still there untill (sic) Friday. Manchester is alive I can assure you Last night a protest meeting was held for me in Stevenson Square over 2000 people were there Lenard (sic) Hall came to speak on our behalf the only thing I am sorry about is those at home and Kitty and Jennie and You, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to receive your letter and to find you so kind about it, I thought you would have been so indignant with me I cannot tell you anything here as there is so much to tell. I am staying at Pankhurst (sic) for an indefinite time of course I am able to send money home every week. I sent it last week so that is alright. Alice is awfully angry about it but I don’t blame her, I’m living in hope to repay her for it all. She is working for me yet, they are removing to morrow. I can’t be there but Jessie is away from work for a day or so. I will come and spend a weekend with you as soon as possible. I expect being at Middlesbourgh (sic) for a week or so, and I will write you from there,

Ever Your Loving Sis


Read about the story on the BBC News website.

Dome of the Rock

How did the ancient Middle East transform from a majority-Christian world to the majority-Muslim world we know today, and what role did violence play in this process? These questions lie at the heart of Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton University Press), a new book by associate professor of Islamic history Christian C. Sahner. In a guest post for Arts Blog, Professor Sahner, from Oxford's Faculty of Oriental Studies, explores his findings. 

Although Arab armies quickly established an Islamic empire during the seventh and eighth centuries, it took far longer for an Islamic society to emerge within its frontiers. Indeed, despite widespread images of “conversion by the sword” in popular culture, the process of Islamisation in the early period was slow, complex, and often non-violent. Forced conversion was fairly uncommon, and religious change was driven far more by factors such as intermarriage, economic self-interest, and political allegiance. Non-Muslims were generally entitled to continue practising their faiths, provided they abided by the laws of their rulers and paid special taxes. Muslim elites sometimes even discouraged conversion, for when non-Muslims embraced Islam, they no longer had to provide these taxes to the state, and thus the state’s fiscal base threatened to contract. Compounding this was a belief among some that Islam was a special dispensation only for the Arab people. Thus, when non-Arabs converted, they were sometimes treated as second-class citizens, despised as little better than Christians, Jews, or other “infidels”.

This combination of factors meant that the Middle East became predominantly Muslim far later than an older generation of scholars once assumed. Although we lack reliable demographic data from the pre-modern period with which we could make precise estimates (such as censuses or tax registers), historians surmise that Syria-Palestine crossed the threshold of a Muslim demographic majority in the 12th century, while Egypt may have passed this benchmark even later, possibly in the 14th. What we mean by the “Islamic world” thus takes on new meaning: Muslims were the undisputed rulers of the Middle East from the seventh century onward, but they presided over a mixed society in which they were often dramatically outnumbered by non-Muslims.

It is against this backdrop that the phenomenon of Christian martyrdom took place. We know about these martyrs thanks to a large but understudied corpus of hagiographical texts written in a variety of medieval languages, including Greek, Arabic, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian. Set in places as varied as Córdoba, the Nile Delta, Jerusalem, and the South Caucasus, they tell the lives of Christians who ran afoul of the Muslim authorities, were executed, and were later revered as saints. The martyrs were participants in this broader culture of conversion, but as their deaths make clear, they were also dissenters from this culture, individuals who protested Islamisation and attempted to reverse the tide of religious change.

The first and largest group consisted of Christians who converted to Islam but reneged and returned to Christianity. Because apostasy came to be considered a capital offence under Islamic law, they faced execution if found guilty. The second group was made up of Muslim converts to Christianity who had no prior experience of their new religion. The third consisted of Christians who were executed for blasphemy; that is, publicly reviling the Prophet Muhammad, usually before a high-ranking Muslim official. The martyrs were small in number – not more than around 270 discrete individuals between Spain and Iraq – a testament to the relative absence of systematic persecution at the time.

As a collection of texts, the lives of the martyrs represent one of the richest bodies of evidence for understanding conversion in the early medieval Middle East. Yet these sources must be treated with great caution. Saints’ lives are a notoriously formulaic genre, filled with reports of miracles, literary motifs, and theological polemics which can make it difficult to know what “really happened”. Reading the sources alongside contemporary Islamic texts, the book argues that many biographies have a strong basis in reality. At the same time, they were shaped by the literary, social and spiritual priorities of their authors, who were determined to create models of resistance for their flocks, who were increasingly tempted by the faith and culture of the conquerors.

Christian Martyrs under Islam describes a lost world in which Muslims and Christians rubbed shoulders in the most intimate of settings, from workshops and markets to city blocks and even marital beds. Not surprisingly, these interactions gave rise to overlapping practices, including behaviours that blurred the line between the Islam and Christianity. To ensure that conversion and assimilation went exclusively in the direction of Islam, Muslim officials executed the most flagrant boundary-crossers, and Christians, in turn, revered some of these people as saints.

St Stephen's House, Oxford

A brand new exhibition launches this Sunday, 9 September (1-5pm) at SJE Arts in Oxford, the concert and arts venue based at St Stephen’s House, one of Oxford University’s Permanent Private Halls.

‘Wartime at an Oxfordshire Monastery’ tells the First World War story of the community of monks once based at the site that the college now occupies, focusing on specific individuals associated with the monastery during wartime. As well as including profiles of members of the monastery itself, the exhibition features a local woodcarver and organist and communities of local nuns, explaining the contributions they made to the First World War, both at home and abroad.

Made possible by a National Lottery heritage grant, the exhibition marks the centenary of the First World War. Around 100 local schoolchildren, volunteers, teachers and academics were involved in the project, which was led by academic and local social historian Dr Annie Skinner, with Dr Serenhedd James.

The former monastery has been described as containing some of Oxford’s most interesting ‘hidden heritage’. Now largely hidden from view behind the modern-day façade of the Cowley Road, the stunning G F Bodley-designed church and monastery was once a key focal point in this area of the city.

The exhibition is one of the ways St Stephen’s House hopes to encourage more people to come and enjoy the site, following the successful development of a concert and arts venue in the college church and cloister, SJE Arts.

When: Sunday 9 September, 1-5pm, SJE Arts

Where: SJE Arts, 109a Iffley Road, Oxford OX4 1EH

The exhibition is also available digitally.