Episode #3 “Roaming through Rome – an imaginary walk through an ancient city” with Rogier van der Heijden
In our third episode of Walk & Talk we are travelling back in time to explore ancient city spaces with historian Rogier van der Heijden. From an apartment in the old town of Freiburg in Breisgau interviewer Lukas Helbich and Rogier go on an imaginary walk and discuss the sensuality of cobblestones, the visual directionality of architecture, and differences as well as similarities of social impact and structure in modern and ancient cities.
How did people in ancient cities might experience their environment? What could they have seen, heared, smelled, touched, or tasteed when they walked through the streets, over squares, along theatres and latrines, towards temples, into vestibules, or just home? How did emperors and inhabitants design and re-design the shapes of cities, and with what intention and consequences?
Urban researcher would love to interview an ancient Roman, Sarde or Athenian to find out more about those questions. But since the methods for such research have not been invented yet we need to indirectly reconstruct the way inhabitants might have experienced ancient cities. This is what Rogier van der Heijden does in his PhD-project “Constructing the past. Imperial temporality and civic identity in Roman Sardis and Gerasa, 17 – 235 CE” at the DFG Graduiertenkolleg 2571 „Imperien“ at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany.
In our conversation Rogier explained why it is interesting for ancient historians to look at urban spaces and which methods they use. We talked about how historians can reconstruct the sensual and bodily experiences of moving through the ancient city of Rome and which architectures and infrastructures might have influenced these experiences. Rogier elaborated on the holistic, multisensory approach towards ancient urban environments, which takes into account all human senses. As you can hear in our podcast, there is a lot to learn about live in nowadays cities from the similarities with and differences to ancient cities. And, of course, we would not be the Walk & Talk Podcast if we did not talk about the importance and the experience of walking in ancient Rome as well as in contemporary cities.
Those who like to use more than one sense to learn about Rogier’s work can read his recently published paper ‘Seeing the Colosseum Valley as a Flavian District. Urban Space as a Demonstration of Imperial Ideology in the Flavian Period’.
Episode #2 “Off the Beaten Track – Exploring Forms of Life in the Digital Gaming Environment of Fallout 4″ with Sebastian Jung
The brand-new episode of The Walk & Talk Series, continues in an (already) experimental spirit: Venturing out into a primarily digital environment, our walkers discuss and maneuver the story world of Fallout4, a successful 2015 video game set in fictional future following a nuclear war. Virtually walking through this post-apocalyptic scenario and surrounded by various mutated creatures and technologically-enhanced entities, thought-provoking questions on human- and otherness, as well as on the ambivalences inherent to digitally mediated, bodily (walking) experience arose.
We owe this exciting journey to Sebastian Jung, a Ph.D. researcher at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, who currently holds the position of speaker of the working group on Game Studies and investigates mutant-figures in literary fiction within his current research project.
The idea of exploring a digital environment emerged during one of our editorial meetings, after having extensively experienced the consequences of the pandemic on our working and daily routines: during the lockdown, it was evident how digital technologies obtained increasing relevance. The questions that we have been asking ourselves concerning these conditions included: What happens if one organizes a walking interview within a digital scenario? How can the stimuli provided by a digital world affect the interviewer/ee? How does exploring a virtual space through the digital body of a character influence the conversation? How does the notion of ‘walking’ change when one explores a (virtual) world while staying ‘physically’ seated at the same time? All these issues lie in the background of the current episode.
We are very happy to have won Sebastian Jung for this new episode: he works within English and Cultural Studies at the GCSC with a variety of interests including Science and Speculative Fiction, Cultural Anthropology, Interfaces of Sciences, Art and the Humanities, (Bio-)Ethics, Myth and Metaphor as well as Game Studies. We not only appreciate him as a dedicated researcher in his fields but also for having supported us in the concept for this episode and the search for a suitable digital video world for our walking interview.
In fact, Sebastian was not only our guest but also our guide within the post-apocalyptic terrain of Fallout 4, without whom we would have been hopelessly lost in an environment as hostile as we found it: Fallout 4 is an action role-playing video game that displays a devastated landscape around an imaginary future Boston and a variety of forms of life in interaction with the character played. The interview was conducted by Liza Bauer, a member of the Walk & Talk editorial team and an expert in Animal Studies and Ecocriticism. Her scholarly background favored conversation regarding the several nonhuman entities populating Fallout 4. The presence of mutants, corpses, wild-roaming robots in the videogame’s post-apocalyptic version of ‘wilderness’ resulted as being fruitful for reflecting on concepts about monstrosity, hybridity, mutation (which very well dialogue with dynamics of the present-day ‘real’ world), but also the tensions between Aristotle’s “differentia specifica” and an evolution theoretical perspective on biology.
Experiencing the freedoms as well as limitations offered by a digital gaming environment in a time marked by severe restrictions of mobility—due to the Corona pandemic—facilitates critical reflections upon the world we live in. And in the light of the huge popularity of a mass-marketed and high-budget video game such as Fallout 4, reflecting upon the models of relationality towards other life forms it promotes can certainly be worth its while.
*The episode was recorded in Summer 2021; Sebastian and our interviewer Liza followed all the precautions and guidelines established by the German government regarding the corona pandemic, including antigene testing prior to, and wearing face masks, keeping safety distances, and ensuring ventilation during the interview. Additionally, only a limited number of people were present during the recording inside the indoor space. All of these aspects should be taken into account as integral elements of Episode 2.
Beyond acknowledging the limitations these factors pose onto the episode’s production process, we invite the listeners of this podcast to understand them as its agentive contributors as well:As significant materials among the countless other ones constituting our walking interviews and adding to their affective potentials, the corona restrictions co-shape this episode as they do with regards to each and everyone’s daily experience.
Episode #1 The Walk & Talk Series kicks off with Marija Spirkovska and “The Pavement: Underdog of Urban Spaces”
The Walk & Talk Series was initiated by a group of Ph.D. researchers at the beginning of 2020. We strived for profound scientific conversations that take place in an environment which both situates and reflects the talk. Accordingly, we select and couple locations and an interviewee for each episode. Hence, while exploring a surrounding that is linked to the experts’ research fields, the invited scholars present their studies in dialogue with an informed interviewer. To maintain the intimacy of this conversation situation while capturing a large audience, we chose this format of auditorily mediated Walk & Talks as a form of scientific exchange, output, and entertainment.
Since the Corona pandemic occurred during the planning of this explicitly embodied practice of scholarly engagement, our approach became aggravated by required physical distancing. However, the omnipresence of nonhuman agency as intrinsically entangled within human society became painfully obvious. Thus, we replanned our episodes and decided to address what is right in front of us: Walking. Walking is not only a key element of our podcast concept, but also a specific practice that gained attention in these times when public spaces, public life, and public protest are under pressure.
In this regard, we have invited an expert on space, the urban, and walking itself: Marija Spirkovska. Marija is a Ph.D. researcher at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) working on interplays between space, psychopathology, and embodiment in city literature. Marija is furthermore a co-founder of the scientific blog Random Walks which focuses on urban aesthetics and practices.
While moving around an urban surrounding which was fundamentally marked by the pandemic at the moment of our recording in the fall of 2020, we recognized the pavement as the underdog of public spaces, addressed the changing conditions of cognitive mapping in city spaces under lockdown, and reviewed aesthetic pleasure in downtown Giessen, Germany. Considering that Marija engages with interstices, travel, and transition in her work, we took a train to continue our journey in a more ‘rural’ area nearby. Our bodies in motion led us to discuss the notion of mobility and spatial agency and while entering woodlands, we came across talking about the dualisms of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’.
The interview was conducted by Florentine Schoog – a member of the Walk & Talk editorial team – who was especially curious about the naturecultures of this transitional promenade, as she pursues her Ph.D. in sociology, investigating discourses around climate crises and the Anthropocene. Narrating modernity through ‘the city’ and a political stance towards the notion of the public and the social conditions during the Corona pandemic especially sparked both Marija’s and Florentine’s enthusiasm and interest.
Florentine and the entire Walk & Talk team would like to give a big thank you to Marija Spirkovska not only for being the first guest of the series but also for sharing her stimulating insights and experiences during a vibrant afternoon in and around Giessen. The noise of the city life and wearing face masks during half of our talk did require extra concentration and affects the auditory quality of the episode. However, we invite our listeners to consider these aspects as ultimately legitimate nonhuman actors participating in our embodied walk & talk experience.
*The episode was recorded in Fall 2020; therefore, Marija and interviewer Florentine wear face masks during the first half of the episode, which narrows the auditory quality. However, we invite you to consider their masks as ultimately legitimate actors in our embodied walk & talk experience.