I actually have several ideas for posts lined up – my thoughts on the Thucydides adaptation, some musings on the reception of Thucydides outside the Western tradition – and absolutely no time to spare to write them at the moment, as I have to finish marking several different piles of student essays in time to get some sort of a paper scribbled for the conference on Monday. Normal service will be resumed at some point; meanwhile, I’ve been meaning for ages to post a copy of my old paper on ideas of the past in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; one of my favourites of everything I’ve ever written, as it happens. Never managed to get it published, for various reasons; it did reside on my personal webpage at the university for a while, but that has long since stopped working properly…
As performed by members of Studiospace at Foyle’s, Cabot Circus, Bristol on Sunday 10th November as part of the University of Bristol’s Thinking Futures and Inside Arts festivals of ideas; I hope to find time in the near future to talk a bit about the ideas behind this adaptation.
REPORTER: The state of war has already lasted for more than a decade; even when there has been little open fighting, its effects continued to spread throughout the world. Each superpower seeks to extend its influence in regions of strategic importance – which of course means almost everywhere – and so more and more countries are drawn into the confrontation and forced to choose a side. The Athenian fleet has arrived now at the small island of Melos, and presented its leaders with a simple ultimatum: surrender your independence, or be destroyed.
Via my colleague Chris Brooke, I’ve just come across the letter published in The Times on Saturday by Professor Sir Fergus Millar, which notes the concerns of the Minister for Universities about the increasing emphasis on research over teaching in UK HEIs, but emphasises both the extent to which this has been driven by government policies, rather than idle academics neglecting their students in favour of their pet projects, and the extent to which this has warped the research activities themselves. Funding for research, Sir Fergus argues, has shifted more and more from direct grants to individual projects; universities are ever more desperate for the overheads and estate costs that come with such projects, and so individual academics (who have now lost tenure and so are at the mercy of their managers) are compelled to expend effort on writing grant applications, at the expense of their teaching and the research they actually want to do. “It is not that funding is sought in order to carry out research, but that research projects are formulated in order to get funding.” Long-term research projects, with uncertain outcomes (let alone impact), are rendered impossible, not least by short REF cycles.
An old friend, Constantina Katsari, has just announced that she’s leaving academia, perhaps for ever. I’ve known about this for a while, simply because we had been corresponding about the possibility of developing a collaborative research project on the ancient economy, which now has to be shelved [attempts to disguise fact that he's talking through clenched teeth...]. You can hear more about this move, as well as getting a sense of Constantina’s personal and intellectual biography, in a recent interview from Radio Leicester (starts at about 12 minutes in, just after Shania Twain). I know a bit about some of her reasons and some of her plans, and I’m sure we’re going to be hearing more about the latter in the near future – there are already some hints in the way that she’s revamped her Love of History blog:
Now, I am looking at my life and my passions, while I am trying to redefine myself as a historian. For years I have published for the few academics who are interested in economic history, comparative slavery and identities. Probably a few dozen scholars dissected, scrutinised and reviewed my books and articles mostly in constructive ways. I participated in debates, I promoted the subject in conferences and participated in large projects.
Now, I am ready to take the next step. There is no reason why a professional academic historian cannot turn into a public/ popular historian. I certainly have the knowledge. It is time to share it with the many (hoi polloi). This blog is the first step towards that direction and will open new horizons to entrepreneurial activity in history.
Tom Holland has been doing the Twitter equivalent of prodding me with a pointed stick, loudly advertising the fact that he, Vic Reeves and Tanni Grey-Thompson were going to be discussing late Roman economic policy on ITV this evening, purely to annoy me. He must have a new book to plug, and wants to provoke a bit of controversy-related publicity. I determined, therefore, not only to watch the programme but to like it; after all, it’s great that there is still a bit of archaeology on television, at prime time no less, and it emphasises the possibility of constructive co-existence between professionals and enthusiastic (and often very knowledgeable) amateurs, and shows a wide range of fascinating objects with interesting back stories, and the celebrity presenters (including our Tom) do the necessary job of refusing to take academic equivocation for an answer from the various experts, without drowning out their caveats altogether. Interesting to note that the unifying theme of the programme was something to the effect that in this ever-changing world in which we live in, some things remain the same, rather than emphasising the equally plausible but perhaps less comforting idea that the past may in many ways be another country. Shades of heritage and Our Island Story…
I’m celebrating today submitting a substantial (in both senses of the word) funding application for the next phase of the Thucydides project, which has involved several days’ worth of staring at figures wondering why they were refusing to add up. It really doesn’t help that the university’s Full Economic Costing system and the Je-S application system use different categories for expenditure, so it’s more or less impossible to input exactly the same information in the same format into each – and neither of them really suited my purposes so I produced my own master costings spreadsheet, and hence at times found that I had three different versions of what was supposed to be the same bit of the budget. Anyway, the application finally reached the “that’ll do” stage last night, and this morning I checked the last financial anomaly and pressed the ‘submit’ button on each of the systems (having spent five minutes wondering whether it would make a difference which one went first – this sort of thing does get to one eventually…); I’ve therefore spent a chunk of this afternoon indulging in a bit of light relief, and this podcast is the result; it’s ages since I did one, so it’s definitely a bit rough round the edges, but it’ll do…
Here comes the technofear. Again. Actually it seems to turn up at ever-diminishing intervals; the gap between my mastering some aspect of new technology and my realising that I’m still light-years behind developments gets steadily smaller, partly, I suppose, because my mastering the new technology increases my access to information about other technological stuff. This isn’t going to get any better this side of the singularity, is it?
The particular issue this time arises from the application I’m putting together for a new phase of the Reception of Thucydides project. Compared with the previous phase (see previous posts), this includes some really neat ideas for outreach and impact activity, largely due to one of my (I hope) future collaborators, Liz Sawyer, including the proper development of the Thinking Through Thucydides multi-layered digital text thing that I’ve been trying to get off the ground for a bit. That’s really good, said the internal reviewer in Bristol, but it’s a shame you’re not planning to develop an app as well.
Hmm. As I believe the current argot would have it, WTAF? Please bear in mind that it was only this summer that I ceased to be one of those old-fashioned people who use their mobile phone solely for phone calls, and mainly just to let me wife know that I’m on my way home. Having upgraded to a SmartPhone, and while still struggling to master the swipy-swipy technique (why can I make the text bigger but not smaller?), I now find that I’ve merely moved into the class of old-fashioned people who use their mobile phone solely to check their email now and again. I more or less understand the idea of apps in principle, I just don’t grasp them in practice – and I struggle to imagine what a Thucydides app would look like. You type in a question about foreign affairs, political issues or personal relationships, and up pops a decontextualised, mistranslated pearl of Thucydidean wisdom? You type in a question about foreign affairs, political issues or personal relationships, and every time the answer is: the strong do what they can. and the weak suffer what they must? (Which, to be fair, isn’t any more vacuous than the usual Give me the serenity to accept the stuff that’s unavoidable etc. line).