We’re back in the season of lecture fetishism. ‘Workshy’ lecturers are being ‘ordered’ back into the classroom to provide ‘proper’ value-for-money education rather than cut-price online stuff, while apparently the university life of a Times‘ columnist’s offspring would be ruined by having too much online learning. What’s striking is how far their conception of what should be restored is the sort of lecture that went out of fashion, at least outside basic introductory courses in the hard sciences, decades ago: to quote the old joke, the lecture as a means of transferring information from the lecturer’s notes to the student’s notes without passing through the brains of either. And, as I commented last week, some of the defences of the shift to online learning are equally ignorant of what actually happens in lecture rooms these days. It really feels like a debate about the current state of popular music between adherents of 7″ flexidiscs and proponents of cassette singles; not just total indifference to the content (hey, maybe someone should suggest to the Times that it’s easier to promote decolonisation and cultural Marxism in in-person classes where there are no recordings…) but utter ignorance of how technology and techniques have changed, and what the real issues are. Continue Reading »

Come What May

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently preparing next term’s teaching – it’s been one of those weeks when the lingering effects of the plague make me incapable of stringing coherent thoughts together for more than five minutes at a time, and the better prepared I am for the new academic year then the bigger the chance I may be able to get writing done then, if the brain finds its way out of the doldrums. Bibliographies, guidance on assessment tasks, seminar texts, thumbnail pictures for the VLE. And then we come to the description of teaching and learning methods, and summary of how students will be expected to engage with the modules… Hmm. Can I get back to you on that? Continue Reading »

The Real Thing


I have, so far, quite mixed feelings about The Hundred. On the one hand, it’s been great to see some more cricket on television, the level of skill and excitement involved has been pretty impressive (and I remain delighted – cf. T20 – that the advent of shorter forms of the game has brought about a dramatic revival in the art and importance of slow bowling, rather than, as I feared when the bush-bash style first appeared, destroying it). On the other hand, so much of it seems to be gratuitously gimmicky, revealing total lack of belief in the inherent attractions of the game itself so it’s necessary to switch to decimal, add a pointless DJ and adopt fluorescent colours that were the cutting edge of modernity back in 1986. And the franchise names. Oh dear gods, the names. The only explanation is that the marketing people were given a brief to exclude anything that gave the slightest hint of place or tradition, as that might accidentally remind people of the county game. So instead we get things that sound like cheap aftershave or rapacious hedge fund operations.

What I really like is the degree to which the women’s game is being put, if not front and centre, then at least in a much more visible position, with matches being played in parallel with the men’s as part of a day’s entertainment. After the hugely entertaining series between England and India earlier in the summer, which must also have persuaded some people that there’s just as much skill and excitement on offer here as in the regular men’s competition, this is all for the good. The one thing that’s missing is a combined table – why not treat the whole thing as a single competition? This has been noted by a few people (I owe it to Paul Cotterill, @Bickerrecord), but for some reason no one yet seems to have actually constructed said table. So, here it is – and, no, I am not planning to go down the rabbit-hole of calculating strike rates as well, unless I get seriously bored, but I will keep this updated over the course of the season…

Update: belated thought that what would be really good is if, once it becomes obvious that some franchises’ women’s teams are much better than their men, they switch round the double-header order occasionally, so the men’s match is the curtain-raiser…

[Note on the table: should be self-explanatory, but MW = Men Won, WL = Women Lost, NR = No Result, and teams on the same points total are listed in alphabetical order pending me deciding that, yes, I am going to waste time calculating their run rates…]

Crown of Creation

Final jazz composition class of the year, and, no, to be honest I didn’t really want to spend the first part of it discussing creative processes and the things that get in the way of writing. In musical terms, it’s a very interesting question, and I’ve made enormous progress this year; I had not realised quite how much I like being given homework on a weekly basis, but this is not just about having a structured task to complete but also learning the importance of setting parameters – rather than “go away and write something”, it’s a matter of e.g. “go away and write something featuring fourths”, immediately giving a focus for one’s efforts, and that then reinforces the need to set some other parameters for oneself, at least as a starting point. It works both as a learning experience (getting a really good understanding of fourths by exploring the different things you can do with them in the process of trying to produce something that sounds half decent) and as a structure for the process, and I’m going to see how to replicate this in some of next year’s teaching – tricky, since this is about developing skills more than learning content, whereas ancient history courses tend to be more the other way round, or at least the skills are developed in parallel over the course of the year rather than explored one by one, but not impossible… Continue Reading »

It’s an interesting coincidence that this week I happen to be re-reading Marshall Sahlins’ Apologies to Thucydides. Sahlins explores the contrast between the idea of a monolithic, predictable and universal ‘human nature’, such that behaviour is assumed to be determined by a limited number of normative principles (an idea he associates, slightly unfairly, with Thucydides; it’s rather a feature of one tradition of the modern reception of Thucydides), and the idea of ‘culture’ as innately human but also endlessly various, highlighting the many different ways in which one might understand and relate to the world, society, other people etc.

What is striking about UK government pronouncements about the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, echoing most of their rhetoric throughout the pandemic, is their combination of these two positions: a rigidly absolutist concept of national culture. Continue Reading »

Perhaps it was A.J.P. Taylor’s fault. Certainly, if he imagined a ‘public intellectual’, it was Taylor who came to mind – not because he’d ever actually experienced Taylor in that role, but an impressionable age he had read an obituary or tribute that stressed Taylor’s activities in taking academic history to a wider audience, and their consequences for his career. He had drawn from this two things, one more obviously erroneous than the other: firstly, that in any conflict between history as the exclusive preserve of an elite and history as something for everyone, the latter position was clearly noble and correct; secondly, that, having established one’s academic credentials, it was enough then to be willing to take these to a wider audience for the opportunities to do so to materialise. The possibilities that Taylor had energetically sought out such opportunities, and benefited from being enormously well connected and having the prestige of an Oxford position if never the Regius chair, or simply that times had changed and there was now no shortage of historians willing to take their work to a wider audience and pronounce on the issues of the day, genuinely had not occurred to him until much later. Continue Reading »

Scene: The Secret Headquarters. A group of heavy-set, anonymous-looking men in suits, wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors, are seated around a table. Editorial Board member 1: So what did we learn? Editorial Board member 2: I don’t know, sir. Editorial Board member 1: I don’t f***** know either. I guess we learned not to do it again. Editorial Board member 2: No, sir. Editorial Member 1: I’m f***** if I know what we did. Editorial Board member 2: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.

Okay, that’s just gratuitous snark, and I like Burn Before Reading. The thing about the Peter Singer Does Apuleius affair is that there are many different things that different people ought to consider not doing again, of varying degrees of wider interest. Continue Reading »

Homer’s Iliad: perhaps the most grotesquely over-valued work of human culture after Shakespeare; entire books pass by without even the implied presence of a horse pulling a chariot, and the famous critique of the manufacture of artficial animals for destructive ends turns out not even to be in the poem. Marginally relieved by its embrace of the principle that superior healthy beings should end the lives of others. Continue Reading »

Recent end-of-year discussions of the experience of online teaching, combined with contemplation of what next year might be like, reminded me that I meant to post a summary of the best of autocaptioning. Maybe this can be a permanent replacement for the annual festival of exam errors that some academics are so fond of celebrating; these are so much stupider, and create far more work… Continue Reading »

I am feeling tired and useless and miserable, and my nose hurts. The latter is due to being swiped by Olga, who took exception to being removed from the study windowsill where she was happily watching birds; the rest is seriously over-determined, but at least one contributing factor is the effort of trying to take on board the feedback on my latest bit of jazz composition. All this term we’ve been working on a piece based, however loosely, on rhythm changes [note for non-jazz people: the basic structure of George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, which formed the basis for numerous other compositions, especially in the bebop era, and interminable jam sessions]. I’ve been struggling to develop something that doesn’t just sound like a pastiche of Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington – there simply don’t seem to be many models for more contemporary rhythm changes, apart from Thelonius Monk, and if you follow that you just sound like second-rate Monk – but had written something that I thought was actually interesting and with a strong melody line. So it was a little disheartening – getting close attention from the tutor is always a double-edged sword – to be told that, while the rhythm is interesting and the bass line is good, and the melody has a good rhythm, my note choices are much too nice and safe, and by implication boring. Continue Reading »