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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

We Need To Talk About Classics

Today seems like a good day to talk about the culpability of Classicists in the ongoing horror clown saga that is the Brexit process. Partly, I think that it might be good for everyone in the UK, whichever way one voted (or didn’t), to admit to some degree of responsibility for the mess in which we now find ourselves, as a principled counter-example to the unedifying spectacle of those who do actually bear a considerable amount of responsibility merrily distancing themselves from the shambles and pretending that it’s nothing to do with them and if only people had listened to them we wouldn’t have all this trouble (I mean, how can anyone have the brass neck, or total lack of shame, to repudiate an agreement that they were involved in negotiating, less than twelve hours after they’d accepted a collective cabinet decision to endorse it?). Partly, with a bit of luck there’s so much else going on that no one will notice… (more…)

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Interest Free

I’m very conscious of the risk of seeming – or indeed becoming – obsessed with one negative review; I’m sure there are plenty more such reviews to come, probably more carefully framed and less entertainingly vituperative. But my sense is that this review is less about my book than what that book is perceived to represent, from someone who feels outraged by it not just on their own behalf but on behalf of an entire scholarly tradition that feels under attack; and so it’s not unreasonable to reflect on what the review tells us, perhaps inadvertently, about that tradition. Especially to reflect on the bits that seem really odd… (more…)

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Bemusement So, my new book Classics: why it matters has been reviewed on the Classics For All webpage by Richard Jenkyns – I’d asked for a copy to be sent to them (I don’t know if they’re on the regular distribution list for review copies) as they’re a worthy organisation seeking to promote the study of classics in state schools rather than keeping it as preserve of the elite, and that’s one of the points of the book. Jenkyns is one of their patrons, so it’s entirely reasonable that they asked him to write the review – and he didn’t like it much… Okay, I wouldn’t have expected my comments on the place of ancient languages to win much favour with an eminent Oxford classicist, but is it really true, as is implied, that the book only shows any liveliness when it’s attacking classics? How must I have failed to express myself clearly, if someone thinks that I’m recommending David Engels’ prophecies of doom as a model for classical studies, rather than offering them as an example and symptom of alarming politicised appropriation of the ancient world? And as for the idea that Thucydides is straightforward to read in translation whereas such an approach in the case of Tacitus would inevitably lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding… (more…)

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992 Arguments

How do we teach our students to argue, in an appropriate academic manner? At least one of the key elements is to help them to recognise, and criticise, different sorts of arguments in the secondary literature – and then to encourage them to turn this critical sense on their own work, to question every statement that they make and probe every possible weakness. But this needs to be critical criticism, so to speak; criticism that’s tempered by a sense of realism, of what is actually possible in historical studies – and by an awareness that there is rarely a single straightforward answer to anything, or a single correct approach. For example, identifying every source, ancient and modern, as ‘biased’ may be true, and better than total credulousness, but it’s generally unhelpful; at best it’s a first step rather than a conclusion, given the impossibility of finding a source that doesn’t have its own perspective, concealed or unconscious or otherwise. And if I thought it would help, I’d spend a lot of time citing Matthew 7.1-5… (more…)

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My book has been published (on Friday, to be precise, at least for the UK)! Rather to my surprise, it’s already been getting some attention, with blog posts from Matthew Reisz in the Times Higher Education Supplement and from Mary Beard. Yes, a gratuitously stroppy account of the current state of Classics as a discipline and Why It Matters is more accessible than some of my usual obscure ramblings – but I have written would-be accessible things in the past, which have largely sunk without trace. Maybe it’s the moment.

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When it comes to my own writing, at least, I’ve always been a follower of the “that’ll do” principle; not quite the slapdash approach the phrase might imply (though doubtless there are critics out there who think my books exemplify the slapdash approach), but the art of recognising the point of diminishing marginal returns, when – given that perfection will always remain out of reach – the expenditure of addition time and effort ceases to yield proportionate improvements in the quality of the manuscript, especially when it’s probably already months (if not years) overdue and double especially when there are loads of other things I want to write about as well. It’s all about the jazz idea of creating something in the moment, of the moment, and then moving onto what the next moment calls for, rather than endlessly honing the same thing in the hope of transcending intellectual entropy.

This approach has worked well enough – until now. (more…)

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This isn’t the Summer of Love; it may be the Summer of Bad-Tempered Arguments About Classics and Racism. Over in the US, Sarah Bond‘s articles on the ‘white-washing’ of classical statues – that is, why do we think of them in terms of gleaming white marble when they were actually painted? – have provoked a furious backlash from the far right, including death threats.* In the UK, an alt-right blogger objected to the fact that a BBC educational cartoon on life in Roman Britain included black people – “I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?” – and was carefully schooled by @MikeStuchbery_, Matthew Nicholls from Reading, Mary Beard and others – with the result that Mary, at least, now seems to be spending six hours a day responding to people on Twitter about this.

What is surprising about these two arguments is that the substantive issues – ancient statues were painted, the Roman Empire (including Britain) was ethnically diverse – are such old hat. (more…)

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