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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

One of the things I always do in the Christmas vacation is catch up on the year’s music that I’ve missed. Partly it’s a matter of having a little bit more leisure to try out the unfamiliar, that might throw me off my stride or drive me up the wall, rather than sticking to things that I know will relax me or offer a suitable background for lecture prep or marking. Partly, though, it’s because of the End of Year lists – not so much those of the mainstream press, but something like The Spill, for its random eclecticism and the fact that I know that if contributor X likes something then it is at least worth a listen. It’s how the Spotify algorithm ought to work: a selection of people from across the globe with very different tastes, just presenting what they thought was great. Especially this year, when my involvement in composition classes means I’ve been listening to much more jazz and much less of anything else, this is invaluable in giving me a sense of what else is out there. (And I now have some new marking music – strong recommendation for the latest album from Ulrike Haage, not to mention her soundtrack to the recent Berlin 1945 series).)

And that is what I aim to do with this post every year: (more…)

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There’s nothing like an enforced lockdown in the middle of a global pandemic to force someone like me – not antisocial, exactly, but inclined to assume that others are happy to get on with their lives without me imposing on their precious time – to start making contact and reinforcing connections. Longer emails for family and close friends, regular social media contact for everyone else – with a powerful sense of how far I’m already a member of a couple of really important online communities, consisting mainly of people I’ve never met in person, that are now even more important.

One of the things this has brought home is how downright weird some of the algorithms have become. (more…)

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Leadership for Dummies

Suddenly the idea that political power should be allocated on the basis of legitimate descent from generations of ruthless thugs, or even on the whim of a strange woman in a lake handing out swords, doesn’t seem so bad, because apparently the alternative – the unanswerable reason why Labour politicians are unfit for government – is the ability to recite a large chunk of material in a foreign language, learnt by heart back at school.

Not just any material, of course. (more…)

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It’s the annual meeting of the International Society for Dinosaur Research. Concerned by a fall-off in student recruitment, as young people increasingly look to more relevant, future-orientated degree programmes that offer a better chance of a job at the end, and shaken by its image as a hotbed of sexism and dodgy relationships with students (as seen on Friends), the Society has organised an open discussion of the future of the discipline. One delegate takes the microphone. “Our discipline was founded on the exploration of God’s miraculous creation, but we’ve increasingly abandoned those sacred values, and put off many students, through an emphasis on autonomous natural processes and time-spans of millions of years in a way that directly contradicts Scripture!” As members of the panel interject, and someone tries to take the microphone away: “You are betraying our heritage! We are the dinosaurs!” (more…)

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It is perfectly possible that I spend too much time on the Internet, and on social media. But there is so much amazing stuff out there – insightful, informative, passionate, provocative, brilliantly written stuff, produced not for profit but for the sake of the ideas and the wish to communicate with others – and if it wasn’t for the Twitter I wouldn’t know a thing about most of it. My ‘best of’ list seems to get longer every year, perhaps because I’ve got into the habit of making notes as soon as I’ve read something, rather than relying on my ever more erratic memory to recall things from earlier in the year – and this is as much about reminding myself and revisiting things as it as about recommending that you should read them too… (more…)

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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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