King’s Palaeography Gets Press

friend from the U.K. alerted me to two examples of press coverage of the King’s decision.

The first runs 5:42 and is from the BBC’s Radio 4 programme Today. The palaeography chair is defended by Irving Finkel, an assistant keeper at the British Museum’s Department of The Ancient Near East. The elimination is supported by Miles Templeman, Director General of the Institute of Directors.

Before I get too sarky about what the heck “a marketing specialist” (whose credits include the “growth of such brands as Boddingtons and Stella Artois” as well as serving as a non-executive director for a “buy-out specialist”) has to do with palaeography, the humanities or anything related to higher education, I’m going to assume that the first-choice for this spot had another appointment. The programme’s textual lead does suggest that a professor of Roman history was to be present.

The second, “Writing off the UK’s last palaeographer”, is from The Guardian and features Irving Finkel again, as well as a quote from Jeffrey Hamburger.

On Apilist, the APICES mailing list, some important mails suggested that people focus efforts on writing letters to the principal rather than on a publicity campaign. I suspect that it was felt that publicly voiced animosity would not be productive, and as far as I know that hasn’t happened. This may explain why there isn’t a prominent western-oriented medievalist taking up the role Finkel has presently. The upshot of the (in)action is that the publicity now appears to be coming from the press rather than an embittered group of cloistered professors of archaic studies. That is it’s a story, not a letter to the editor, and so, one hopes, more noticeable.

In looking at some of the signatures on the on-line petition (6042 signatures at present), it is a delight to see the number of librarians and archivists who have lent their names, the good number of people working in humanities technologies (also known as digital humanities, humanistic informatics and so on) and all the calligraphers, freelancers and others. The number of letters from outside the strictly medievalist or classicist communities should reinforce the public role palaeography plays (never mind how arcane the whole ‘palaeo’-thing sounds).

There is also a bigger concern here, of course. As individual camps of humanities faculties struggle to defend themselves or their colleagues, the need to distinguish any single position seems to come at the expense of defending the venture as a whole. If everyone has to re-apply for his or her own job, no one is mounting a public defense of the humanities overall. It’s hard to tell if this is by design or by accident, but dispiriting nonetheless.


  1. Many thanks for the reminder! I hope people will be encouraged to read and write more.