A Correction…

And, erm, then

…to my King’s Gets Press comments. I’ve been informed that Miles Templeman was more likely not a second choice, but a choice that was made on second thought (as my friend so nicely put it). That is the original Today programme likely had two palaeography supporters and at some point it was decided that a contrary point-of-view was necessary to produce something, as the line goes, fair and balanced. Consequently, Templeman was brought in. Whether based on an internal BBC debate or by the insistence of outside interests, I’ve no idea how all that works there.

As absurd as the title Director of the Institute of Directors sounds — and it does sound like a title one would jokingly give oneself if one were to set up a ghost institute with a fancy webpage to give the impression of influence, import and impact (I’m not saying that’s what IoD is, just that if I were to set up a sham organization, I’d model it along the same lines) — apparently the group is an influential force for promoting its members interests, that is directors of all sorts and stripes. Its clearly not as overtly political as the groups that I recognize from an adolescence in DC, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, but I suspect many of those people might be comfortable at the same cocktail parties. However, I lack the ‘local knowledge’ (if I might borrow a phrase ‘branded’ by HSBC in this context) to characterize it properly.

In any event, calling in a group of directors to defend budget cuts, especially with respect to subjects that they must feel are esoteric like palaeography, does seem to be rather incongruous.

I understand that ‘dusty’ academics are often thought of as less than sympathetic and indentifiable figures in the press. But, if I put myself in the shoes of someone outside both of the academy and of the upper echelons of commerce, I’m not sure who would cut the more reasonable figure in the debate. When I hear a ‘buy-out specialist’ defend university cuts because of the financial crisis, I reflexively think: but what value have you added to the economy? aren’t you the types who brought about this mess, but seem to be doing fine nonetheless? You get the picture.

Yes, I know that it’s the bankers fault, not the marketers, strictly speaking. But if you’ve got a spacey academic and a consultant-type (one who has worked with/for Accenture, you know that consulting group that went by another name before a previous financial super foul-up?), who is going to seem the more in-touch and down-to-earth representative? That’s no ‘slam dunk’.

But enough of matters more apt for the public relations specialists, I urge people to check out the letters posted on-line, as Denis Muzerelle, author of the essential Vocabulaire codicologique, reminds us (view letters here) and write new ones.

People are also encouraged to leave comments to a story about King’s cuts in THES and another piece in The Guardian.

Also, there are many links, excerpts and more at this thread in the Web4Ren Forum (W4RF) at the University of Munich. In that thread is also a short piece from the New Yorker, which I hadn’t seen.


  1. The New Yorker piece disappointed me for two reasons:

    1) because the picture chosen (the first thing one notices when the story appears) expresses all the misconceptions the general public has about paleography in the first place: the study of some old ancient stuff that is irrelevant today . . .except for nice to look when we think of Ye Olde Medieval Stuff. The point should not be “old stuff is imporant because it is old stuff.” We should rather ask: why is old stuff important to our studies in the present? I would be more interested in an answer to that question.

    2) My second argument is related to the first. Macy Halford’s painful entreaty for the study of paleography reminds me of my sixth-grade teacher screaming at us to finish the timed-mile race: “Because things that matter . . . are worth suffering for. And because, once you’ve suffered through something like that, you inevitably emerge telling everyone that in fact you find it fun. Just like a new mother, who forgets the pain of childbirth mere seconds after the fact (or so I hear)…”

    Who’s side is this woman on?

    To argue that we should study paleography because suffering is good for us and because we can brag about our suffering to all of our friends is certainly not a selling point for signing up a course in it. Not to mention the whole off-puttingness of the whole childbirth metaphor.

    If the debate must fall down to the level of marketing . . . and I think that in this day and age it must, we need to amp up the “marketing” on the side of learning. What “value” are we adding to the economy by keeping the chair in paleography?

    If the “value” is only touchy-feely, then we will surely lose the battle.

  2. And thanks to you, Heinrich! A person following the signatures on the on-line petition hopes to increase the number of Renaissance, early modern scholars, archivists and devotees. So we are grateful that you’ve been following and updating on the matter on the Web4Ren Forum!

    And Jena, you should post that on Halford’s story. It is curious (and others have noticed it) that a subject like palaeography often elicits support from ‘traditionalist’ type arguments for lack of a better term, those of the sort like ‘This is how we did it in the old days, so it’s how we should do it now’, or ‘If it’s painful, it builds character!’, and then the Western canon and so forth. People from other parts of the humanistic spectrum can go different ways depending. The ones adamantly opposed seem to be the commercial and market types, often the same people who believe that all they have accomplished they have done on their own without recognizing the role that a safe, open and relatively transparent society has in providing the space for those individual accomplishments, which also fails to recognize the role that the humanities play in providing and maintaining a well-informed public sphere, a pretty crucial component for a free society in which markets and democratic processes can operate.

  3. Yes – I’d really like a wider, more engaging conversation (online, in the press, or elsewhere) about the value (and yes, I do mean economic) of the humanities full stop. No one is willing to argue anymore that having read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” makes you a more compassionate scientist or doctor. You say that a well-informed public sphere is a crucial component for the smooth operation of a free society, but is this not also a traditionalist argument? Doesn’t it depend on what type of society we want? Or is “culture” the great unifier, as that evil Matthew Arnold once argued.

  4. Oh wait. I just realized the problem We no longer see “culture” as something we must learn, or as something that must be handed down to us. We believe we are culture.

  5. I don’t have a problem with our being culture. But study of present culture is kind of broadly social science-y in orientation and I’ll leave that to them.

    By well-informed, I’m not thinking that people have to know Cicero’s speeches to have an idea of how to defend republicanism or something specious like that, but more that we need societies that have people with a wide range of experience and expertise. This to ensure well-informed debate and because we don’t know what the problems of the future will be we should investigate as fully as possible in all directions. Not everybody needs to be able to recite extended Shakespeare or Vergil, those things that might have served as centrifugal cultural elements once upon a time, but it’s useful to have some people who can, and some people who know something about 19th century China, some who sort out ancient inscriptions and others who compare the media traditions of oral cultures and the internet, in short what makes us common and different from each and the past.

    In other words, there is a danger in creating a world in which everyone is trained to maximize everything (profit, life expectancy, fun!) without understanding what the heck is going on. Nor does that mean that maximizing stuff is bad in itself.