The King’s Palaeography Struggle in the Scope of the Humanities

Parchment of a past that cannot be read

Almost a month after its initial appearance, Mary Beard’s post continues (or continued) to receive comments, most recently one by Teresa Webber, a prominent and influential palaeographer at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she repeats comments to a THE piece. In fact that piece elicited a (seemingly authentic) comment from Rick Trainor, the principal at King’s. Trainor is also quoted (from a recording of a staff forum) in a more recent story, warning that cuts may be worse than Thatcher’s: “we’re already certainly going to get as much as we got in the early 1980s, and it may be twice as bad.” Trainor also addressed THE directly, stating (and it’s hard not to imagine a smiling man waving as he is airlifted off a sinking ship while the crew desperately bail water): “This is by no means a drastic programme. It is one that is a significant, but not a drastic, reaction to a major crisis…”

Meanwhile, an e-mail is making the rounds forwarding a letter bearing Iain Pears’s signature (Remember An Instance of the Fingerpost, featuring historian and antiquary Anthony Wood). It suggests that in light of continuing administrative costs and recruitment during this significant programme, the university is no longer an institution of learning but a nationalised industry serving bureaucracy itself.

The whole thing is worth a read because it frames the decision to eliminate the palaeography chair at King’s in a broader context of decimating the humanities and the need for solidarity in the face of a managerial method that divides (Read The palaeographer and the manager (pdf)). Please note all caveats about authenticity and verifiability are in order. I don’t know the facts but agree with the sentiments. For what it’s worth, the email has been circulated by respectable (at least in my book, perhaps not yours) parties with a request to pass it on. If the piece does in fact appear in a legit venue somewhere else, I will be sure to update.

I confess that I have at times thought that countries besides the U.S. manage academic freedom without a tenure system by a variety of methods and with differing results. But this action by King’s (and those in other UK universities) has had a chilling effect on that thought. The specter of drudge workers in a knowledge economy perpetuating a bureaucratic technocracy makes all the more poignant some of the defenses for tenure in the comments here.

[27.02.10 Edit: Iain Pears (or a facebook Iain Pears) verifies the note is his, stating (on the Save Palaeography At King’s London page):

I wrote a short comment on this business, which escaped and is now, somewhat to my surprise, roaming free across the wilds of the internet. If anyone wants to read the whole thing, they may now find it here:

The blog itself appears set up expressly to post the comment, for now anyway.

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