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Well, they're just a bunch of old books
February 4, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

King's College London is planning to eliminate 22 positions in Arts and Humanities, including the elimination of the entire Palaeography department.

Other plans include merging the Byzantine department with Classics, and eliminating several language positions.

The most galling aspect of this, however, is the elimination of the Palaeography department, and "the only established chair in the subject in the country", as Professor Beard states in this blog post. As she goes on to say, "The only way that we can hope to understand books and manuscripts of the past (not just how to read them, but also to work out why they were as the were.. and what difference it makes) is to keep the study of palaeography alive."

Considering that the majority of English history occurred before the invention of printing, it's a bit ridiculous to dismiss the importance of being able to read centuries' worth of primary source materials.
posted by hiteleven (82 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let me just go ahead and be the first: what the hell is palaeography?
posted by ChasFile at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm a staff member at a "Big" university in some serious financial trouble. I think we spend pretty responsibly and are well within our budget, but when the government promises X and delivers less than X*0.1 you have to make changes.

No department cuts yet, that I'm aware of. But there has been restructuring. And I wouldn't be surprised if academic cuts are on their way.
posted by The Supreme Dominar at 8:47 PM on February 4, 2010


what the hell is palaeography?
posted by ChasFile
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:48 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:51 PM on February 4, 2010


Not just in England: King's has the only established Chair of Palaeography in the English-speaking world.
posted by yesster at 8:52 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some friends of the philosophy department there have put together a detailed letter about their particular objections to the plan. (They're taking names until Sunday evening, if anyone is interested in signing it.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:57 PM on February 4, 2010


For the quick answer, palaeography is simply the study of handwriting. This is important for reading pre-printing press books and documents, since there were innumerable writing styles over the course of history, including some very strange techniques that bear no relation to modern handwriting (including writing inverse and/or sideways 't's when they merged with other letters).

Another important aspect of palaeography is understanding shorthands. There are innumerable shorthands from Latin European books and documents alone, understandable in a world where everything had to be written down.

Palaeography is known as a bit of an obscurantist pursuit, but, again, without experts in the field teaching it to others, the ability to read old historical materials is lost. It is also an extremely important skill for determining the provenance of certain manuscripts that have passed through many hands over the years...knowing where, why, and how documents were produced is just as important as understanding their contents.
posted by hiteleven at 8:59 PM on February 4, 2010 [25 favorites]


I should, however, have given folks a slight clue as to what palaeography was in my initial description. Sorry about that.
posted by hiteleven at 9:10 PM on February 4, 2010


I'm absolutely against the loss of or reduction to any of the humanities departments in any university, but this is clearly a little more complex than someone who doesn't understand Palaeography deciding it's worthless.

The university is a business. If it doesn't make money, it will fail and all of the programs will shut down. If they've examined the numbers and this department brings in significantly less money than it costs the university - and if cuts need to be made - then the decision, though regrettable, is at least understandable. If they didn't save the money here, they would be doing it by culling lecturers from other departments.

This, to me, is why universities should be public institutions, or at least publicly supported. We need these fields of research to continue not because they make money, but because they enrich our shared cultural knowledge of the past. Leaving something that precious in the hands of a board of directors - who need to pay attention to the bottom line - is a dangerous move.
posted by twirlypen at 9:17 PM on February 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Universities are not business.
posted by kenko at 9:23 PM on February 4, 2010 [25 favorites]


es.
posted by kenko at 9:23 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


My paleography professor (who was taught by Tilly de la Mare, predecessor of David Ganz in the chair that's under threat) tells me that the whole thing might be misdirection. The school lets word get out about unconscionable, drastic cuts, but ends up reducing less than that, so that the eliminations they do make seem "better." Cold comfort, but at least paleography is getting attention....?
posted by Bromius at 9:24 PM on February 4, 2010


Yeah, wow. When I looked up palaeography I wasn't expecting to find something that is so obviously, ridiculously important.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


This, to me, is why universities should be public institutions, or at least publicly supported. We need these fields of research to continue not because they make money, but because they enrich our shared cultural knowledge of the past.
I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.
posted by planet at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Something similar is going on at Sussex uni right now. I was speaking to a friend of mine who's studying there at the moment, and he says that the students in the humanities department are boycotting the NSS to try and draw attention to the issue.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2010


I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.

Yes, let's discard our cultural memory of history. What could go wrong?

Cool things to buy with money do not a civilization make. I think your comment was lighthearted, and I don't mean to sound harsh, but I also think it's a bit wrongheaded.

For example, when Bush & Co. were trumpeting about how Al Qaeda was tight with Saddam, and we had to go kill Saddam to break Al Qaeda's influence in Iraq, why weren't there historians all over the front pages saying "THAT'S FUCKING RIDICULOUS. HISTORY CLEARLY SHOWS BIN LADEN HATED SADDAM'S GUTS HE EVEN OFFERED TO FIGHT HIM DURING DESERT STORM. SADDAM IS A BAD DUDE, BUT HE'S GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH AL QAEDA, DUH. YOU PEOPLE ARE FUCKING RIDICULOUS AREN'T YOU GLAD YOU FUNDED HISTORY DEPARTMENTS AT PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES NOW?"

But I didn't hear much of that. I don't know what my point is. I'm tired.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:36 PM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


For example, when Bush & Co. were trumpeting about how Al Qaeda was tight with Saddam, and we had to go kill Saddam to break Al Qaeda's influence in Iraq, why weren't there historians all over the front pages saying...
I don't understand this. Is your point that we need to fund historians because they don't do a damn bit of good, even when they might? Not quite seeing the logic!
posted by planet at 9:40 PM on February 4, 2010


without experts in the field teaching it to others, the ability to read old historical materials is lost.

They could write a book about it.
posted by zippy at 9:42 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Was Professor John White involved?
posted by codswallop at 9:42 PM on February 4, 2010


As someone who conducts archival research using medieval primary sources, I have to say that paleography is one of the more useful odd skills I have learned. I was fortunate enough to have begun studying it as a new grad student with access to an excellent rare book and manuscript repository and it's something that has been a constant tool in my work. While some bookhands are quite legible to us without help, others require some training.

Following the lead of The Medieval Academy of America's ">response (pdf) and that of the International Center for Medieval Art, I'm in the process of drafting letters to Professors Trainor (Principal) and Palmowski (Head, School of Arts and Humanities) urging them to reconsider this poor decision (David Ganz, historian and philologist, is the current chair of Paleography). Glad to see this story on MetaFilter.
posted by Heretic at 9:45 PM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


If we destroy all our historical manuscripts we won't need a Palaeography department.

It's win-win.
posted by mazola at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I imagine a good paleographer is still highly employable in a history or English department.

It sucks that people are losing jobs, but there are other options.
posted by bardic at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2010


I don't understand this. Is your point that we need to fund historians because they don't do a damn bit of good, even when they might? Not quite seeing the logic!
posted by planet at 12:40 AM on February 5


Yeah, I think I defeated myself.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think Salvor Hardin might be talking about the fact that history is so marginalized that even recent history is regularly misrepresented and no one seems to care. To me it seems like we are in the middle of an anti-intellectual era where knowledge is "liberal" and feelings are "conservative". Anyone out there think we're in a golden age of knowledge and education?
posted by irisclara at 9:50 PM on February 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


The university is a business.
Cardinal Newman, right?
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:04 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


They could write a book about it.

Academic texts take years to write, and they don't come with book deals. The point of a university position is to support academic researchers who: teach, conduct research, and disseminate the results of that research for the benefit of all. It's hard to write monographs on your own time.
posted by parudox at 10:04 PM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ok. Now that we've figured out rongorongo, and completely understand how the Easter Islanders gave up their civilization, palaeography is so completely a dead art.

It's not as if we've figured out the script of the Indus Valley civilizations, or have completely understood the cuneiform of the Sumerians, or the even more ancient Nile hieroglyphics. Dude, more time has passed between the dawn of Egyptian writing and the end of Pharonic rule than there is between Cleopatra and the election of Obama. Dead languages =live= ... if you don't believe me, count out on your fingers the way a shephard does, pinky tip, pinky joint, pinky joint, palm joint, ring finger tip... base 16 ruled Socrates' world, and ours. Fuck, dude, we don't grok proto-Mayan or Olmec, thanks to the fucking missionaries burning every goddamn book they got their grubby little Iberian hands on. It's too hard to erase basalt and they never caught on that the quipu knots were writing, and modern science knows that the same forces that snuffed the Easter islanders also snuffed the Mayans and will also snuff us, if we don't heed...
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:23 PM on February 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.

Yeah who needs culture? That's just stuffy dead white people stuff (except when it isn't); proud philistines are we; let's burn down the Library of Congress and go to Vegas. All praise moloch; culture's bunk, ok? Fund hedge funds, not art. That's the ticket. Sure thing, ace. Now pardon me while I go snort some blow through a rolled hundred dollar bill while listening to Pink Floyd's "Money."
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:28 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah who needs culture?
I'm amused that you were seemingly unable to answer your question. Never ask a question you don't know the answer to!
posted by planet at 10:33 PM on February 4, 2010


Nothing was written down before Biblical times, which came right after the dinosaurs, so who needs pale-whatchamacallit?
posted by telstar at 10:40 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a pretty bad post, a single link to a news article and copius axe grinding.

To play devils advocate, how big is the palaeography department anyway? There is only one person (the chair which is to be disestablished) mentioned on the web page, and which already appears to be under the department of classics. Yes it sucks when academic jobs are lost, but the removal of one chair isn't going to do irreversible damage.

As to the article itself, it mentions that they are changing priorites to student demand, and asking academics about how much external funding they have bought in as though these are horribly terrible things to do. External funding is a pretty good proxy of how much decent research you are doing (in most fields, I welcome corrections if this is not the case in humanities) and if you don't have students, why keep the chair.
posted by scodger at 11:14 PM on February 4, 2010


External funding is a pretty good proxy of how much decent research you are doing

No, it isn't. It is a good proxy of how much research you are doing that match the funders' priorities.
posted by grouse at 11:17 PM on February 4, 2010 [23 favorites]


A thousand years from now a palaeographist examines Metafilter's foray into the mysteries of Z̜̲͎̻̙̯̾͌ͤ͆͘ạ̵̩̰̲͖́̎͌ͅľ̠̫͓̘͋̅ģ̣̬̩̣̺̬͔̤͊̇̃͝ǫ͎ͨ̏́̊̑̎͜͢, and scratches his head.
posted by Ritchie at 11:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a pretty bad post, a single link to a news article...

Type "king's college palaeography" into Google News and see how many articles you get. Here's one from the Harvard Crimson if it means that much to you.

This isn't exactly tabloid news...it's really something that's being passed along person to person, or at least school to school.
posted by hiteleven at 11:30 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


universities are all about being a business.
posted by billybobtoo at 1:14 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I followed the link in the Times article and wrote to the principal of King's. Surely with so much humanities talent they must be able to imagine another sort of funding -- 1,000 true fans of palaeography?
posted by bwonder2 at 1:34 AM on February 5, 2010


I'm a PhD student at KCL, and I had two reactions when I read this:

1.) "They're eliminating arts and humanities positions? That's disgusting!"

2.) "Oh, good. Looks like it's nothing in my department. I might be able to get a job there when I graduate so I don't have to move again for a while."

The second one was also disgusting, but in a stomach-turning, introspective "Wow, I'm a shallow dick" kind of way.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:33 AM on February 5, 2010


I went to KCL and read English. This is a tragic gutting of a great institution. One can only point a finger at a government that seems to find plenty of money for management consultants, quangos, benefits and failing IT projects but none for our University sector.
posted by The Salaryman at 2:36 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a manuscripts curator, at a library not a million miles from King's, this affects me very directly. If palaeography isn't supported in universities, then we won't have PhD students working on our manuscripts, and I will be out of a job. This is a depressing prospect (for me, anyway), particularly as I spend a lot of my time trying to convey the excitement of manuscripts and encouraging younger scholars to work on them.

(I was lucky enough to study early modern palaeography at Cambridge with the legendary Jeremy Maule, who used to begin the course by handing out goose feathers and penknives and inviting us all to cut our own quill pens. I was very fortunate to have that training; without it, I couldn't do the work I do.)

The irony is that it has never been easier to make a business case for supporting palaeography. Over the last few years, a lot of money has been poured into digitizing manuscripts, medieval manuscripts in particular, and King's, with its Centre for Computing in the Humanities, is very well placed to take advantage of that. What an irony it would be if, just as the manuscripts become more and more widely available, scholars become less and less able to read them.
posted by verstegan at 2:37 AM on February 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


This is payback for the work they did helping to deciper handwritten MP expense claims.
posted by srboisvert at 2:47 AM on February 5, 2010


With luck, the best people will move to other places and attract the students who would have gone to King's College London for those subjects.
posted by pracowity at 3:13 AM on February 5, 2010


The university is a business.
...
This, to me, is why universities should be public institutions, or at least publicly supported.

King's College London is publicly supported, as are almost all universities in Great Britian. Governments and voters more obsessed with the bottom line than enriching our shared cultural knowledge of the past? Who would have thunk such a thing in our neoliberal age of slashed domestic funding and privitization. God forbid anyone mention the t-word!
posted by dustyasymptotes at 3:20 AM on February 5, 2010


They're also axing computational linguistics and, cutting back in the Logic, Language and Computation group.
While neither of these represent the hammer blow to a field that cutting palaeography entails, it shows how wide-ranging the cuts are: certainly not limited to the humanities, at any rate.

On preview: pracowity, do you mean graduate level study? Or do you think people are going to KCL to study paleography at an undergraduate level? I doubt the loss of a subject almost no-one has heard of will hurt admission figures, except possibly through negative publicity.
posted by Omission at 3:28 AM on February 5, 2010


But I didn't hear much of that. I don't know what my point is. I'm tired.

Your point is that kids don't read their history like they should, and they are much, much dumber because of it.

Not that kids were really into reading history before, but at least they went through the motions. These days, "I'll just Wikipedia it!" which means the knowledge isn't in their heads, banging up against other knowledges, coalescing and diverging, forming new, original ideas that have never been thought before.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:18 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My apologies, I forgot to mention that I'll be needing you to be vacating my lawn, post-haste.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:18 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


And pay no attention to the double-passive construction. No coffee yet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:22 AM on February 5, 2010


Doing serious work on pre-modern history (literature, music, philosophy, religion...) without palaeographical skills is like doing medical research without a lab, i.e., getting all your data second-hand. It's so fundamental that it's easy to take it for granted.

Plenty of people know how to read the script(s) that are relevant to their own work, say, on Charlemagne's era or Machaut's or Jane Austen's, but to master the field as a whole, to advance its methodology as well as its body of knowledge, is rare and important. This is the reason for the international outcry at the news from KCL.
posted by philokalia at 5:29 AM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


In fact, we were just talking about how cool and important palaeography is.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:36 AM on February 5, 2010


From the Harvard Crimson link: "15 percent budget cut mandated by the British government for all British universities"
posted by jopreacher at 5:42 AM on February 5, 2010


Universities, hospitals, major and minor religions, and the red cross are all businesses. Education, healthfulness, philosophy, and altruism are concepts.
posted by about_time at 5:45 AM on February 5, 2010


I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.

More of hookers and blow guy, amirite?

Not to worry! The free market will ensure that we all receive just the percentage of paleography that we need in our lives. And if that percentage is zero--well, then, there's still plenty of hookers and blow for everyone! All's for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:18 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The school lets word get out about unconscionable, drastic cuts, but ends up reducing less than that, so that the eliminations they do make seem "better."

A strategy also used by every high school board in the U.S. You don't threaten to cut the chess club, because only a few people care about that. You threaten to cut the football team.
posted by smackfu at 6:20 AM on February 5, 2010


If you think 22 jobs going at KCL is bad news, then keep your heads down, becaise there's plenty more coming. The UK government is cutting £915million off the higher education budget over the next 3 years. When you consider that last week the Times Higher reported that ~25% of all UK universities were in the red even while the money was coming in and budgets were on the rise then its obvious this will have serious implications for the sector. The results will be less academic staff, less researchers, probable reductions in teaching time, more teaching hours per staff member, less resources, delayed upgrades in buildings, labs etc, etc. At the same time the univesities will be pushing for more income and are likely to be after the government to lift the limit on tuition fees (currently fixed to 2012), would anyone like to bet the Conservative government will say no? This story is the tip of the iceberg.
posted by biffa at 6:36 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I imagine a good paleographer is still highly employable in a history or English department.

It sucks that people are losing jobs, but there are other options.


Other options = The scholars have no bread to eat? Why, let them eat cake!

I've got some bad news for you... the money they save from cutting the chair of Paleography isn't going to fund any more positions in English or History departments. As it is, job prospects for PhDs in English are about as bad as they've ever been.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:08 AM on February 5, 2010


"A strategy also used by every high school board in the U.S. You don't threaten to cut the chess club, because only a few people care about that. You threaten to cut the football team."

Well to be fair football is hugely expensive on a per participating student basis, chess isn't.
posted by Mitheral at 7:31 AM on February 5, 2010


Twenty-two positions. Oh the humanities. University of Westminster, where I lecture, is looking to make 250+ staff redundant to bring its budgets into line with the government's funding cut over the next three years. And this cut affects every university in the UK. It's not a gutting, it's a disembowelling.
posted by Hogshead at 7:40 AM on February 5, 2010


Well... I bet they could keep the paleography department if students were willing to pay more and the staff were willing to work for wages which wouldn't subsidze their lifestyles.

Let us retract in horror. OMG spending cuts!
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:45 AM on February 5, 2010


It sucks that people are losing jobs, but there are other options.

As someone set to defend her dissertation in August, I eagerly await these options to reveal themselves.
posted by Heretic at 7:53 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah what a find time to be nearing the end of a PhD in the humanities.
posted by Augenblick at 8:01 AM on February 5, 2010


You don't threaten to cut the chess club, because only a few people care about that. You threaten to cut the football team.

Yeah, you just cut the chess club outright.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:06 AM on February 5, 2010


Some of the folks commenting seemed to have missed a word from the more-inside:
"the only established chair in the subject in the country"

That word being "only". Yes, the only chair, but not the only country, after all. Except it's the United Kingdom. Where English comes from. Seems rather significant. I might say, as a complete ignoramus and outsider, I'm rather surprised it hasn't all be transcribed properly, long since. I haven't the foggiest idea of the actual scope of such ancient archives.
posted by Goofyy at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2010


the staff were willing to work for wages which wouldn't subsidze their lifestyles

I'm a little confused by this, what exactly does it mean? What do other workers use their wages for? Do you think academics have some large source of capital or income and only use their wages for pin money?
posted by biffa at 8:17 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm rather surprised it hasn't all be transcribed properly, long since. I haven't the foggiest idea of the actual scope of such ancient archives.

The number of documents that have been edited is actually remarkably low. I forget the exact number, but I think it's around the range of only about 15% of books and documents from the medieval period alone that have been put into print. Sorry, I don't have any data to back me up...it's just something a prof told us once.

Also, as I and others have mentioned, studying the actual manuscripts themselves (and having the tools to do so properly) is just as important as knowing the words on the page. Think of it like the study of visual art; just because a painting has been looked at a bunch of times doesn't mean that a fresh examination won't provide new insights.
posted by hiteleven at 8:21 AM on February 5, 2010


Universities are should not be business.
posted by kenko at 5:23 AM on February 5


FTFY
posted by yoHighness at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And pay no attention to the double-passive construction. No coffee yet.

Sadly, Cunning_Linguist's educational institutions had no money to instruct students regarding passive constructions are.
posted by kenko at 9:49 AM on February 5, 2010


Paleography is something I would have loved to get into deeply if I'd gone on for the Ph.D. in medieval history. I understand the need for financial discipline (we're watching the problems play out with the major university in the city where I live too), but this is tragic for medievalists.
posted by immlass at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2010


There's a lot on the situation of senior philosophy faculty who are on the chopping block here.

Shalom Lappin, the most distinguished of those facing mandatory retirement, gives his take here.

Philosophy departments everywhere are up in arms about his firing. In the course of writing this comment, a letter from a philosophy faculty member at King's just got circulated to my listserv:

I suppose it is likely that you have heard about what's happening at King's College London. To put it in a nutshell, because of huge cuts in high education funding in the UK, the administration at King's is having to fire lots of academics. King's is, I think it would be fair to say, taking the lead in this but is likely to be followed by other institutions in the UK (indeed it has started elsewhere too). Among the redundancies that are planned are several which seem, shall we say, difficult to understand: for instance in my own department Shalom Lappin, a major scholar in the philosophy of language, has been targeted; and they are proposing to eliminate the only chair in Paleography in the whole UK as well. We feel that this has all been done in an unwise manner, with insufficient consultation, and in a way that will do potentially irreparable damage to King's as a whole and my department in particular (which would be a shame, since our department was just rated in the top three in the UK only last year -- pretty much however you crunch the numbers produced by the RAE). All this has already led to an outpouring of protest all over the world, including some very prominent protesters, such as Hilary Putnam, Steve Pinker and our own emeritus professor Mark Sainsbury.

We've been writing to people at outstanding departments across the world to see if we can get support, in the form of letters of protest. If you could get members of your department to do this it would be really helpful.

The people to write to would be:

Lord Douro, Chairman of Council
Prof Jan Palmowski, Head of School for Arts and Humanities
Prof Rick Trainor, Principal
Prof Keith Hoggart, Vice Principal of Arts and Sciences

All at: King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK

Hard copy letters would be very welcome; but if you send us a letter electronically we can have this posted on the internet.

posted by Beardman at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2010


Aren't chair positions usually funded by rather specific endowments? I'd expect that the university would lose that money if they cut this chair position, no? Anyways, an immediate solution might be asking rich guys to endow a chair at a lower overhead institution like a museum.

I imagine tutorials are the first place English universities should consider for cuts, tutorials consume a significant amount of lecturer time, and their commonly quite poorly attended. A drastic reduction in tutorials would permit losing faculty more evenly across all humanities departments.

All universities have suffered from staggering mission creep which results in incredible overhead costs, think student services, athletics, university police, etc. You know, if you've no plans on hiring any time soon, you can reduce the human resources staff. Admissions staff consolidated with other universities too.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2010


Well... I bet they could keep the paleography department if students were willing to pay more and the staff were willing to work for wages which wouldn't subsidze their lifestyles.

Oh, waiter! I ordered a HAMBURGER but it's not here. You did mean to bring a HAMBURGER didn't you?
posted by rtha at 11:05 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is sad and everything but there are cuts everywhere. This is pain we have to go through and the public sector universities will have to take the pain just like the rest of us.

What does this reduction on education spend equate to overall? Around 3% on ~£75bn? Yeah, it sucks but what can be done? No-one is prepared to accept more taxation.
posted by Lleyam at 11:11 AM on February 5, 2010


I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.

It's certainly on the first page of mine.

I'm reading a book right now, that I've been looking forward to reading to for a while, that would not have been possible without historians, linguists, art historians and preservationists, paleoagraphers, anthropologists, sinologists, and probably a view other fields that I simply am not aware of.

Without those kinds of experts, we simply wouldn't know.

This book is about the history of central Eurasia. Without it, it's impossible to understand the history of Eurasia as a whole.

Certainly, I'd like to have health care, but it's not either-or. We haven't actually spent all of our money on cool and necessary things, so that in order to spend it on another cool and necessary thing, we have to choose. We could spend less on uncool and unnecessary things.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The UK government is cutting £915million off the higher education budget over the next 3 years.

Well, if we made that same cut to HE every 3 years for the next decade and a half, we could use it to pay for one whole year of our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. No time for sentimental spending on the deciphering of dusty old parchments written by centuries-dead foreigners when we could better spend the money blowing the limbs off their children's children's children.
posted by reynir at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have no insight into the wisdom of these particular cuts, but in the U.S., the cost of attending college has been growing at 3x the rate of inflation for two decades, and no one seems to inclined to do anything about it except throw more government financial aid at those who need it. Many college campuses have become hideously overbuilt, including Jefferson's University of Virginia, which in places has less architectural charm than a Wal-Mart. I look forward to reading about U.S. colleges actually cutting departments and costs to make college more affordable, rather than the government developing a "Marshall Plan" to fund the gross ambitions of University Presidents.
posted by MarkMoran at 2:42 PM on February 5, 2010


.

I'd put it in secretary hand, only I never figured out how to get my quill hooked up to my computer.

(I'm joking, actually. I never did learn how to write secretary hand -- my teacher used the old fashioned photocopies method, and actually had us go back in time so that we began with a rather modern 18th century hand and worked our way back to the early sixteenth/late fifteenth. But then she gave us some samples of William Cecil's writing, just to make us feel bad :). That man was a menace to historians, his hand was so bad.)
posted by jb at 8:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm looking at all of the "this is sad and everything, but *hey* things are tough all over" comments -- you people do realize that cutting the chair in Paleography means 1) eliminating the study of medieval, ancient and early modern manuscripts at Kings, which is a vital center for the study and thus 2) reducing the number of people who can read them and teach others to read them to the point where 3) no-one can read them, thus eliminating them as historical, literary and scholarly sources.

Bluntly: eliminating the position eliminates the skill that is its product, and eliminating that skill turns the manuscript sources in the British Library into so much paper. And that essentially eradicates the information they contain.

So why keep them?
posted by jrochest at 9:54 PM on February 5, 2010


I have a long list of cool things to buy with money. I won't lie -- enrichment of shared cultural knowledge of the past isn't on the first page.

It should be.

The problem with breezing through time doing whatever feels right at the moment without any knowledge of the past is that you're basically taking a random walk. You have no assurance that you're going in any positive direction, rather than just going in circles. Having an understanding of why things are the way they are lets you see why we have the rules we have and what might happen if we get rid of them.

For example, on the surface, rules/taboos against state establishment of religion and rules/taboos against sodomy may seem equally arbitrary. But with historical context, we see that one of those was outlawed because it kept leading to problems, over and over again, and the other was outlawed pretty much because of a "purity" instinct that might not necessarily be relevant today.

You can argue that history doesn't directly affect most people's everyday decisions, but I'm not sure of that. A lot of major social movements are in part fueled by a recollection of history (or at least some narrative of it), and I would argue that, overall, knowledge of history has tended to push us gently toward a better society over the centuries. I say "gently" because it's not a strong effect; I think you have to look at things on large scales to see the slow average drift that this kind of historical experience causes. In any case, slashing Humanities departments to bits isn't going to make us more aware of the lessons of the past.
posted by Xezlec at 9:54 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


To me it seems like we are in the middle of an anti-intellectual era where knowledge is "liberal" and feelings are "conservative".

I think I get the general trend that you're talking about, but I think an awful lot of liberal thinking is based on feelings too. Liberals are sometimes criticized from the right for being emotionally biased against the allowance of suffering, even when necessary, or against obedience to authority, even where prudent. I've met plenty of ignorant liberals.

That said, the conservatives I've met probably do have somewhat more of a bias against higher learning, in part because so much of it either contradicts or renders unnecessary their beloved traditions.
posted by Xezlec at 10:04 PM on February 5, 2010


To me it seems like we are in the middle of an anti-intellectual era where knowledge is "liberal" and feelings are "conservative".

Note that Reagan tried to shut down the NEA in 1981.
posted by smackfu at 9:10 AM on February 6, 2010


I never thought I would say "I'm glad I didn't pursue that PhD in Medieval History!"

this is depressing and seems to be a dire portent of the future. I call it "the dumbening"
posted by supermedusa at 1:50 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's an example of how palaeography helps to advance the frontiers of knowledge. Experts identify scraps of lost Roman law text:

Scraps of a lost Roman law code, which survived because they were chopped up and used as packing in the cover of a medieval book, have been identified for the first time and translated by academics in London.

The 17 fragments of parchment come from the Gregorian Code, first published around AD300. There were no known surviving originals from the code, but scholars knew of it because parts were cited in later Roman laws and legal writings. St Augustine of Hippo, the fourth-century theologian, was one of many later authors who cited it in his work.

The code compiled earlier precedents in legal rulings by Roman emperors, and most of the fragments concern appeal procedures and the statute of limitations.

Most of their 1,600-year history is unknown. The script, found on both sides of expensively prepared parchment, is from a book dating from around AD400, possibly made in Constantinople, and used as a working text by a lawyer.

Benet Salway and Simon Corcoran, historians at University College London, say the fragments show signs of being cut up and used in binding another book, probably in the 15th or 16th century as print replaced handwritten books.

The fragments were bought by a private collector at a sale in London. After failing either to translate the script or identify the subject, he circulated photocopies which eventually reached Salway and Corcoran, who have been working on Projet Volterra, a 10-year study of surviving Roman law funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


The two researchers who made the discovery are both former students of David Ganz, the palaeography professor at KCL whose job is about to disappear.
posted by verstegan at 8:33 AM on February 8, 2010


Brian Leiter has been good at following this story, and it's getting interesting as more details are revealed. The latest news is that the firings are the decision of one Jan Palmowski, who altered the academic vision of the university to be in line with his own academic interests and had the power to fire those who disagreed. It all sounds pretty corrupt.

The protest letter from the philosophy department at Birkbeck is great:

"If a university’s managers may dismiss scholars because their research does not fit a centrally specified template, then academic freedom is at an end. We hope that the managers at King’s will remember it is a university they are managing. However rich and historically distinguished an institution may be, if there is no academic freedom in it, it is not a university."
posted by painquale at 9:16 PM on February 11, 2010


"Jan Palmowski is a Disgrace: He Must Go"
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:10 AM on February 12, 2010


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