Anyone working in higher education – particularly tax-supported higher education – knows how tough times are right now. I also know how tremendously fortunate I am in Indiana where, while things are tight, we aren’t facing the level of academic distress of my colleagues in neighboring states.
However the impending loss of the Chair of Palaeography at Kings College London raises alarm bells for a variety of reasons. First, beyond knowing that Peter Heather is a Professor there, I know virtually nothing about KCL. However I want to provide a few notes on why this should concern those of us who do not earn our living in Medieval History.
As an amateur, I’m not 100% “up” on everything that Paleography entails (sorry folks – I’m reverting to Americanization for the rest of this). I have Bischoff’s Paleographie: De L’Antiquite Romaine Et Du Moyen Age Occidental sitting on my shelf (and just today realized there’s an English language translation – oh well, my French needs work anyway) and will likely know much more once I read through it. I know that it involves the detailed study of historical texts – study that goes well beyond what was written and into how it was written, including the script used, margin illustrations, the vellum/parchment used, etc. This type of detailed analysis is essential for historical study – it, along with archaeology, are the most basic building blocks of history. For myself, over the past few years I’ve fallen increasingly in love with books and articles that examine the minutiae of textual evidence. I love it when a translator’s annotations and footnotes provide details far beyond what the translated words say.
I’m not going to belabor this. First, this blog is only a day old and likely nobody’s reading it yet and second, there are many other blog posts from people much smarter than I about this. However I do want to say that we are going to see many posts, news articles, etc., discussing the loss of academic positions over at least the next, and very possibly next two, year(s). It would be easy for the casual observer/amateur/geek to look at people making a fuss about the loss of positions and think of it as a form of self-interest. Many times that will likely be true.
However I’ve been told – and have no reason to doubt it – that the King’s College London Palaeography Chair position is the only one of its kind in any English-speaking institution of higher education. With Paleography such a critical component of Medieval (and Classical) Studies, preserving this position is essential.
There’s a group on Facebook developed to promote a letter-writing campaign to KCL to preserve this position. I don’t know what good it will do for an American non-Medievalist to write them a letter but I will and I encourage others to do so.
Bischoff, Bernhard. Paleographie: De L’Antiquite Romaine Et Du Moyen Age Occidental. Paris. Picard, 1985. ISBN: 2-7084-0113-0