Wednesday, August 22, 2007

They're gunning for us, you know ...

The BBC reports that the TaxPayers' Alliance (an organization that seems to get most of its information from the Daily Telegraph) has released a document criticizing the number of 'non-courses' offered by UK Universities. Their argument is that "[b]y offering 'non-courses' and blurring the distinction between learning that demands serious scholarship and that which requires none, universities put at risk academic credibility."

Why does this matter to us in the sf community? Because the TPA's second example of a 'non-course' is the University of Glamorgan's BSc [Hons] in Science: Fiction and Culture.

At the heart of this particular instance, of course, is the old argument used to discredit Media Studies degrees - 'I can watch television programmes, so clearly a degree in them is just rubbish'. Well, I'm sure these people can read books as well,* but that doesn't invalidate English Literature degrees. To suggest that the study of sf does not require academic rigour is insulting. But I am hardly surprised.

* Actually, I'm not completely sure about that.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The future for Classics A-Levels?

Again, rogueclassicism brings an important story to my attention.

The Times reports that the OCR exam board are planning on amalgamating the current Greek, Latin, Ancient History and Classical Civilization A-Levels into one single Classics A-Level.

What is wrong with the OCR? Earlier this year, they were planning on scrapping the Ancient History A-Level. In May, they said that they'd changed their minds, having been put under a great deal of pressure from the universities and government and opposition ministers. Yet here they are, three months later, seemingly going back on what they said, and indeed apparently taking an even more extreme approach. Do they somehow think that people won't notice? Presumably they will argue, as they did before, that they aren't abolishing the particular subjects, but continuing them in a different format. That didn't wash last time, and I doubt it will this. The chief executive may say that all the classicists he's talked to think this is the best way forward, but I can't imagine any of the ones I've heard speak about this taking the same view.

But maybe I'm being unfair. When planning just to get rid of Ancient History, a spokesman stated that the OCR board still offered "a comprehensive suite of A-levels". The only thing I can see on OCR's own website is a news item about their plans for the new revision of an Ancient History qualification within the Classics A-level suite. Looking at the subjects there, it seems quite a comprehensive and intense list, and there's easily enough material for two years' school study. What it looks like to me is that there is planned to be a single Classics A-level, with Latin, Greek, Ancient History and Classical Civilization options.

Okay, so perhaps one can argue on that basis that the OCR are preserving coherent A-level syllabi in all four subjects. But the crucial question is whether students will be able to take this Classics A-level suite in more than one form. I would think not, otherwise why not keep them as discrete A-levels.

And that I think would be a problem. When I was at school, I took Greek, Latin and Ancient History A-levels. It looks to me as if such an option be not be available under the OCR's plans. As a result, no school child will get the same education in the Classics that I benefited from. Someone who takes a single Classics A-Level will not learn as much about the subject as someone who takes three.

Having lost over Ancient History (though now apparently pretending that they haven't), I expect OCR might well lose over this as well. I will be following this story with interest.

Friday, August 10, 2007


rogueclassicism brings this to my attention.

Read it; it's genius.

(Two posts in the same day? It's the end times, I tell you ...)

Hadrian and other historical thoughts

Two posts in a single month - what is the world coming to?

I caught up on the discovery of a colossal statue of Hadrian at the site of Sagalassos, in southern Turkey, which the BBC had on their news page yesterday, though it was in Archaeology a week ago.

It's a rather splendid discovery, of course. But what interests me is the sociology of the BBC report, and what it says about the way we view Hadrian. All the usual motifs are there - Hadrian's Wall, Hadrian as a good military administrator, Hadrian as one of the 'five good emperors' (a position into which he was canonized by Edward Gibbon).

This fits in with the way Hadrian has always been viewed in England. Because of his association with the Wall, he has, more than any other Roman emperor, been adopted by the English as practically an honorary Englishman - only Constantine comes close in the affections of the English (I refer, of course, to the increasingly small portion of the English population that cares about Roman emperors at all). Hadrian the soldier is highlighted, making him the sort of emperor that retired Guards colonels can identify with. One can't imagine the British press making much of a fuss about a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius or Gallienus.

There is, however, a different side to Hadrian. That is Hadrian the lover of all things Greek, to such a degree that he was mocked in his youth as a 'Greekling'. (I often wonder if it is coincidental that, in the reign of Hadrian's predecessor Trajan, the satirist Juvenal is, in his vicious attack on Greeks in his Third Satire, using exactly the same word , Graeculus, as was applied to the young Hadrian.) There's Hadrian the homosexual, whose passionate affair with Antinoos scandalized some sections of Roman society, as did the way in which Hadrian mourned Antinoos' death, with an intensity that matched Victoria's mourning for Albert. That's hardly the sort of thing to appeal to retired colonels. (Mind you, having seen some of the images of Antinoos assembled for an exhibition in Leeds last year, I can see Hadrian's point - I mean, I'm a straight bloke, and I'd have done him.) There's Hadrian the capricious tyrant, who exiled and then had executed the architect Apollodorus (who to a degree only had himself to blame - asked for his opinion of the emperor's architectural plans, he made the mistake of giving it), and who executed Senators both at the beginning and end of his reign. Hadrian was in fact, so hated by the Senate that they tried to block his deification after his death, and only the threat of new emperor Antoninus Pius to step down, thus plunging the empire into civil war, browbeat the Senate into acquiescing.

This Hadrian has rather a lot in common with the previous emperor to take up wearing a beard, Nero. (Both emperors wrote poetry, for a start.) What differentiates the good emperor from the monster seems to me to come down to the fact that one survived, and one didn't, and Hadrian survived because he (a) didn't push things as far as Nero - no actual public performances for this emperor - and (b) always knew that the army was on his side (they were always on Nero's side as well, but Nero didn't realize this, and so panicked).

So perhaps Hadrian is the worst of the 'good emperors'.

On a wholly different subject, the Today programme featured an item this morning about an English Heritage sponsored debate that will take place over the weekend, concerning who England's greatest monarch was. This was Today at it's worst. The show always likes to set up confrontations between opposing views, which blights a lot of its non-political reporting, which sits uneasily in such a format. This was particularly unedifying, as Alison Weir, Sarah Gristwood and Martyn Downer, making the cases for their respective choices (Henry VIII, Elizabeth II and Victoria), rapidly came down to 'my monarch's bigger than your monarch'.

In any case, they're all wrong - it should of course be Charles II.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

What happens to a listed building when it spoils the view

Briefly, I have a moment to do a post here, and I just would like to mention this story:,,2137025,00.html

I am ambivalent on the rights and wrongs of the Elgin Marbles argument, and I don't intend to get involved in the debate here. But I have thought before that the Greek government does its case no favours with the attitude it sometimes takes to those culturally-important monuments it does have.

(Link seen on rogueclassicism.)