Monitoring the Crisis: Birmingham

Just to keep the pot stirring, this item appeared at Birmingham UCU:

Greek, Latin and Ancient History have been taught at Birmingham since the foundation of the University in 1900 and are now under threat from dangerously short-sighted management practices. Yet, lecturers at UoB are now prevented by a bizarre confidentiality clause from bringing to public attention the serious threat posed by a proposal involving imminent redundancies in Classics and Ancient History. UoB’s proposal to make redundant a quarter of the Classics and Ancient History team at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity is bewildering, especially in a year when student fees have climbed to £9,000 pa and the Government’s own UniStats website is focusing on student teaching experience as the core of university value.

UoB claims to be committed to Classics and Ancient History, but the plan to close the IAA, recently submitted to University Council, tells a different story. Although this year’s admissions round has been difficult across the sector, management has made an arbitrary decision to use 2012 admissions as a baseline, and as a spurious rationale for compulsory redundancies. A detailed plan for generating new business and increasing the numbers of the desired ABB+ students, produced by long-standing and senior members of IAA, has been ignored in favour of seeing this short-term ‘solution’ through. If the Head of College has his way, three prize-winning educators and leading scholars in Classics and Ancient History are in the firing line along with the quality of the student experience. The plan to replace two out of the three permanent staff with fixed-term, teaching-only posts is at odds with UoB’s status as a Russell Group university, apparently publicly committed to research-led teaching.

Indeed, Classics and Ancient History is facing a 25% reduction in non-professorial staff, with inevitable repercussions on the breadth of research and teaching available to students. In addition, the serious decline in Archaeology staffing will reduce the choices available to Classics and to Ancient History students, endangering recruitment and potentially leading to further redundancies in the future. The redundancies, rather than any institutional changes, are at the heart of the matter. We welcome some of the proposals, which provide an opportunity to respond to challenges related to student recruitment without the large number of job losses envisioned.

One element of the Review points the way forward. One group within the IAA, the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, has been given several years to fuse with the History department. No job losses are currently envisioned within the Centre, even though it currently recruits no undergraduate students of its own (unlike the other areas of the IAA where some areas facing redundancies have comparatively strong undergraduate recruitment). This is a far-sighted policy which will enrich the variety of modules available within History and boost the overall number of high calibre students applying to the University through that programme. It also reflects an important truth: many subjects have difficulty recruiting not because of any failing among staff but simply because the A level subjects which act as feeders have comparatively small student numbers. The University clearly believes that if students recruited via the much larger cohort of A-level History students are given access to Byzantine courses they will find them attractive. This move also helps ensure that the History degree has a distinctiveness compared to other History degrees nationally. This policy, which maintains as much of the skills’ base of the University as policy, and which also gives the University the best chance to recruit the highest quality students, is also one which should be applied to the other areas of the IAA (including Archaeology and Ancient History), and not just the Centre for Byzantine Studies. Surely Stonehenge and Roman Britain are as much part of British History as Clement Attlee’s government? Surely courses on those subjects are just as likely as one another to attract and enthuse the very best students?

Is it just me or is almost every single case we’ve looked at of a program in peril — if not every single case — based on deception and/or distortion of the reality of the situation? Is it just me or do administrator types seem to think Classics is an easy target that no one will care about? We will fight them on the beaches … we will fight them in the departmental coffee lounges …  Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill!

Returning to Antikythera

Various spins of this news bouncing around the interwebs … here’s the AFP version:

A new search has begun at a Greek island where an ancient device known as the world’s “oldest computer” was found over a century ago, an official said, adding that other discoveries were possible.

Archaeologists this week returned to Antikythera, the Aegean Sea island where sponge divers in 1900-1901 found the so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a remarkable 2nd-century BCE device that tracked the cycles of the solar system.

“These are unexplored sea depths beneath a trade route known since antiquity,” said Angeliki Simosi, head of Greece’s ephorate of underwater antiquities. “This is virgin territory.”

Believed to operate by crank and containing inter-meshing gears, the mechanism could be used to calculate eclipses and moon cycles. The technology was comparable to astronomical clocks that only appeared some 1,600 years later.

It was found in the wreck of a cargo ship apparently carrying booty to Rome.

The Greek team is assisted by Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution at Massachusetts, who has helped in past outings to identify ancient shipwrecks over the last five years.

Foley is contributing autonomous underwater vehicles to map the seabed and rebreather equipment that partially recycles a diver’s oxygen and will enable the researchers to probe previously inaccessible depths, the senior archaeologist said.

Simosi said she had visited Antikythera in 1985 during construction work to widen the local port of Potamos and the bay was “full of antiquities”.

“I believe we could find something equivalent to the Antikythera Mechanism,” Simosi said.

“If we do, the entire department will likely need to be sent out,” she said.

The operation, jointly funded by the Greek state and Woods Hole, will continue until October 22.

Jo Marchant’s piece for the Guardian is also worth a look (JM, of course, has recently written about the Antikythera Mechanism in Decoding the Heavens …:

Some previous coverage on the AM worth looking at:

Solomon, Socrates, and Aristotle in Pompeii?

Yesterday my mailbox metaphorically ‘dinged’ and what was in it was an item from a couple of years ago which was in one of the 2008 issues of Biblical Archaeology Review. It claims that a wall painting in the House of the Physician at Pompeii depicts Solomon, Socrates, and Aristotle sitting in judgement, yadda yadda, yadda … you can read it here for yourself:

… and, of course, it is being touted (again) as the earliest depiction of a scene from the Bible. When one looks at the thing up close, however, it is a pretty sketchy claim and Dorothy King more-than-adequately shot this one down a year or so ago:

That recent papyrus thing (Another Papyrus ~ Implications for the Ancient Novel?) might also somehow be an influence here …

Classical Words of the Day

Latinitweets:

This Day in Ancient History: iii nonas octobres

iii nonas octobres

mundus patet – the mundus was a ritual pit which had a sort of vaulted cover on it. Three times a year the Romans removed this cover (August 24, Oct. 5 and November 8) at which time the gates of the underworld were considered to be opened and the manes (spirits of the dead) were free to walk the streets of Rome.

ludi Augustales scaenici (day 1 — from 11-19 A.D. and post 23 A.D.) — festival in honour of Augustus involving primarily mime and pantomime theatrical displays

ludi Augustales scaenici (day 3 — from 19-23 A.D.)

287 A.D. — martyrdom of Palmatius