ASCSA and the Laurence Professor

Today I saw two job ads that really caught my attention. Now, in the interest of fairness I should say that I’ve had a few drinks before writing this post (John Dewar and I are old friends). But I still feel impelled to comment publicly, if only for the sake of catharsis.

The first job is assistant director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. To be clear, I have absolutely no interest in this position and will not apply for it. But there are two requirements for this position that are striking. First, it states that applicants must have spent at least one year as a member of ASCSA. To my mind this clearly is meant to ensure that ASCSA continues to be an exclusive club, rather than a bona fide scholarly entity. But that should come as to no surprise to anyone who has read the drivel published in Hesperia. More insidiously, however, is the requirement that applicants be no more than five years out from completing their PhDs. What does this requirement accomplish? Nothing, other than assuring inexperience. I myself am more than five years out, and I would very good at this job — and more importantly I am sure there are others who would be even better at it who are also more than five years on from graduation. Like with the ACLS fellowships, this assumes that anyone who has been on the job market for more than five years has already given up. Then again, I know better than to expect thoughtfulness from ASCSA.

The other job that caught my attention is the Laurence Professorship of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge. I find it especially telling that in the full description of the post, “knowledge of Latin and/or Greek” is considered “Desirable” rather than “Essential.” Of course the previous incumbent, Martin Millett, readily admitted to having no ancient languages. But his scholarship on Roman Britain spoke for itself, and indeed he was worth all of the previous Laurence Professors put together (excepting, of course, Jocelyn Toynbee, whose legacy remains unsurpassed). Anthony Snodgrass, for example, spent his entire career a day late and a dollar short, whereas Millett boldly forged ahead and transformed the field formerly known as ‘Romanization.’ I hope very much that the next Laurence Professor is in the mold of Millett rather than Snodgrass (or, heaven help us, R. M. Cook), but I know better than to hold my breath.

Sober Addendum (June 19, 2021)

I don’t mean to imply that I do not respect Anthony Snodgrass or R. M. Cook; I think both are fine scholars. But Cook was content to remain within the established, self-referential bubble of the Classics, and he was intransigent and highly resistant to change. That an article he published in 1937 (‘Amasis and the Greeks in Egypt,’ JHS 57, 227-37) is still brilliant is both a demonstration of his great ability and a damning critique of the field. Snodgrass at least came to recognize that change was taking place, and that change was not necessarily bad. But he was slow on the uptake to be sure, compared to several of his contemporaries. I suppose my point is that the Laurence Professor ought to lead the field instead of following it, or worse yet be left behind by it altogether.

Bulliet’s maxims and Collingwood’s principles

Richard Bulliet, the retired Columbia history professor and author of The Camel and the Wheel (Harvard University Press, 1975), among many other classic books, just posted a list of ten maxims he has learned over the course of his professional career. I agree with all of them, and although Bulliet focuses on the medieval Middle East, I think they all apply equally well to the study of the ancient past. I will not repeat his maxims here; rather, as an archaeologist I would like to make three additions, all of which come from another great scholar, R. G. Collingwood.

In his autobiography (republished by Oxford University Press in 2013 as R. G. Collingwood: An Autobiography and Other Writings), Collingwood articulated three principles he had learned. They are as follows:

  1. Never dig “either a five-thousand-pound site or a five-shilling trench without being certain that you can satisfy an inquirer who asks ‘What are you doing this piece of work for?’”
  2. “Since history proper is the history of thought, there are no mere ‘events’ in history: what is miscalled an ‘event’ is really an action, and expresses some thought (intention, purpose) of its agent.”
  3. “No problem should be studied without studying what I call its second-order history; that is, the history of historical thought about it.”

Principles 1 and 3 are fairly straightforward: never lose track of your research question and always study the history of a problem before you try to address it. Principle 2 is trickier, but in many respects is the most profound. Collingwood is saying that every object is the result of a series of decisions about its production, form, purchase, use, reuse and deposition. We can reconstruct, albeit imperfectly, some of these decisions and use them to write history. This has been one of the guiding principles of my own scholarship.

An early start to the 2021-22 job season

The 2021-22 job season is off to an early start it seems, as I have just seen the first advertisement with a fall deadline (well, late summer). It is for a position in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University. I don’t think I’ll apply, if only because Taipei is very long commute from Jersey City (and it looks like they want to hire a philologist anyway). But it looks like a fine job, especially for someone interested in something other than the usual classics teaching experience. Alternatively, one could instead opt for the position of curator at the Museum of Polo in Lake Worth, Florida. Opportunities abound!