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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Words fail me

A man with, allegedly, two brains.  Just put your X
where you think either of them might be and win a super
prize!  Send your answers to Historian on the Edge in a
plain envelope marked 'Arse or Elbow'.
Just when I thought things couldn't get much worse with this government, on my return to the UK, I hear this.  Words (well, apart from these 137) fail me.  Welcome to Stalinist Britain.  Now, call me stupid (and after last week's shenanigans I'll admit it's a fair cop) but I thought that the whole point of the Big Society (OK, I know it's an absurd idea to start off with but bear with me) was for government to stop meddling and interfering with things.  I will have more to say about this but for now I am, as they say, gob-smacked.  I am in particular wondering what sort of medieval history, let alone medieval history outside Britain, is going to get funded, but there are far bigger issues at stake here than that.  Unbelievable.  This is Britain...

But: Note that today (28th) the AHRC has issued a rebuttal of all this.  Here is the link, and check out 'anonymous'' comment below for an interesting commentary.  What is going on here? 


  1. This is painful to read. It seems that the war against freedom of thought continues - and the refrain always seems to be "We just want to help you see things clearly as we do."

    I wish I had better hopes for the US education system, but I do not. It appears the biggest hopes they have for our kids is that they test well as opposed to really getting them to think for themselves.

  2. Junior medievalist with doubts about her future27 March 2011 at 12:43

    Glad to find this blog back online.

    I recall reading in Private Eye -- a few years ago -- a less than complimentary insider's explanation for Willetts' 'two brains' moniker: 'one for each face'.

    I fear that withdrawing money from areas such as medieval studies is probably part of the point of this policy decision. What we view as a failing of the policy is to Willetts and Cable a mark of its success.

    Quite how support for research along such parochially ideological lines will also square with REF requirements for internationally excellent research remains to be seen.

  3. I might just be getting jaded but I have a horrible suspicion that the next step will be to re-define the 'impact' criteria so they tally with the 'Big Society' agenda. Even Mandelson never did anything like this, and he was bad enough. And to think that I briefly toyed with the idea that Willetts might not be too bad.

  4. So glad it's not just me seeing it that way. I posted it on my Fb with this comment this morning: "Big Society. We've gone off the tracks and need to re-educate people on the real values of the country. We will therefore teach a history that is culturally didactic, exceptionalist, and exclusionary. We will fund the research that supports our new-old cultural ideals. Oh -- and please paste this extended article on the Bering Straights in your encyclopedias."

    There is a truly cynical part of me that thinks that medievalists should be able to spin the hell out of this venture. After all, are we not vital to Ferguson's West and the defeat of the Rest? Didn't our guys spread killer apps like Christianity all over the place? Should I put on my vaguely possible application for the visiting position at KCL that I want to subvert the Big Society, or that I support it? OOH! If I just apply straight to Willetts, do you think they'd undermine the hiring process?

  5. Note the two books from the 'For Dummies' series over his right shoulder. Do you think one of them might be 'Education'? Surely nobody can have been quick enough off the blocks to put together a 'Big Society' volume yet, but I hear the AHRC might be interested in funding something of the sort.

  6. This is worth a look, for a cautious but still appropriately critical response: http://boonery.blogspot.com/2011/03/ahrc-observer-and-mr-haldanes-principle.html

  7. I certainly don't know what to make of this but is it just me that would be happier with the AHRC denial if it were, you know, signed? If there was a name attached to it? I just feel that someone speaking for the AHRC ought to understand how important attributability is to their constituency. As it is there's nothing to say some underling web-monkey (a role I'm proud to have had myself in various organisations, I should say) with an eye on a developing crisis didn't upload that on a wing and a prayer.


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