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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Monday, 29 April 2013

Contact Hours: An Explanation

[Because of the Daily Heil article published today which specifically mentions my department and complains about 'scandalous' low amounts of teaching, I thought I'd move this (originally from 25/06/12) back to the top of the page.

The management of Poppleton University managed to score a spectacular own goal in any case.  All universities have guidelines about not over-running, about finishing before the hour is up to allow students to leave before the next class is due to arrive, and about not starting bang on the hour to allow students with classes some way away to arrive.  Poppleton made the mistake of being honest about this and owning up to the fact that its lecture hour starts at 20 past and ends at 10 past.  Thus, immediately all our hours are reduced by 10 minutes compared with less honest institutions.  Students on my 2nd-year course on 'The end of the Roman World' course receive 17 lectures and 8 1-hour discussion groups, 25 hours in all.  They do 2 such courses a term.  However, thanks to the management's foul-up, these 50 timetabled hours are slashed down to 41 hours and 40 minutes.  Students with the same tuition at, say, UCL, will be classed as receiving 8 hours & 20 minutes (20%) more, although in fact they'll be getting the same.  This, alas, is how the system works...

See also here.]

For students, who like to parrot their parents, who like to parrot journalists, who don't know what they're talking about but who do know how to arrange numbers into a sequence from low to high.  And let's face it it makes good copy; you can always get some rent-a-mouth to make some comment damning humanities 'dons' as lazy - and any defence of the situation can be derided as elitist.

The reason why science students get several times as many contact hours as humanities students is because their degree requires them to be taught different things in different ways.  Let me explain...

If I were to model my teaching on science teaching, it would go like this.  I would give one or two hours of lectures about why a particular book was written, what question it had set out to confront, what conclusions it had come up with and why that mattered, and then telling the students in detail how to read the book.  The student would then get five more hours sitting in a room reading the same book, being supervised by a post-graduate or post-doctoral tutor whilst s/he did so, to see if s/he came up with the same answer as I did.  

This, as you can see, is not really what anyone (outside the intellectual drill-régimes of the public schools) would expect of a humanities education.  The science student requires to be taught particular (different) things in ways that require (for intellectual as well as basic health and safety* reasons) different teaching methods and a certain level of supervision, and the aim of the 'experiment' is rather different (at least at this sort of level).  The point of a humanities course is that the student does his/her 'experiments' on his/her own from a range of texts (not necessarily all the same ones) in the library or in his/her room, both before getting the lecturer's thoughts on the overall field and again (and principally) before the seminar where the topics are discussed.  And the point is not necessarily to get the same sort of result as the lecturer.  It is about how to think, not what you need to learn.  Such unsupervised 'experiment' ought - if the student is conscientious - amount to about the same time as the science student spends in labs and doing his/her background reading.

Clarification: Just to avoid any tedious exchanges of e-mails or comments let me make it clear that I am not in any way saying that science is somehow easier, or that it's all just about learning stuff and getting right answers.  What I am saying - and I'm not a scientist so I may be a bit off the mark - is that as I understand it a certain control and supervision of the experimental process and the correctness of procedure is rather more important (or at least important in a different way) in sciences than it is in the Humanities.  I hope you see my general point, whatever its minor infelicities. I have nothing but respect for scientists ... except when they start dabbling in History and standing on their doctoral credentials when they do so, that is.  That, I admit, annoys me.

A related point.  Each contact hour is not the same.  One hour in a lecture with 100 students is not the same as one hour in a group of sixteen students in a seminar, which is not the same as four 15-minute one-to-one sessions.  So totals of hours in league-table format are entirely misleading.  Furthermore, institutions can manipulate these figures.  Our two most prestigious institutions offer huge numbers of lectures a week, each of which they add into the figure for 'contact hours'.  But they are voluntary and only a fraction of students attend.  Their only compulsory hours are the two or three hours (if that) of tutorials.

The whole contact hours issue is a graphic example of how the mantra of 'choice' leads, through the production of league tables, to a lowering of standards.  As I have argued before, the obsession with league tables leads not to a raising of quality but to the generation of more of the sorts of output that, numerically, affect league-table positions.  For instance, 10 hours per week of lectures with 100-200 other students in the lecture theatre is not 'better' than six hours of small group teaching, or three hours of one-to-one teaching (leaving aside the facts that no one gets that any more and my own reservations about the 'inherent quality of tutorials).  But - oh dear - only 6 (or 3) hours a week!  That's not going to look good in the tables.  It won't do, say the university suits when they see that the University of Just Down the Road offers 10 hours (8 hours of lectures and 2 of seminars) a week.  Down comes the directive to increase hours - but how to do so in a way that teaches effectively (students - as above - have to work to prepare for seminars and they only have so many hours in the week) without overloading students or teaching staff?  'We don't want more work, we want more hours', a Poppleton University English student is reported to have said...  The solution: more lectures!  Now - I like lectures (they're what I'm best at) and I don't think they are as useless as many people think, but I'm not going to say they are better for teaching than seminars.

Oh yes.  While we're on the subject of comparison, the reason that science students get more resources than arts/humanities students for their fees is because their tuition costs more.  Before the current government's crazed schemes, the government paid universities three times the subsidy it paid for an arts/humanities student for each science student.  Because they cost more to teach.  That funding difference no longer applies but it is, as it was, wrong to charge students different fees for different subjects (or you'd kill off the sciences for one thing - although for me it matters more that you would simply be penalising students for being interested in one subject rather than another).  And £9k is not very much more than cost price, by the way, once everything is factored in.

Thank you for reading.

* For instance, if I set a student to go and read (presumably in her student room) a chapter or two of, say, Chris Wickham's Framing of the Early Middle Ages as part of her preparation for a seminar I can do so safe in the knowledge that the odds of her blowing up the Saint Frithfroth's Street Halls of Residence as a result of misunderstanding one of Wickham's foot-notes range from slim to zero.  This might not be the case with many a chemistry or physics assignment.  I suppose the student might drop Wickham's 990-page tome on her (or someone else's) foot, or head, and suffer consequent injury, but my point is - well you see my point.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Ah, sod it. (In which I live up to my grumpy moniker)

So I'm not going to make myself look good - I'll probably make myself look worse.  My friend Steve says 'maintain a dignified silence' and he's right of course, but I don't really do dignified ... or silent.  I have to get this off my chest.  It'll look like the intellectual equivalent of the beefiest sixth-former picking on the weediest  first-year, and that ain't good, I admit.  But sometimes there are things (in Churchill's words) 'up with which one should not put' and Amazon haven't got back to me about the abuse of their reviewing T&Cs

Let's go through Edwin Pace's (Elafius') review of WoA, sentence by sentence.  Remember, Edwin Pace is the author of the pseudo-history Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain..

This book claims to be the definitive argument against any historical Arthur. 
No it doesn't.  It nowhere claims that.  On the second page of text (p.vii) I say that 'I also concede that it is impossible to prove for sure that he [Arthur] didn't exist'.

Halsall correctly notes that most Arthurian enthusiasts `cherry pick' data, while flouting inconvenient hard evidence. Indeed, many past arguments for Arthur ("Arthur used heavy cavalry", "Lucius Artorius Castus was `really' Arthur", "Ambrosius was `really' Arthur", etc.) are based on no evidence at all. He blames much of this on John Morris, who often took liberties with his evidence, and cherry-picked his data. 
That's fair enough.  I do (mostly) say that, although I think I rather said that all of that ilk do that.  The reason Edwin  Pace changes it to 'most' is that he wants to use the word 'correctly' and thus simultaneously claim that his own work (Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain) somehow differs from the other pseudo-histories (see p.vi of WoA for the fact that this is what all the pseudo-historians do).

Most significant, Halsall argues that all written sources, whether they mention Arthur or not, are useless as evidence for post-Roman Britain.
No I don't.  One example: 'Gildas tells us much about society, Church and rulership in the Britain in which he lived and wrote.' (p.57)  I also say there are things here and there to be learned from some other sources (cp. p.85).  What I do say is that they are useless for the construction of detailed political narrative.  That is not the same thing at all.

This book, however, is in no sense a simple guide on how to refute Arthurian enthusiasts. Halsall's very peculiar view of how Roman Britain became England and Wales requires him to invalidate every written source--as well as ignore pertinent archaeological data. 
Ok it might be peculiar - I say that it is a personal view on p.x of the book that not many people would agree with (unlike Edwin Pace, who falsely claims to be revealing the truth in Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain).  This does not 'require' me to invalidate every written source (see above); the theory is an attempt to propose some ideas in the light of the fact that over the past 30-40 years serious scholars have invalidated every written source as a sound basis for political narrative.  Nor do I ignore any pertinent archaeological data (see next comment).

We thus find that Saxon federates were serving in Britain in 383, a full two generations before the archaeology tells us they were (a `heavy-cavalry' assertion if there ever was one). 
I don't know what a 'heavy cavalry assertion' is, and nor, I expect, do you.  The archaeology does not tell us that Saxon federates were in Britain two generations after 383.  It tells us that people from northern Germany were making their presence visible in the archaeological record from about 430, in East Anglia.  It tells us (it can tell us) nothing about their politico-military status.  Besides which, I spend pp.185-7 explaining why the archaeological record cannot be read simply as passively showing the date of the arrival of migrants.  Pace is deliberately misrepresenting me; I do not 'ignore' this evidence.

More worrying, on the basis of a single `cherry picked' word in Gildas, `meanwhile' (interea), we find that the DEB is not talking about things in the fifth century, but the fourth. 
Edwin Pace doesn't understand the meaning of the word cherry-picked.  The word interea is crucial because it comes at the very beginning of the break in Gildas' narrative, where he turns from the north to the east (as Molly Miller pointed out 30-odd years ago) and, whether or not you accept my thesis, it is absolutely commonplace that it must mean a break (it technically means 'meanwhile' but its other meanings also mark a shift in the direction of the story). If I'd plucked it out of context from the middle of some paragraph in the middle of the account of the Saxons or the Picts, that would be cherry-picking (of the sort Edwin Pace does throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain, although given that he can't read Latin he normally does this from translations, compounding his error).  Nor is my thesis constructed only on this basis.  It is put forward - whether you agree or not - on the basis of an account of the structure of Gildas' work, of other phrases that come around the break in the narrative (e.g. sicut et nunc est), a comparative discussion of Gildas' account of Maximus and those of other fourth- and fifth-century authors, and so on.  That discussion takes seven pages (pp.187-94); even I, prolix as I am, would have difficulty spinning a single cherry-picked word into seven pages of exegesis.  You don't have to agree with the thesis, but it's not cherry-picked.

This allows Halsall to conclude that Vortigern was `really' the usurper Maximus, that the general Ambrosius Aurelianus was `really' St Ambrose, and that the general Vitalinus was `really'...the corpse of St Vitalis.
This is the most egregious of Edwin Pace's misrepresentations (or lies if you prefer).  Nowhere do I say that Vortigern was really Maximus.  I do argue that Gildas' unnamed tyrannus is Maximus, and I argue that by the eighth century traditions about Maximus had become fused with traditions about Vortigern (that fact is made concrete by the evidence of the Pillar of Eliseg, regardless of what else you think of my hypotheses).  Vortigern, I argue at some length, is a figure whose historicity is at least as dubious as (personally I think it is more so than) Arthur's.  That is nothing even close to the argument Edwin Pace accuses me of and yet it is the closest he comes to an accurate representation of the book in this passage.  I nowhere claim that the general Ambrosius Aurelianus 'was really St Ambrose', I nowhere claim that 'the general' (the general?  where does Pace get that from?) Vitalinus 'was really' the corpse of St Vitalis.  This is just scurrilous.  As throughout, Edwin Pace simply chooses to mock arguments he doesn't follow or understand.

Halsall then refutes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's testimony with a reference to a single study by Barbara Yorke, which he fails to footnote. Indeed, unlike John Morris, he dispenses with all documentation.  
More untruths.  I do not refute the ASC's testimony 'with a reference to a single study by Barbara Yorke'.  The text itself name-checks at least two studies and the further reading essay refers to a further three.  Yorke's article is - technically - unfoot-noted but it is clearly cited on p.312 ('The studies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to in the text are ... and Yorke (1990)'. It is entirely - and deliberately - misleading to say that I dispense with all documentation.  References to chapter and verse of primary sources used are given in the text itself; allusion to particular ideas is given in text by citing the name of the historian with whom they originate and the bibliographical essay and 19-page bibliography expand on this.  I did dispense with foot-notes for particular reasons (p.xi).  This may have been a mistake but it was done for particular reasons to enhance accessibility, as this isn't primarily a book aimed at academics, and not out of arrogance, laziness or hypocrisy as various reviewers have claimed.  I concede it might look that way.  I will explain further anon.

But his investigation of the Historia Brittonum is most puzzling.  
Here Edwin Pace starts to lose his already slender grip on reality and uses the opportunity to go off into his own world (or rather parallel universe) of Arthur (the one set out at length in Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain).

He correctly notes the grave weaknesses in David Dumville's `founding' sceptical article of 1972-4. It requires us to accept four unevidenced assumptions to explain a single 69-year interval in chapter 66 of the HB (i.e. `coming of the Saxons'--69 years--consul Valerius, 521). 
How do you 'evidence' an argument, when the argument is an attempt to make sense of a sentence that no one has understood by positing four entirely reasonable scribal errors.  Put another way, how do you evidence absence? This point is absurd.  And hypocritical since Edwin Pace's own Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain is one long a catalogue of unevidenced assumptions.  Most bizarrely, he takes Dumville's argument and then adds extra (in this case entirely unevidenced) hypotheses to it before then working backwards from an end point based upon the hypothesis he's just rejected...

But Halsall's alternative is that the consuls mentioned as the end-points of the said interval...are actually the two earlier pagan emperors Valerian and Decius, whom some nameless British scribe thought were coming back as the Anti-Christ--arguably in the form of the pantomime horse of the Apocalypse.
This is another point where Pace uses his strategy of mocking things he doesn't follow.  He misrepresents the argument in any case.  Nowhere do I say that a British scribe thought this.

Halsall then dismisses the other passages in chapter 66 as scribal errors, although, unlike Dumville, he gives no evidence for this. 
Not true.  There is a long, ten-page discussion of the HB's computations, citing them all in detail and showing - with full explanation and in-text referencing - how it is demonstrable that the HB frequently got its numbers and systems confused.  Nowhere do I describe any of the dates in chapter 66 as 'scribal errors' other than the figure of 400 years between the incarnation and the coming of the Saxons which is clearly - by the HB's own other calculations - a mistake.  An error, yes.  An error by a scribe, I suppose, but a scribal error means something else (I suspect Edwin Pace doesn't know this), and that is NOT what I claim it is.

This in turn proves that the HB is not a British annal. In this at least he is correct. The full HB Prologue states that it is using `Irish and Saxon annals'.
Here we get to the nub of the issue as this graphically illustrates Edwin Pace's own deficiencies.  What he calls 'the full HB prologue' (misleading; its textual status as part of the original is at best insecure) says nothing of the sort - even in translation.  It says it used 'the writings' of the Scots [Irish] and Saxons, which it clearly did in any case, since it includes a version of a Life of St Patrick and an Irish chronology, and the works of Bede.

Moreover, if one subtracts 69 from the end-point Dumville gives (Valerius' consulship of 521), it is in perfect accord with the date for the coming of the Saxons given in both Bede and a `Saxon annal'--the ASC (521 - 69 = 452). Moreover, Halsall's use of AP dates fully explains the HB citation that the Romans `came and went' for 348 years (Ch. 30). The result is within a year of 418 AD, the ASC's date for the Roman withdrawal (43 + 348 = 391 AP, 391 + 28 = 419 AD; 43 being the Claudian conquest). 
Well, what to say?  This is a brilliant illustration of Edwin Pace's "scholarship" as found throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain.  Having dismissed Dumville, he then subtracts 69 from the date Dumville used to get a date 'in perfect accord' with a date given by Bede and the ASC ... except that Bede doesn't give that date, he gives a 6-year bracket which, since Patrick Sims-Williams work in the early '80s, we've been able to see as Bede's own best guess, and nor does the ASC (which gives 449).  That, by Pace's standards of scholarship, is 'perfect accord'.  Now think of another number...  This is Edwin Pace's historical version of Numberwang.

The next section, if anything, is even better.  If you take an AD date (43: the date of Claudius invasion - remember that this is not a date in the HB or its available sources, which didn't use AD dates), right, and add 348 you get 391.  [Actually you don't.  By the way the HB counted - illustrated with references in WoA, p.198, n.3 - it is 390, but let that pass.]  Now - and this is where things get crazy - you add, for no good reason - 28 to 391, to arrive at 418 as an AP date.  [Actually 417 by antique counting; cumulatively we're in fact at 416...] Now - get this - 418 is the year the ASC gives for the departure of the Romans.  So it's all true!  That's the truth, ladies and gentlemen.  The TRUTH!  Except that the ASC's date (unreliable in any case)  is an AD date, not an AP date.  By AD dates and Edwin Pace's strange pseudo-methodology we've only got to 391...  For the two to harmonise we'd have to have started at the AP date for Claudius' invasion and ended at the AP equivalent of 418 (AP 445).  Also, in any case, 348 isn't the amount of time of the Roman occupation, as we would know it (43 to, let's say, 410 is 367 years, 368 by late antique counting; the HB's 348 could be a scribal error for 368 but let's not go there) so why do we give the figure any credence as a measure of accuracy?  Even if (as they don't) all the sources converged on this figure they'd still be wrong.  And finally, why focus on 418 as the date of Roman withdrawal, a date attested only in a demonstrably artificial ninth-century Anglo-Saxon chronology and referred to nowhere in any surviving contemporary sources (fifth- or even, for the sake of argument, sixth-century) from the Mainland?  This is how Edwin Pace works throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain.  By any even vaguely scholarly standards, it's absolute gibberish and any decent second-year undergraduate could pull it apart.  

Overall, the HB and the ASC share seven such dates.
Wow.  So, by taking two equally, demonstrably, late and unreliable chronologies and messing about with them, according to what you decided in advance you wanted to prove and according to no sound historical methodology, seven whole dates can be hammered into converging to within a decade. Astonishing.  

Ronald Hutton argued a few years back that this discipline's main problem is that both Arthur enthusiasts and Arthur sceptics are equally guilty of using the same bad methodologies. 
Untrue again.  The closest Hutton came to saying that was where he said that Arthur-sceptics were refusing to try and explain why someone who never existed had come, within 300 years of his supposed existence, to be the national hero of an entire nation, and thus that they too weren't facing up to certain facts.  Hutton's is a very good piece but (and to be fair remember he's a 17th-century specialist) he overstates the case.  One of the aspects of WoA that I am proudest of is that I point out (though I'm hardly the first to do so) that there is no evidence at all that the legend of Arthur was even remotely well-known before the mid-eleventh century, even in Wales.  The issue is not how historical stories about Arthur could have been transmitted over centuries but why there are only five mentions of him in three sources from before 1000, out of the dozens of sources we have; why after the three Arthurs alive c.600 there is not one (of the hundreds of other people known to us in Britain) person called Arthur (and no Arthur place-names in any of the hundreds of charters); why, in the obvious place to deploy 'the national hero of an entire people' there is no allusion (even) to Arthur in the Armes Prydein.  And so on.  It doesn't prove Arthur didn't exist.  It is a pretty serious argument that, if he did, his story wasn't well known.

It is thus no surprise that the present volume replicates all the sins Halsall attributes to Arthurian enthusiasts.
That - as I hope I have shown - is nonsense.

And in rejecting Dumville's 1972-4 solution, Halsall inadvertently demolishes the very foundations of his own scepticism.
And so obviously is that.  Indeed it makes no sense at all.  The argument - if you can call it that - seems to be that if Dumville's piece on the HB was the foundational text of Arthur-scepticism, and you don't necessarily buy one minor element of Dumville's argument therein (and Dumville must have been only a PhD student or junior post-doc when he wrote that, which is salutary!), then you have somehow demolished all the grounds for rejecting the testimony of late and dubious sources.  This is rubbish.

In fairness, many of Halsall's past insights are of great interest. It is therefore doubly sad when he brands anyone who argues for Arthur's historicity as `dishonest'. Is this open scholarly debate?
Once again (and I know this is getting tedious) I do not say this.  I do not brand anyone who argues for Arthur's historicity as dishonest (see, e.g., my reference to Christopher Gidlow on WoA p.310).  What I do say is this (p.307):
'The old quest for King Arthur is fruitless.  The documentary evidence cannot respond to those sorts of questions.  More seriously, to pretend to have provided the answers sought by that romantic quest from the surviving written sources is downright dishonest.' [emphasis added]
That is a rather different claim, and it is one I stand by absolutely.  There are words for people who try to make money out of people by selling them books (like Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain) that claim to have revealed 'the truth' when they do not, for people who describe things as true which have been established as anything but true, for people who describe other people as doing and writing things that they don't, for people who pretend disinterest, who disguise their identities, and then tell untruths (in reviews and comments on other reviews) in order to defend their own financial interests in partisan fashion.  Dishonest is about the most polite word I can think of for such people.

By the way, dear readers, feel free to post a link to this under his 'review'.  This will stay up as long as the scurrilous review remains on Amazon.

Ah, but what to do? (Updated)

[Stop Press: Amazon have told me that they have removed the offending review by Pace, so I have taken down the analysis of his efforts to mislead people.  Though he's still writing nonsense in the comments section of other reviews...  I've been accused of being a Stalinist for this, which does not amuse me.  This isn't about stifling alternative views or bad reviews; it's about taking action against the author of a competing work attempting to put people off buying your book by telling untruths about it.  Quite different.  My accuser is a believer in the free market, but a free market needs to be - well - free.]

Hoist by my own petard, am I.  A week or two back I was tempted, after reading a reply to a review (not to one of my books, or to one of my reviews - not even to a review of a book about history, actually) which began 'we would like to thank X for their review of our book (yeah, 'course you would...), to write my wise words about not replying to reviews.  All of which leaves me in a sort of pickle.  I had a nice review by T.A. Shippey in The Literary Review, to which I did feel like posting some thoughts here by way of a reply.  Some of his disagreements with me were fair enough but I didn't buy the counter-argument.  A response would have been meant simply in a spirit of conversation but it would have looked like I was just being uppity.  Hence the advice.  The most important reason I wanted to reply to Shippey, though, was just to say 'yeah, you're spot on about the excellent Duggan novels; I recommended The Little Emperors myself in a foot-note to Barbarian Migrations', so I guess I've done that now.  Anyway, the point I was making a couple of weeks back is that even bad print reviews soon get forgotten and replying to them never makes you look good (no matter how insulting etc they were) and only draws attention to the bad review.  Books stay on shelves and don't come with the review attached.

Ah, but what of the on-line review?  I guess my advice is the same, even though someone searching for your book on Google might find the review so the two are not as separated as in print media.  Indeed I drew your attention to a couple of (I think) slightly harsh reviews when I updated my piece on reviews of Worlds of Arthur.  People diss me and my work all over the interwebs.  I don't like it (who would?) but I'm used to it.

Here, though, is the pickle.  There are now two reviews on Amazon.co.uk to which I take quite serious exception.  Not for being bad reviews per se; there are other negatives on there - and criticisms in the more broadly positive reviews - to which my response is 'well, fair enough.'  The two to which I take exception are the (currently, touch wood, only) 1-star review, by one Mr Nicholas W. Le Huquet (UK: Real Name), whom I've never met but who sees fit to refer to me as 'Guy' (like he knows me), because it claims I make a couple of errors:
... he states that British and Sarmatian heavy horse were the same. It's a small point, but they were not. British cavalry, even when armoured, are almost always attested as skirmishing, whether as Britons fighting J Caesar, Britons fighting Saxons as per Y Gododdin or as Bretons fighting Franks. He also says Sarmatians were never in Britain which certainly needs to be referenced, because history appears to record differently.
Nowhere in the book do I make either of these (and I quote) 'schoolboy errors'.  An interested potential reader might be misled by this (see below for Amazon reviewing T&Cs regarding accurate representation).    Now, you might wonder what position anyone is in to review a book who can't actually read what it says, especially when Mr Nicholas W. Le Huquet (UK: Real Name) goes on to dismiss - from the lofty height of his own scholarship and standing as a historian of the period - my interpretation as 'probably wrong'.  He then proceeds to pontificate on what probably happened (regardless of the fact that, since we don't know for sure where the different provinces of late Roman Britain were, his thesis cannot even be tested).  In fact his theory lacks any supporting evidence and, to be fair, he cites none.  That makes me a little less inclined to tolerate the personal abuse he chooses to throw at me (arrogance, laziness, hypocrisy -  a word he has difficulty spelling).  

The other is one of the (currently) two 2-star reviews.  There is a more serious issue here and that is that this review is written by the author of a rival volume.  It is Edwin Pace, author of Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain, the dismal pseudo-history alluded to on p.vii of Worlds of Arthur.  That book is a catalogue of ill-informed non-arguments based on an utter misunderstanding of early medieval evidence and how to use it, all consulted in translation alone, wrapped up, as is the wont of the pseudo-historians, in claims that X or Y is the 'true' date, the 'true' identity.    (To tell you the truth, I initially only made it through about half of the main text as there were so many errors and silly arguments that it was making me angry.)  Pace is the author of the claim that source criticism is 'bias' and that we should adopt a 'forensic' approach, a claim dismantled on pp.142-3 of WoA.  So of course he wasn't going to like my book; of course it was going to piss him off.  I admitted as much on p.10 of WoA.  That doesn't bother me and he has every right to be annoyed.  He has his own website devoted to his pseudo-historical theories, on which he's free to trash me to his heart's delight.

What bothers me (and what he doesn't have every right to do) is that he has posted a 'review' on Amazon which makes a series of completely inaccurate comments about the book (alleging that I say things I don't say, take approaches I don't take) and so on, misleading, like the other reviewer, a potential reader/buyer.  Not only that, but he doesn't have the honesty to own up to his parti pris and vested interest but cowers behind a nom-de-plume ('Elafius'; I know it is him because he has written a bizarre letter of complaint to my publisher making the exact same - wrong - point as he makes in the review*).    It's against Amazon T&C's to post a review if you are the author of a competing volume (I have some problems with this as a policy); whatever you think of Amazon's T&Cs it is entirely dishonest to do so while posing as a disinterested party.  Some of you may remember the hot water that the academic modern historian Orlando Figes got into by doing precisely that.  It's also against Amazon reviewing T&Cs to make misleading or erroneous statements about the book under review, and just about every sentence of Pace's review is erroneous.

So what to do, gentle readers?  What to do?

* Note too that Elafius responds in hostile fashion to every negative review of Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain, a book that even the knuckle-headed E.L. Wisty didn't like.

Friday, 26 April 2013


... in rather more important matters, this piece makes important and valuable points, although - typically - many of the commenters have their ears shut.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

P.s. Historian on the Edge: A Man with a Plan (and the academics are NOT happy)

This you might find more amusing.

My Amazon-abuser, Pace/Elafius, pens a comment congratulating the author of the 1-star review (the one that accuses me of saying that Sarmatian cavalry were the same as British cavalry and that there were no Sarmatians in Britain: a small prize to any reader who can point out where I say either) in which he claims that the people who have written positive reviews either do not know what good scholarship is (...) or - and this is the good bit - subscribe to my agenda.  Pace/Elafius himself naturally has no agenda at all.  

So, a second prize for anyone who can tell me what my real 'agenda' is.  I confess that I thought I had made it quite clear that it was: a: to provide a guide to recent scholarship on 5th- and 6th-century Britain, b: to thus provide tool kit for those interested in Arthur to help them see through the fraudulent claims of pseudo-historians (like Pace/Elafius) to have revealed 'the truth', and c: to propose some ideas for rethinking the framework in which we see Britain in that period ('It doesn't claim to represent the truth; it is up-front about being a personal view, not currently held by many people and frequently controversial.  It contains precious few 'facts', being about frameworks and interpretations.': WoA, p.x).  But clearly I am up to something more sinister.  I wonder what it could be.

I'd certainly like to know.  No one is worse at effective politics than I am.  I often say that Peter Heather and I make our Goths in our own image.  Heather's Goths have a clear idea idea of what they want and set about achieving those aims in decisive and effective fashion; my Goths bumble along from one crisis to another, sometimes perhaps with some sort of idea of what they want but frequently having to make do with what they get instead.  So I am interested to find out about my 'agenda'.


I'm also amused to read Pace/Elafius' claim (in the same comment) that 'the academics' (I wonder which ones) are (I quote) 'NOT happy' [his capitals] with my book.  This, I have to admit, came as a surprise given the response I've had, including from the Chichele professor of medieval history at Oxford, the academic readers of the manuscript, the reviews by James Palmer, T.A. Shippey, Ryan Lavelle, the message from a leading scholar of the period saying he would set the book as a required purchase for students on his special subject, and quite a few others.  Indeed Chris Gidlow (author of the only reputable 'pro-Arthur' studies) wrote to me congratulating me on (I hope he'll forgive me for quoting his e-mail) 'a superb book and an excellent read'.
"At last a book written by an established academic with up to date awareness of modern approaches to the history and archaeology and a willingness to engage with the fact that many readers will have been informed by what appear to be reputable books that the 5th /6th centuries were a period dominated by an Arthur who might have been a Sarmatian or called Riothamus. This is exactly the sort of book which I waited so long for someone to write I finally had to get up and write my own!"
I wish I could have used that on the book cover!*  Gidlow disagrees with some of my ideas and puts some cogent reasons against.  In a couple of cases I suspect he might be right.  But that's for another time.

Incidentally, Pace's book claims Riothamus and Arthur are the same...  

I know that some academics worried a little about some of my off-hand references to some academic debates but none have said anything about my treatment of pseudo-history; most I have spoken to think (like Gidlow) that that was overdue.  So I suspect this is another (at best) half-truth which might, again, mislead anyone interested in my book.

* Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain actually does have a generous quote from Chris Gidlow on the cover, describing it as a 'thought-provoking contribution'.  To quote The Princess Bride, though, 'I don't think that means what you think it means'...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

David Cameron's Handy Guide to Personal Pronouns

1: We
A tricky one, this.  Technically regarded as the first person plural, implying a collective subjectivity, its use is in fact much more complex.  Indeed, the meaning can change diametrically according to context.  This can be illustrated no better than with these two well-known examples of common* usage, where the collectivity implicit in the pronoun appears to be emphasised by the addition of the word 'all'.  In fact, though, the meaning is rather more subtle.

A: 'We are all Thatcherites now'.  Here, 'we all' refers to to 'me, my mates and Tony Blair but hardly anyone else.'

B: 'We're all in this together'.  Here, by contrast, the phrase 'we all' actually refers to 'you all', that is to say everyone except me, my mates and Tony Blair, and so is generally referred to at Eton as the rhetorical second person plural.

It is, as I said, a tricky one, in the use of which only an education costing roughly the same as Mexico's national debt can really produce proficiency.  Nonetheless I hope these words provide some help.

* Did I say common?  You know what I mean.

[With thanks to my friend Kate for inspiration.]

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thatcher: A Nation Mourns

There were extraordinary scenes today as, in an amazing spontaneous show of emotion that took the political classes by surprise, people across the UK came together as one in showing their grief at the loss of their beloved former leader, a far cry from the quiet, private affair of the funeral itself.



Meanwhile in London, the extra police wisely
drafted in hold back the throng of those driven wild by grief.

Appropriately, the ceremony was presided over by a
representative of The Hornèd One

But all worth it for this picture of a toff, evidently
sobbing like a Jessie (remind me, Gideon, which 
party it was that ditched the witch  as an electoral
liability in 1990, when you were at the ripe old
age of 19...)
Sadly not everyone was swept up in the
generally sorrowful mood.

Just wondering...

...whether there's anything in this strange constellation of facts.  When Thatcher became Prime Minister she presumed to quote St Francis.  When a pope was elected who took the name of Francis, after the saint, because of his love of the poor, Thatcher was dead within a month.  Some kind of exorcism, perhaps?

Friday, 5 April 2013

Great Lies of Academia no.94

"I/We would like to thank X for his/her review of my/our book, Y. ..."

And, while we're on the subject, ...

Professor Grumpy's Wise Words, no.(?)2

Never, ever, ever reply to a review.  No matter how dick-witted, unfair, misrepresentational, potentially libellous it was, no one ever, ever, ever, made themselves look better by replying to a review.  Remember: books stay on shelves; reviews are soon forgotten.  The only reviews that aren't soon forgotten are the ones that are remembered for being so spectacularly rude.  That doesn't reflect on the book.

Professor Grumpy's Wise Words, no.(?)2a

Never, ever, ever, at all, ever reply to to a reply to a review.  Close scrutiny of the annals of The Medieval Review and other similar locales shows that only extremely obnoxious and/or stupid people do that.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Who's the Patron Saint of 'Epic Fails'?

I got this through the letterbox a few days ago.

I can be a bit pedantic, as you know.  Nonetheless I don't expect the composer of the average parish church/community newsletter to know that Richard I never fought any battles at Antioch, or that he never went on the First Crusade (which finished 58 years before he was born).  I don't expect them to know the dates of the Emperor Diocletian (or to know that Diocletian was the name of the persecuting emperor rather than an adjective to describe his persecution; it's not clear how our author understands the term).  Or, possibly, to conjugate the verb to slay in less, shall we say, non-normative fashion.

But I do - kind of - expect the reader of a Christian parish church to spot something logically wrong with the statement that a persecution of Christians took place in 303 BC...

P.S.  It's the sentiment that counts, though, and I approve of that.