Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Value of Paleography

Jim Davila and Mark Goodacre have already drawn attention to the announcement that the UK's last chair in  paleography is being cancelled by King's College-London. I'm sure others will continue to spread the word. There is a Facebook group dedicated to saving the position (which I've joined) and an online petition available (which I have signed as the 6,024th to do so).

The news story at The Guardian is well worth the read, especially if you were drawn to this post by the title. The article does a great job showing the real value of paleography for the study of history and culture.
Either way, the point is much the same. It's not just that we wouldn't have a clue what the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Cyrus Cylinder (over which the British Museum and the Iranian government are currently locking horns) actually mean without palaeography; we wouldn't know how to evaluate their historical importance. Multiply this by every fragment and every hand-written folio, and the history of the world begins to be up for grabs.
Giving up on palaeography is like giving up on art, history and culture. It's like deciding we know all we want to know about the past, so we're not going to bother to find out any more: "It's not as if we can come back to it in 15 years' time if we then decide there's enough money," says Beard. "Palaeography can't be taught in an online tutorial; it's a skill handed down from one academic to another. If King's does go through with its decision, it's the end of the subject in this country."
Read on to find out "what paleographers have done for us" at the end of the article.

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