Saturday, 1 November 2014

A perfect storm – and how to respond

Back at Stockholm all classical archaeologists have been acting against the absurd suggestion in the budget framework that the Mediterranean Institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul should lose their funding by 2017 and effectively close. This in effect would also threaten the existence of our subject, Classical Studies, that combines ancient history and classical / Mediterranean archaeology. It may feel for a person who is not into classical studies that it is surprising that this discipline is taught in four universities in Sweden, but there is a good explanation to it. No, I do not mean the tradition with the King Gustav VI excavating in Etruria, but the way all foreign and Italian institutes in collaboration save our common World Heritage.

The Mediterranean studies have a long tradition in ecological investigation, too, so archaeologists and historians are not only revealing the origins of agriculture and metal production in Europe, not to mention Classical art, architecture, Latin and Greek alphabet, law making and drama to list a few things we have still among us today. No, archaeology has been helping in such Europe-wide investigations erosion in the Mediterranean as ARCHEOMEDES and MEDALUS for decades now. One country alone cannot grasp the vast heritage around the Mediterranean or exhaust research questions. The management and protection of this heritage is a huge effort and countries like Greece need joint efforts – especially in these times when conflict and economic misery bring added problems to the Mediterranean. Naturally, we have to care for the people first, but the Mediterranean heritage in its entirety including both the eastern and western and northern and southern traditions deserves us working together.

If there is one person in whole Sweden personifies carrying the flame that is Ida Östenberg, a docent in ancient history at the Gothenburg University. She wrote quickly an opinion on the web page of the Swedish Broadcasting Company (SVT) on Friday October 24 when the whole issue had became apparent to the Mediterranean humanists in the afternoon of the day before, Thursday, October 23. She also spoke in the radio and has been active on Facebook and Twitter and helping to pass different screenshots from the Rädda Medelhavsinstituten Facebook community. In one place one could find the letters written by Elizabeth Fentress on the behalf of the International Association of Classical Archaeology (AIAC), the letter written by Christopher Smith on the behalf of the Union of the International Research Institute in Rome, the images of key tweets, such as that of Mary Beard, and the signatures on the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition, such as that of Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. Swedes from both sides of the political spectrum have signed and the Swedish and other Nordic signatures are alternated with those from both sides of the Atlantic, bringing together professors, students and people who live around or visit the Mediterranean.

The Humanities have felt threatened for some time when the usefulness of the natural sciences have been emphasised. Nobody seems to remember that in order to sell anything across the globe, one cannot only to go about speaking English and expect everybody thinking similarly and having the same customs. Our economic situation has parallels and one has not to look further than the late antiquity to see stagnation and diminishing living standards. In addition, we humanists and scientists do work together today nowadays, so natural sciences and humanities cannot live totally without each other. Some of us are not without scientific studies, even if we are mainly humanists. To expect to build internationalisation elsewhere while cutting away decades of development and building up that has been carried out in order to allow students and scholars to see the monuments first hand, interact and find the books and series not available in the Nordic countries – or even Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, London or Oxford – would be unimaginable hit to the heart of the Mediterranean studies. By collecting names and my colleagues filling the notice boards with notices at the University, we remind the government what would be lost and could not be rebuilt. And our colleagues are giving their helping hand.

I will post this blog entry already today, since tomorrow I have to write another piece like this, but for a more serious forum and then I will head to Rome to the Migration and the Mediterranean conference, organised partly by the Swedish Institute in Rome. For my talk I have had to think why I am doing this in the Mediterranean, why my work is relevant and what use is my little footnote in the history of Latin colonisation. I have to verbalise it as I had to conceptualise the potential Mediterranean archaeology has this week in a trial lecture – and it has huge potential. I woke up late to the situation and have contributed mainly by sending few e-mails that may or may not have been helped the cause. I do not know what the next week in Rome brings – or if I have woken up anybody so that they will wake up for Kristian’s, Director’s, talk on the coming Wednesday morning – but maybe I can contribute from my tiny part to the preservation of our common heritage.

Nevertheless, hats off for Ida, our shining light. With her kind of people, and such as the journalist Sanna Ryman, whose early column shed light onto the situation, and archaeologists Moa Ekbom, who got the Facebook community and the petition going being the first to sign, Ingrid Berg, who linked the whole budget suggestion text to Facebook with the crucial page 308 on the morning of October 23, and Julia Habetzeder, who collects all blog entries in one place, and with media such as Aftonbladet, which apparently was first to notice this scandal, we can show that we Mediterranean scholars and all humanists and our friends are modern, sassy and sharp, and protect something we could lose so easily.

The following sentences are left only to keep the historicity of this blog intact: "We will need all the signatures we can get in order to show that we are united and value humanities and international collaboration. Please, sign and tell your friends to sign too, if you already haven't:
Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition". We won! The Swedish Government has now promised to provide state funding for the Mediterranean Institutes in the foreseeable future.

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