In 2011, I wrote a book called De klad in de klassieken, “Classics in Decline”. It is about the way classicists, archaeologists, and historians try to guarantee that their information is adequate. The seven first chapters deal with their craftmanship, the three final ones with the problems they are facing in the Dutch, bureaucratic universities. The book was published in January 2012. Below is an English synopsis; a Dutch summary is here.
Scholarship is in a state of crisis and the first branch that is no longer capable of keeping up with the others, is the study of Antiquity. This is not just the problem of classicists, Biblical scholars, archaeologists, Egyptologists, Assyriologists, historians, and so on. The causes of the decline of the classics are relevant to other branches of scholarship and science as well.
1 ‘A field of study, too easy for truly great minds’
What is the study of Antiquity? Subdisciplines. Poliziano and the origin of textual criticism; Nanni and source criticism; Erasmus; Pyrrhonism; antiquarianism and the widening scope of history; the Enlightenment.
2 Three Geniuses and a Politician
Winckelmann and Gibbon and the synthesis of earlier approaches; Philhellenism; Wolf defines the scope of the study of Antiquity; the organizer Von Humboldt; the rise of institutes; pros and cons of institutes. Four main problems:
- insufficient attention to the ancient Near East,
- archaeology insufficiently appreciated,
- acceptance of an unproven continuity from Antiquity up to the present day,
3 Words from the Past
Linguistic interpretation of ancient texts; cultural interpretations; intertextuality; subjectivity; Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics; Dilthey; formalism; oral literature. The fifth main problem: outdated information, because of (among other factors) outdated hermeneutic approaches.
4 Facts and Comparisons
Eyewitness accounts and primary sources; secondary sources; facts, indirect facts, aggregated facts; logical problems with empirical study; from fact to language; problems with historicism; acceptance of wide comparisons; justification of comparanda; need to collaborate with the social sciences.
5 The Handmaid of History
From antiquarianism to archaeology; Schliemann; archaeology as the handmaid of history; Kosinna; Childe; culture-historical archaeology and nationalism.
Collaboration with the social sciences breaks historicism (a way to solve main problem #4); decisive changes (functionalism, Clark, radiocarbon); spatial archaeology (Iraq-Jarmo Project); the so-called New Archaeology; possibility to say meaningful things about continuity (a way to solve main problem #3); postprocessual archaeologies and hermeneutics; classical archaeology until 1970; Snodgrass; archaeology no longer a subdiscipline of classics (solution to main problem #2); Greece no longer considered the cradle of civilization; more attention to the ancient Near East (solution to main problem #1).
7 Facts and Explanations
The five explanatory models
- physics of society.
Just when four of the five main problems were potentially solved, new problems arose.
8 The Fifth Main Problem
Three examples of serious disinformation; types of error (pseudo-history, quack history, exaggeration, contamination, outdated information); the rise of outdated information and its explanations:
- the internet*, combined with pay sites*, offer quack historians an opportunity to refer to sources, whereas true scholars can only refer to pay sites and will lose any online discussion;
- students must obtain their MA’s in too short a time*, and are no longer recognize capable of recognizing outdated information;
- the Convention of Valletta caused an archaeological data explosion.
We’re living in an age in which outdated information can spread faster than reliable information, while academics are less capable to fight against disinformation.
9 Waterskiing behind a Wine Ship
What is quality? Doubts about truth claims,* bureaucratic solutions.* Other problems: insufficient cooperation between historians, classicists, archaeologists; unanswered questions; insufficient theoretical innovation. Poor explanation to non-academicians; rise of a class of aggressive sceptics.*
How things went wrong. Failure of quality control;* underfunding;* disadvantages of bureaucracy;* no control whatsoever of the information sent out to the larger audience.
Must we accept the end of the classical studies? No, but reform is necessary and possible.
10 Leaving the Procrustean Bed
Scholarship should serve society, but the present Dutch universities are a Procrustean bed. What to do?
- Answer ignored questions about comparanda and continuity;
- Form follows content: only when we know what we really want, we can create a new system of study. Independent institutes are better than large universities. If creating an institute for all classical studies, is only possible by making it an elitist institute, that is acceptable.
- Make sure that the larger audience understands what scholarship is about.
- Create efficient types of control, not focused on the amount of articles published every year, but on the correctness of information that is circulating in society.
Subjects indicated with * are also relevant to other fields of scholarship.