I was going to write a post about the variety of cool Etruscan death demons and provide some snappy fancy dress advice for each one. Charun: wander around with a huge inflatable hammer. Vanth: channel Jodie Marsh with the belt bra look. That snake dude from the Tomb of the Blue Demons- get some serpents and a blue morph suit.
But instead, I’m going to blog about something that I think is much more frightening. Last week I gave a lecture at the Accordia Research Institute, part of UCL. I wanted to talk about the public archaeology of pre-Roman Italy, and I hope I managed to keep things structured and reasoned and not too rant-like. The rant risk factor arose from how worried, angry and afraid I am of a certain political mood, and a certain academic complacency.
In the week before I gave the talk, A-level archaeology, art history and classical civilisation were scrapped in the UK by the exam board, due to (in large part) lack of interest. Anthropology got the boot last year. How long can it be until these subjects, particularly archaeology with its horrendously low starting wages, begin to be phased out from universities too? Now, a lot of people were inclined to put the blame for this on ex-education minister Michael Gove, who had emphasised the importance of “real, hard” subjects. Gove himself (give the man his due) said he never meant THESE subjects, but guess what, unintended consequences bite like an Etruscan wolf demon.
Actually, it’s another Gove thing that has me more worried. He’s given voice to something I do feel is a wider problem- the general disenchantment with people that know stuff. His disdain for “experts” in the lead up to the Brexit vote should be regarded as a warning to anyone who has worked their tits off to acquire specialist knowledge. It’s not just a British thing, either. I identified in my lecture the parallels between Brexiteer philosophy and the Movimento 5 Stelle, the anti-establishment Italian political party to which the mayors of Rome and Turin belong. How long, I asked, would it be before these anti-expert views began to undermine people working in cultural heritage?
Erm, about a week. I don’t like to say I told you so, but the resignation* of the director of the Turin Museum Foundation, Patrizia Asproni, after a sustained campaign for her to quit led by the city’s 5*M mayor, makes me say I told you so. The Museum staff wanted to focus on big exhibitions that would bring new visitors to the city- the mayor’s office wanted more for local citizens. When a major sponsor dropped out of one of those planned major exhibitions, the mayor leapt gleefully upon a chance to get rid of a pesky cultural expert. Who was working for free- not even costing the museum money. How much more vulnerable will paid “experts” be to dismissal and bullying? In Italy and in the UK. Let alone in a Trump-led US, Uni forbid.
I don’t know, but predicting this particular aspect of the archaeological future is a lot more disturbing than the remains of the past. Happy freaking Halloween.
*Sexist reporting shout out to the Guardian here, referring to what happened as a “spat” between 2 female politicians. Would you say that about two blokes? Nice.