In the last year I worked briefly as an essay tutor, travelled to France, wrote a whack of papers and things, moved to Oxford to start a DPhil, got nominated for a few graduate prizes, sat The Test, got elected to a membership at the Royal Historical Society, presented 2 conference papers, and bought far more books than I can actually afford. Here follows a slightly more specific account of the year for the sake of posterity and my spotty memory.
Robert A Heinlein, a science-fiction author that I have only a passing familiarity with, was either a melodramatic hack or a social critic of such Swiftian subtlety that he is mistaken for an ultra-conservative crank. He may be a mix of both. In 1942 he gave us the quotable axiom that “an armed society is a polite society.”1 That phrase has been dragged out regularly in the most recent ritual pantomime of social and legal debate about gun violence in the United States.
I would be neglecting my pedagogical responsibility as a student of violence if I did not try and comment with some informed opinion on this issue. While I am unqualified to discuss the peculiar American relationship with guns and their pseudo-sacred rights to personal arms, ill-defined in their founding documents, I can make an argument about the utility of arms and their relevance in maintaining social order and protecting the vulnerable as it applies to the American context. Fair warning, however, that this may get contentious.
The holidays are not compatible with daily writing habits and they are even less amenable to writing, editing and posting to a blog. At least, that’s my situation. While I am working on something with a broader purpose (and which requires some research and careful drafting) I have a little time today to write about one very fortunate present. Continue reading →
[Cleaned up on the 20th, because I jumped the gun on the 2nd draft. All praise the mutability of the blogging medium, for only in this place can we correct our poor grammar and syntax and erase the evidence of our own carelessness!]
Oxford can be such a rich source of complaint that it could cause this blog to regress into a catalogue of daily irritations or institutional disorders. Instead, I will try and fill it with the better things Oxford can offer, if one is able to find them. Alas, a gripe has crept in. I will continue anyway.
Research can, on occasion, present the scholar with a difficult choice between sources of evidence. The written and material records do not always agree and one is left with an uncomfortable choice between arbitrary preference or awkward uncertainty. Actually, this problem may be more common than people like to admit and so it’s great fun to find close analogues between the records and the archaeology. My self-directed Latin study has reminded me of one such match.
[Edited on the 16th Dec. to cull commas and sharpen the argument]
There is a rhetorical quirk that, if it were common in any other circumstances would be so irrelevant as to preclude mention, but its use in the context of violence makes it jump out and slap me in the face. I have only occasionally commented on current events, usually when it connects with my academic interest (or responsibility, depending on my mood) but I feel that vague obligation to do comment on this one detail.. There is a habit amongst commentators discussing large-scale ‘senseless’ acts of violence to add the qualification that the victims were ‘innocent.’ It’s delivered in an unconscious, almost ritual, way but it indicates an unacknowledged sub-text behind Western ideas about crime, punishment, guilt, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of violence.
While I dig through the tedious and often illegible cases in the coram rege rolls, looking for elites behaving badly, I am occasional rewarded with something neat. This one isn’t very relevant to my interests but it has its charm.
Writing and publishing academic work is a fairly solitary experience and this goes for both pre- and post-publication. While I may have started writing for publication as far back as 2005 I rarely receive unsolicited correspondence from that work. I think I have had a grand total of 3, legitimate, unsolicited enquiries from readers. The first was a simple request for a copy of an article not otherwise available. The second, came recently, from a small-scale, but entirely legitimate, publisher interested in a conference paper I gave (which the publisher thought would fit nicely in an academic monograph series he is planning. Sadly, I had to disappoint them). The last, which arrived yesterday, came from just about the last place I would have expected.
Now that I am back home, safe in the dry company of my little library, I am in a position to attempt an answer to a question posed by a reader back on 2 November. That question involved the assertion that the lances of late Renaissance tournaments were peculiarly fragile—as in ‘deliberately’ fragile.