Yeah I’ll put Collaboration Before Christ Thanks.

Boris Johnson: Save the Denarii!

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I try not to bring politics into this blog. Of course this isn’t always possible, the teaching of history in schools and university, the funding of museums and heritage, are all as vulnerable to the whims of politicians as mush as everything else in this world. Yet, I wake up to a minor newspaper storm, about an apparent edict from the BBC management to its staff requesting that they prefer the use of Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) to the traditional Anno Domini (AD) and Before Christ  (BC), and I struggle to bite my tongue. I say ‘newspaper storm’, it is in fact confined to the right-wing leaning papers, the Daily Mail and Telegraph. To begin with it turns out that the BBC management has made no such overarching pronouncement on the subject, the guidance being issued within the BBC, but not BBC-wide (the media blog). Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, has waded into the debate, ever keen on preserving little Britain against the tide of Political Correctness gone mad. Cue much talk of thin-end-of-the-wedge and erosion of the Christian Foundations of our once great nation nonsense.

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So, let’s assume for a moment that the BBC did want to make an editorial decision, across the board, to encourage the use of CE rather than AD. Where exactly is the problem in that? Common Era is well established terminology within Academic circles. It hasn’t just sprung up from the brain of some left-wing BBC bureaucrat. It isn’t the product of some Latin-hating, trade unionist with a hankering for revenge against the landed classes. It originated in the 1800s and settled into wider use in the last quarter of the 20th Century. That’s not to say it has replaced AD/BC in academic writing, it hasn’t, but its use is encouraged.

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Why would we encourage the use of CE/BCE? It’s just pandering to foreigners isn’t it? It’s post-Empire, secular hand wringing embarrassment at our former cultural preeminence, isn’t it? No, no it isn’t. It’s called collaboration. It’s called finding things we have in common and reaching toward a language that enables us to discuss our past, shared or otherwise, with people who have different cultural heritage. Those that throw their hands up in the air about moving away from default references to ‘Our Lord’ and ‘Before Christ’ would be the first to throw their arms up in despair if they were suddenly forced to use ‘Year of Muhammad’ or ‘Before Maimonides’. This isn’t even about some ground swell of complaints from other religions, there is no such thing. I’m sure plenty of non-Christian scholars will come forward and say that they see no offence in AD/BC, and that’s fair enough. Yet, that isn’t a reason to not encourage the more neutral terminology. Language evolves, and in a global world why wouldn’t we want to move toward terminology that removed potential boundaries rather than preserves them? Whether you like it or not AD/BC are a relic of our Christian past, they are a continuation of an assumption of the pre-eminence of Christianity that has little relevance today.

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Of course the argument then moves along to; why not scrap the Gregorian calendar, why not use the buddhist calendar instead? Well why not? Seriously, if not changing it creates real barriers to understanding and collaboration then why not. We changed our monetary system, the British people got used to that. Or will I soon see a Boris Johnson article bemoaning the loss of the Shilling, or more likely the denarius.

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I know, I know, it’s a non-issue, whipped up in order to provide some nice ‘BBC is left-wing’ commentary during the Labour Party Conference. We have a coalition government, with a majority Conservative partner, and therefore it is inevitable that reactionary conservatism is stretching its muscles in the media, and having a pop at its favourite bugbear: Political Correctness. But, if they can overreact about the erosion of our right to preserve irrelevance and outdated language well then I can overreact about the need to be inclusive, collaborative and open to change. Why does it have to be about surrender, why does it have to be about lost empire and the ‘dumbing down’ of language. And just because Boris Johnson has a hard-on about Latin, doesn’t mean we have to preserve its use in every situation.

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Rant ends.

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15 thoughts on “Yeah I’ll put Collaboration Before Christ Thanks.

  1. Gillian

    I agree with you. I was taught to use BC/BCE at uni when I did Ancient History, and I’m pretty sure it was mentioned at school. I still use it out of preference. I teach history evening courses and use it then and hardly ever find that any student (many of whom have never studied history before) is unfamiliar with it and have never had any who were unhappy with its use.

    Boris’s whining is Right Wing Outrage Gone Mad as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply
    1. Tom Sykes Post author

      Phew, glad its not just me then. Given that the dates are the same i find it hard to see how anyone, even if they are unfamiliar with the terminology, could actually be confused.

      Reply
  2. Anita Renaud

    You certainly have every right to express your political leanings. However, your argument would have more credibility without the “right-wing” name calling. As one who treasures history, good and bad, I am surprised that you are so eager to make a change that has been in place for so many hundreds of years. When you capped off your blog with the title that speaks of “collaboration before Christ,” you lost me as a reader. Insulting the sacred was not called for.

    Reply
    1. Tom Sykes Post author

      Firstly, thank you for taking the time to comment and make your opinions known to me, I appreciate that. Right-wing name calling is unfair, the papers are right of centre, as is the Tory party and Boris, it’s not name calling, it’s fact. The article itself is typical of that ‘genre’ here in the UK, I call them out on it. Preserving AD/BC has nothing to do with treasuring history, it’s to do with language and whether the specific terminology is an issue. Insulting the sacred? Come on. A play on words, how on earth is that an attack on the sacred? In this case I prefer to promote collaboration instead of referring to Christ in what could be non-religious, neutral terminology. That is what it means. I have every right to prefer that and express it as an opinion as you have every right not to read my blog, even though it’s super awesome.

      Reply
  3. Lynn McAlister

    I don’t understand the fuss about this, either, and I’m a fairly ‘devout’ Christian. The non-Christian/non-Latin world is still meeting us more than half way here by acknowledging, with the term ‘Common Era’, that it has been common to date events in relation to the time of Christ, whether you use the words or not. Which is pretty generous in light of the fact that for some civilisations, like China’s, the time of Christ was yesterday. It seems like there are things in modern society that are much more worth getting upset over.

    Reply
    1. Tom Sykes Post author

      absolutely, it’s not meant as an insult to Christinity. Interesting you mention China as when they adopted the western dating convention, they first called it ‘Western Era’ and then ‘Common Era’. I would say China are a country we could do with forging intellectual and economic links with, CE is something to getting on with!

      Reply
  4. keatsbabe

    I certainly agree with you Tom – it is something of a non-issue whipped up by our right-wing press a little afraid of a Labour lead in the polls at conference time and eager to take a swipe. However, the point you make is very important in terms of addressing the audience for our work. Academia is no longer confined to local boundaries and specialist journals. Inclusiveness must come naturally to us. It isn’t about political correctness, and it certainly isn’t a swipe at Christianity. BC/AD has long since ceased to be much other than a label in schools and opening this discussion might actually increase understanding of what an historical ‘era’ actually means.

    Reply
  5. Alan Ford

    As an Archaeologist and someone who regularly deals with palaeo-geological/environmental dating that greatly pre-dates 1BC, I utilise a range of dates. Generally this is BC/AD for client reports but I also occasionally use BCE (which is effectively the same as BC/AD) and more often BP (Before Present); which is dates before 1950, being the dawn of the radio-carbon dating age. BP can be uncalibrated or calibrated; calibration being achieved by scientific dating technologies such as Radio-carbon or stratigraphic equivalence with datable finds. There is also a growing body of thought which postulates we should plump for HE (Holocene or Human Era), which starts the clock from c. 10,000BC or the end of the Palaeolithic period; this being the date when human habitation is definitively recorded on all continents apart from Antarctica. Arguably more sensible and all inclusive than the rather arbitary BC/AD which has Christ’s birth at c. 5BC and his death at c. 30AD.

    Reply
  6. Alan Ford

    Further to last and to avoid (mostly my) confusion: BP dates are not calibrated by Radio-carbon but are radio-carbon dates calibrated by other dating methods such as dendrochronology.

    In short most academics are happy with BC/AD to communicate to each other and especially to the public at large. It is, however already by no means uniform and many schools and especially universities have also used BCE/CE for decades.

    The real point, which I rather digressed from above is that the whole furore is in essence a Non-Story. Even the Mail on Sunday admitted this before contradicting itself in the very same article. There is no intent by the BBC to lose BC/AD altogether, there never was and I doubt there will ever be.

    Reply
    1. Tom Sykes Post author

      Fascinating, I didn’t know about Before Present (BP), how cool. I doubt we’ll ever change the dating convention though. You’re right of course, it is a nicely designed bit of PC gone amd fodder, but that’s not a reason not to challenge it. I’d like to see CE used, but I accept that AD/BC are so well ingrained in our language that they are unlikely to go. But there’s nothing wrong in my book in a little nudge in the right direction, if its the raving lefties at the BBC that do it, then so be it ;)

      Reply
  7. Sam

    I tend to use the whole BC/AD thing just because that’s how we were taught and had it drummed into us when I was doing archaeology at uni. But I know the other way of doing it, and do actually prefer it…I’m just in a bit of a hole after having the old school drummed into me lol.

    Reply
  8. Tom Sykes Post author

    You’ll probably find some AD/BC in this blog if you look hard enough, it kinda depends on the audience. I’d like to see CE used as a rule, but accept that AD/BC is much more ingrained in our language. Sometimes an article requires brevity and not potential confusion of using CE. Thats said, where possible I like to nudge in the direction of CE.

    Reply
  9. Karen Corkran

    I’m not a Christian, but I use AD and BC without fussing. They don’t mean I have adopted a religion. They are just reference points on a timeline.
    Yes, in CE and BCE the “C” stands for something other than Christ. This does not mean the fellow has been erased from history. It just means we are willing to include a little more cultural history in there with him.

    Reply
  10. L.R. Shimer

    As a regular Time Traveller, I use C.E., not A.D. People in different eras and places, are much more open to time portal sharing, when I reach across culture barriers. This is something that can make a big difference when I find myself in the middle of a revolution, plague or attack by rampaging Cossacks, I wasn’t expecting.

    Reply

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