Category Archives: Ancient History

Veni, Vidi, Vici – New Job!

Classic, innit.

Having signed & returned the job contract I finally feel that I can announce that I’ve got myself a new job, and I am very excited about it. Starting in a weeks time, and for the next twelve months, I will be the new Library Trainee at the Classical Faculty Library at Cambridge University. As first steps into library careers go, this one is pretty good. It’s particularly gratifying as there have been times over the last six months when I doubted I’d ever get that first break into this new career.

Any regular readers of this blog (are there regular readers of this blog anymore?) will have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet this year, particularly since March. As I mentioned in this previous post, this was due to me moving into full-on job hunting mode, and in particular job hunting for a potential new career. With building up voluntary experience, researching the job market and applying for posts eating up every available day this has essentially been a full-time job in itself. I’ve barely been in the mood to muster the enthusiasm to tweet at times, let alone pursue much history. The effort was undoubtably worth it, but I am sad that it has come at the expense of my history bloggings. I’m hoping that once settled in the new job I’ll be in the mood to share my thoughts in writing again.

So what am I going to be doing as a library trainee? Library traineeships are offered at many University libraries, with differing regularity, but Cambridge recruits several trainees each year (I think it’s six this year). Essentially I’ll be doing a library assistant job in an academic library (in my case a specialist faculty library) but with an additional programme of support and the benefit of being part of a group of fellow trainees who will be working in other college libraries. This year will include opportunities to visit other libraries and possibly training events and courses. After the year is up the trainees usually go on to study for a Masters in Library studies. Looking at what past students have done, it seems like a lot go on to do this part-time or via distance learning courses.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier in the week, this is where the nerves come in. I’ve been freelance for nearly two years now, working from my home office (desk in our bedroom) like a hermit, but I’m actually not worried about moving back into a formal working environment, in fact I can’t wait. I’ve enjoyed the last year or so, but it will be nice to have co-workers again, actual people, not just these lot:

Some of the Study Buddies

I guess the nerves are the same as at the beginning of any new job, a mix of anticipation and healthy self-doubt, but they’re still there none the less. Nerves manifest themselves in odd way and so I’ve left a fair few cups of distractedly made and un-drunk cups of coffee around the house and generally required more naps than normal over the last week. Starting at the bottom and learning a new career largely from scratch is daunting, but I take comfort from the fact that I do enjoy learning and that I’m going to at least get to do the thing I’ve chosen to do over the next twelve months. Having rather fallen into university administration while I wasn’t paying attention (though not doing too badly at it *ahem, Gentleman Administrator, Ahem*) this opportunity to follow something I really want to do is pretty cool and at least motivation won’t be a problem.

To avoid rambling on about myself for too much longer I should mention the obviously cool thing about the job (well for those less interested in libraries), I’ll be working in the Classics Faculty at Cambridge! It’s a pretty cool place, I mean it has its own freakin’ museum… While I love Early Modern history, I have mentioned a few times here on the blog that the bulk of my Degree and Masters were focused on ancient Jewish history, so I won’t be completely lost working to support students and staff studying the ancient world, and I certainly wont be at a loss for interest and motivation from the subject matter. Coincidently I was blathering on about how cool ancient history is earlier in the year, here. That said, it is eleven years since my Masters so I might be a little rusty. Luckily I’ve had time to get some revision in:

A Classicists handbook.

So, there will be more blogging here in the future, but it might be more of a mix of Early Modern, Ancient and Libraries. It may also be about commuting, as one sacrifice I’m making is time away from my wife and child each week. That, above anything else, will be the hardest thing. Yet at least it will serve to put every other worry nicely in perspective.


Ancient History is cool

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there


Hosting the most recent Carnivalesque made me think about the enduring interest of ancient history. You’ll know from looking around this blog that I have gravitated toward early modern history in the last few years, but this is a relatively recent return to that subject area. For much of my Bachelor and Masters degree I specialised in Jewish history, and in particular ancient Jewish history. I wrote my first dissertation on the Pharisees (c.50 CE) and my second dissertation on Jewish communities in the Persian period (c.300 BCE), so I was getting further back in time as I went.

Aside from academic study, ancient history has always been one of my interests and I think that this common to many, many people who like history either as a hobby or casual interest; ancient history is cool. Ancient history has Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Celts temples, pyramids, invasions, inventions and the founding of modern philosophy and religion. I would happily place a bet that the first four on that list alone are what drew most of us to history as children, it was certainly true with me. One of my first memories of school is of drawing a Celtic warrior, along with his Golden Labrador (the teacher was kind enough not to point out the slight historical license). You could almost argue that children have an instinctive interest in the long distant past.

Romans are cool

But what draws us so instinctively to ancient times? The above quote from L.P Hartley only partly touches on it, the ‘past is a foreign country’. Curiosity about foreigners, about exotic countries with strange and unique traditions is universal, even if it is often driven by fear and suspicion. This instinct to observe, and in some to understand, foreign things is part of what draws us to the ‘foreign land’ of history. These ancients, with their strange abodes, myths, imaginative violence and curious customs are aliens to our modern eyes. Because of that we want to investigate and marvel at them.

But, that in itself is not enough, observing something that’s different in of itself doesn’t go to explain the enduring popularity of looking at our far past. Instead I would argue that it is observing the similarities amongst the differences that  draws us there, and the further back we get in time the more fascinated we are in the things we recognise. We love hearing about domestic gossip and curses discovered in graffiti or inscriptions, we love to hear about bravery and folly of soldiers and generals, we love to discover that amongst the sword and scandals were people surviving the same problems that we do today. Coming back to our metaphor, toilets in foreign countries are a constant source of fascination to English people; continental toilet seats, Japanese heated toilets that heat up and talk to you and 100 other thing, my goodness how many different ways to deal with the same bodily function. This is true of our experience of the ancient past, they often came up with solutions to, or explanations of, the same issues that we have today  that seem unusual now. The further we go back the more we are curious and delighted when we see the parallels.

Roman Toilets for the English readers

I never intended to specialise in ancient history, let alone ancient Jewish history, at university but the lure of both proved too much to resist. The Parkes centre at Southampton university is a world class research in the study of Jewish history and culture so that helped. I’ll talk about Jewish history in another post, but one aspect of ancient history that I was drawn to was biblical history, or more accurately the history of the people contemporaneous with biblical history. The actual, historical context in which the mythical, semi-mythical, and occasionally historical tales of the bible are set. Why? Well, ideas people had and the decisions that they made, two thousand years ago, still reverberate around our culture today. Like it or loathe it, if you have any significant contact with Europe or America then Christianity, that mix of greek philosophy and Jewish millenarianism, impacts on your life in a thousand little ways. I’m sure that this is not just true of Christianity but also of other ideas, religions and mythologies. My experience just happens to be in that area. So, this is another aspect of the popularity of ancient history, it’s enduring relevance to modern life. Understanding what happened then is useful, it sheds light on what is happening now.

The popularity of ancient history isn’t just about mummies, gladiators and wars, it is also about the delight in finding empathy with ancestors in a ‘foreign land’ and it is about understanding the origins of our modern cultures and beliefs. That said, romans are just cool, and the ancient Chinese buried servants alive, and I totally forgot to mention the vikings! How can the poor old early modern period compete?

Sexy Coins and why Giggs should have listened to the Greeks

To Yonder History Carnival!


Today we delve into the dark underbelly of history blogging; the ancient and medieval periods. What light can be shed by the blogosphere on these distant times? Continue reading