Sunday, January 31, 2010

Palaeography programme at King's College London faces elimination

The palaeography programme at King's College London is in jeopardy of being cancelled, as the university plans to make significant cutbacks to the School of Arts and Humanities. This would mean the elimination of the Chair of Palaeography position at King's College, which is the only chair in that subject in the English-speaking world.

The current chair, Professor David Ganz, told that he was informed on January 26th that "the Executive board of the School of Arts and Humanities had proposed that Palaeography would cease as a distinct activity by 31 August 2010."

Professor Ganz had only just returned to England after spending several months teaching and researching at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He says, "On the assumption that this means the end of the Chair of Palaeography I am having to fight for my subject, and I have been deeply moved by the level of support from friends many of whom I have never met."

King's College London is dealing with the aftermath of an announcement from the British Government that their financial support for Higher Education institutions across the country will be cut by £915 million over three years - a 12.5 per cent decline.

The Times reported that the King's College "is planning (very confidentially, so far) to lose up to 22 posts in Arts and Humanities by the end of the academic year." The article quotes from an internal university document, which states their plan "to create financially viable academic activity by disinvesting from areas that are at sub-critical level with no realistic prospect of extra investment". Byzantine Studies and several language programmes may also be eliminated.

A request for comment to the office of the Principal of King's College has not been returned.

The palaeography programme is part of the Department of English, Classics or History at King's College London. Francis Wormald was appointed first Professor of Palaeography in 1949, and was succeeded by Julian Brown in 1961. Those who have served in this position have produced many important research projects.

Professor Ganz adds that "in 1996 I was appointed in the School of Humanities, and having come from a Classics Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I was appointed jointly in the Departments of English and Classics. Professors Wormald, Brown and de la Mare had only taught graduate courses across the University of London, I was asked to devise an undergraduate course in the Histroy of the Book, which has been a great joy to teach, not least because the Wellcome Library has always allowed me to bring undergraduates to see medieval manuscripts.

"I have been involved in the British Library digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, and in a Mellon foundation funded project at the University of California Los Angeles on the ninth century Plan of St Gall and the manuscripts of St Gall and the Reichenau, so I hope I may be a digital palaeographer as well as a traditional one."

Faculty, students and scholars are now making efforts to fight against the possibility of these cutbacks. A Facebook group Save Paleography At King's London has been started and has already gained more than 500 members. Professor Ganz adds, "I am amused that thanks to Facebook, the newest technology may save the oldest."