King’s College Axes Paleography Chair

In a very unfortunate and short-sighted fiscal decision, King’s College London has decided to eliminate it’s chair in paleography, the study of ancient writing and manuscripts. No other British university treats paleography as a distinct discipline and the decision will have far-reaching negative impacts for a host of academic fields.

To an outsider paleography may seem like one of those fuzzy, arcane academic disciplines that has little value to anyone else. Furthermore, it attracts few students and generates little in grant money and can be seen by accountants as a cost rather than a “profit center.” But this is a false assessment of the field’s value. Paleography is the foundation for a host of academic disciplines: literature, religion and theology, history, linguistics, ethnic and cultural studies, and more. Any discipline that requires examining old documents needs paleography.

And ironically, paleography and manuscript studies are now, perhaps for the first time ever, incredibly valuable in their own right and not just for the support they provide to other fields. We are in the midst of an information revolution, going from print to digital media. The last time humanity faced a similar revolution was 600 years ago during the transition from manuscript to print media. While the modalities are different, many of the basic problems and questions facing us in this transition are the same as those created by Gutenberg’s invention. And the digital media of the internet shares many features with the manuscripts of a thousand years ago—copying, subtle alterations in copying, multiple versions, mash-ups, anonymity of authors and more were all features of manuscript culture. Understanding how the transition to print occurred centuries ago may be critical to how we make the transition to digital media.

The Guardian has more.

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