Sunday, June 14, 2015

Some Mary Beard observations

Mary Beard turned up briefly on SBS a few weeks ago, on what looked like a new series on Roman stuff (about Pompeii), but I haven't noticed it on again.  If I recall correctly, the Eurovision Song Contest intervened, so I'm not sure if the other episodes followed or not.

Must go looking.  I did record the first episode but not watched it yet.

Anyway, I forgot to note weeks ago that she had come back from a trip in Algeria, and visited the city of Constantine, which I had remarked upon recently when it turned up briefly on Griff Rhys Jones African train show.   Anyhow, it just goes to show that I'm not the only person who didn't know about this place (or rather, its geography).  Mary knew the city, but not what it looked like:
But I did get the biggest surprise when I went to the city of Constantine, ancient Cirta. I have often had cause to mention the place and to think about it. There is a famous record of the contents of an early Christian house-church from there, and in the last stages of my book I have just been mentioning Marcus Cornelius Fronto, tutor to Marcus Aurelius who came from there.

Now I dont know the exact location of the ancient town in relation to the new. But what I hadn't realised was that the whole place is perched on the edge of a vast ravine (now spectacularly bridged with a series of modern bridges). I dont know what it made such a difference to how I started thinking the place, but it did. It was if you had read about Venice for years, and the penny only dropped about the canals when you visited decades later.
Have a look at this photo of the place:

and this one on the same Flickr stream:

Impressive, no?

Anyhow, another reason I wanted to post about Professor Beard is because she is not a "dumbing down" pessimist, at least in her field:
When I started out in this game, when you marked exams every summer, there really were some dreadful answers. There were students who had clearly done little or no work, and had spent more time on the sports field than the in the library. They blagged a bit, sometimes with a degree of style, and they got at best a 2.2. You would come across grossly irrelevant answers that wrote about the favourite subject of the student that had not actually come up.

Why marks have gone up is because no one knows nothing any longer. All the students, beyond some sad casualties, have worked hard and done enough to get a 2.1 at least, and they actually answer the question asked, with clear information. The 2.1s now are as good as they ever were in my 30 years, I promise.

Students aren't smarter, but they work harder. And we probably teach them better too. But dumbing down?? No.
 That's encouraging.

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