‘Abattre les Cloisons’ (Break down the compartments), by Damian Rudge


Thus opined Lucien Febvre, a founder of “Les Annales” school of historians, founded in 1929. “For him ‘historians should be geographers, be jurists too and sociologists.’ To progress to new understandings, it was necessary to break down all these compartments” (Cunliffe, 2008, p.17). This trajectory of thought, in the same decade as the publication of “The Golden Bough” by J. G. Frazer, who correlated the myth of Diana and Virbius at the sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis near Rome with other similar belief systems in other societies, thus paving the way for modern anthropology, laid down the gauntlet to classicists steeped in textual source analysis.

This fault line is still apparent eighty years later, as I have discovered in my foray into archaeology and, unwittingly, into the minefield of academia. Seemingly innocuous adjectives such as ‘puzzling’ and ‘regrettable’ are “damning verdicts barely one step away from ‘disappointing’ in the biting lexicon of British academia” (Barraclough, 2016, p.143). When the archaeologist James Gerrard states that the culture-historical meta-narrative drowns out other evidence and that “the historical tail is wagging the historical dog” (Gerrard, 2016, p.18) describing, for example, the text of the “Res Gestae” as “lacunose” (Gerard, ibid, p.23) we know the gloves are really off! (“lacunose adj. having lacunae; pitted” (The Chambers Dictionary, 2011) i.e. not quite, but almost full of holes.)

Before our esteemed editor heads for the ramparts in defence of the corpus of textual sources to counter such remarks [me? never!], might I suggest that anyone studying the classics also does some archaeology as well. It is only since completing my degree with the OU that I have taken an interest in this discipline: firstly as a volunteer guide at Vindolanda which led me to taking the ‘mooc’ on Roman Frontier Studies through Newcastle University, which has resulted in me getting my hands dirty “digging” at Vindolanda and Epiacum in the northern frontier zone. This discipline adds a different perspective to studying history and there’s something visceral in handling (as I did) a gaming dice dropped by a Varduallian auxiliary on the northern edge of the Imperial frontier sometime during Trajan’s or, possibly, the very early years of Hadrian’s reign – just before the construction of the latter’s eponymous wall. It also gets you out of the house!

The academic black belts will continue to trade coded insults, regardless, whilst lesser mortals (like this author) seek to ‘abattre les cloisons’. Please note, however, that I’ve really made an effort to get my referencing right!

Damian Rudge

Barraclough, E.R., 2016, Beyond the Northlands, Oxford, OUP, p.143.
The Chambers Dictionary, 2011, London.
Cunliffe, B.W., 2008, Europe Between The Oceans 9000Bc – 1000AD, London, Yale University Press, p.18
Frazer, J.G, 1923, The Golden Bough, London, MacMillan.
Gerrard, J., 2016, The Ruin of Roman Britain: An Archaeological Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 18 and 23.

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