Wiley Colleagues Worldwide
For the first ever Wiley Humanities Festival, we first looked within. What does the humanities mean to us? Many Wiley colleagues worldwide enthusiastically stepped forward to answer. Read what they had to say below.
This is the most common question I am asked. Specifically, ‘why do you work in publishing’ and ‘why don’t you work at the university’. The problem is that I don’t just have a degree in a Humanities subject, but an entire doctorate, so I need to be able to justify why I went to all that trouble and am not using it.
Except I don’t think I do have to justify it, for two reasons; the first is that a humanities degree is intrinsically valuable, and the second is because I use it every day.
In relation to my first point; I spent a long time working on getting a degree and doctorate in the Humanities because I loved my subject; I loved thinking, talking, researching, and I am incredibly proud of what I achieved. These degrees and life experience made me who I am. I left because it was time for a new challenge. The humanities is a pivotal part of my identity, and my decision to move on is not about abandoning the subject or declaring it unimportant; every person who reads a novel, looks at a piece of art, or has an opinion, is engaging with the Humanities, and that is what I will continue to do. A humanities degree is about looking and thinking and interacting with our world, and as such, it is a vital piece of our world and our humanity, its value lies in itself, and that is something not even a Wiley journals publishing assistant can escape!
And in consideration of how studying the humanities has affected my new career path, what has struck me most is how similar the skills and knowledge base required is to my academic research, because that is what I do in my role the most: research. The ability to create qualitative and quantitative data, to analyse that data, and to produce a report that brings this information together in a clear and concise manner, providing evidence, arguments, and conclusions, is exactly what I spent my doctorate doing. And it’s exactly what I do in my work-life; the focus has moved to journals and article metrics, but it’s the exact same skill set, the same search for knowledge, the same looking, thinking, and interacting with the world, only specifically on the journals part of the world. From this perspective, a humanities degree has been essential to my own career path, and more than this, is pivotal to creating an engaged and able workforce.
So really, when it comes down to it, when it comes down to my doctorate in the humanities, to a student choosing a degree, or to someone thinking about what will help them in their career, the question is not ‘Why?’ but rather, ‘Why not?'”
– Lizzie Brophy, from Wiley’s Oxford office
Lizzie has a background in Ancient History and Archaeology, with a DPhil is Ptolemaic and Roman Sculpture from Keble College, University of Oxford. Her thesis was published as a book with Archaeopress in 2015. She is currently a Senior Journals Publishing Assistant for Wiley, and works on a number of Social Science and Humanities titles.
“When I started college in fall 2009, I decided to double major in Spanish and Political Science. Unlike many of my peers, I was unsure of what career I wanted to pursue after college. These majors, I argued, would give me a broad and well-rounded education that I could utilize in any number of industries. However, I never anticipated that studying a foreign language would have such a strong impact on my life.
The experience that positively influenced my education the most was studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain in fall 2011. I decided to study abroad for three months, not knowing a single person in my study abroad program. While the idea of traveling to a foreign country not knowing anybody was intimidating, it ultimately helped me to become more extroverted and more willing to speak to and learn from people I don’t know. This would later serve me well working in sales in the publishing industry.
During my time abroad, I was able to become friends with students from all over the world who shared a passion for learning foreign language. We would practice speaking Spanish together, and were able to learn by listening to one another both in class and outside of class. In addition, studying abroad ignited a passion in me for travelling and learning about new cultures. Most importantly, studying abroad molded my education by furthering my Spanish language skills as well as my knowledge of other countries and cultures. I wouldn’t be nearly as proficient in Spanish as I am today if I hadn’t studied abroad, and I would strongly encourage anybody studying the humanities to consider studying abroad.
After graduating in spring 2013, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career that would help people in some capacity. My desire to help others is one of the big reasons that I began my career in the academic and educational publishing industry. To this day, I have worked at three large academic and educational publishing companies. I continue to work in the publishing industry because of the passionate people I work with who all share a vision of advancing education for everybody in every field from the humanities, to the sciences, and so on. I am so grateful that I majored in Spanish because it provided me the opportunity to be a part of such a noble mission and work with so many people who have the same vision for helping others as I do.”
– Heather Cain, from the Wiley Boston office
Heather Cain has been working in the academic publishing industry for over three years and is currently a Recruitment Advertising Sales Representative at Wiley. She graduated from University of Massachusetts – Amherst in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, a Secondary Major in Spanish, and a Certificate in Latin America, Caribbean, and Latino Studies.
Philip Carpenter is Wiley’s Executive Vice President of Global Research. He was a student of English language and literature at Oxford University in the 1970s.
After later switching subjects I nonetheless found that this framework continued to shape the way I approached further study, in philosophy and psychoanalysis, which in their own ways have the same goal, namely to question and criticise the layers of conventional wisdom which shape the way we engage with our surroundings, and to attempt to unearth what is more foundational and real.
I believe this critical and self-reflexive impulse and methodology is something many humanities subjects share, and it has been an enduring benefit of my time studying humanities subjects, beyond the specific knowledge gained from these studies. This is to say that the utility of the humanities seems to be a question which the humanities themselves attempt to frame differently, namely by questioning the meaning and purpose of something’s being useful, which in the end seems to be precisely how the humanities are helpful and useful, both within academia and beyond formal academic study.”
– Guillaume Collett, from the Wiley Oxford office
Guillaume Collett is Senior Journals Publishing Assistant, Society Management (SSH), and was previously based in the Centre for Critical Thought at the University of Kent.
I believe the greatest skill I learned during my course of study was to think critically. The humanities make us better humans, literally, because that study creates an environment in which one can study and question the things we see in the world in a way that one cannot once we are launched from college to the “real” world. I believe that I learned to be a better writer and a better student of human nature. I decided that I wanted to work in publishing while I was still in college and I believed that my course of study prepared me for that world. I worked as an editor for several years then became a manager and have been a manager for more than 20 years. I have encouraged and supported many humanities students who have asked me for advice about their career path. I have also learned that the best and brightest editors all have a humanities education!”
– Mary Corder from Wiley’s Indianapolis office
Mary Corder grew up in Indianapolis and studied the humanities at Indiana University.
“‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’
– Sir Isaac Newton
I must confess, I believe 100% in the value of a humanistic education. My Italian high school is “the most classics” you can get: in the Liceo Classico your key subjects are literature, ancient Greek, Latin, philosophy and history. You are also exposed to science for five years, yet you have the honor to get to know and explore thoroughly the roots of Western Civilization, reading the original words of Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Machiavelli, Hume, Locke, Nietzsche, just to say a few. Already upon finishing my high school, I was left with a sense of awe and wonder about what I had the pleasure to study.
When then it was time for University, despite several warnings, I chose Philosophy as major at Bologna University. Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Science were my favorite subjects, and I went on to pursue a Master in Science and Religion at Oxford University. I was really fascinated by the two big movers of humanity: we have been able to go on the moon and defeat smallpox thanks to science, yet the religious dimension did not die off. That all sounds marvelous – at least to me.
However admiration by some: “Uao, philosophy!”, was more often offset by sarcastic comments like, “Is yours even a degree?”, or by the usual remark about the disgrace of non-technical degrees in the job arena a real arena for us, millennials.
Well, my take is that these sound studies leave you with a true critical mind. In fact, after having studied the works and the history of so many clever human beings before you, you are supposed to be sort of equipped for what will happen to you in life, personally and working speaking. Moreover, regarding the job, we had all to learn how to properly work. Even engineers or doctors have to be taught what to do practically, the difference is that most of the time a philosophy graduate will not end up being a philosopher for living.
I just thought and I still think that with a sound and rigorous subject like philosophy, I would be really equipped to learn most of jobs. And that what happens, if you have being given the chance. I learnt most of what I do daily in my job when I started it, and no doubt my background helped me, for example, in forging good relationships with customers and colleagues alike, to adapt and embrace quick changes and to be resilient
Of course it was not easy from the beginning. After my degrees I had challenging times looking for the “right” job, yet I do not blame completely my choice of study. Many of my friends and I were simply ready to enter the job market during the biggest economic crisis since 1929. Moreover, if on the one hand, it is fair to be rational about your future, on the other I reckon it is crucial to be fulfilled in what you are doing, provided you are serious about that. We are simply all different, and that makes the world incredibly interesting.
I firmly believe that education and culture can equip you with the skills, understanding and knowledge to have a rich fulfilling life and can enable you to cope better with what is thrown at you. The strongest vaccine to the dark side of humankind.”
– Elisa Corradi, from her home office in Modena
Elisa Corradi is a Wiley Account Manager for Italy. She is a Bologna and Oxford University philosophy graduate, sommelier, and food and travel lover.
“’There’s ‘a rat’ in separate’
Some moments stay with you. They stay frozen in your memory, cast into the far arctic reaches of your thoughts and then, from time to time when the glacier encasing them melts just a little bit, they surface. As fresh as when it happened, you relive the moment and the feelings run through you. An ice bath.
For most people, the moment they realized they misspelled a word in a tenth-grade essay is not one of these. For others—for a blessed but cursed few—the memory glaciers are rife with grammar faults.
The way I remember it now, dark clouds gathered above and thunder rolled in the distance when I received my graded essay and saw the word ‘seperate’ struck with a blood-red dash. But it wasn’t just the spelling error alone that stung; embarrassment flooded over me because it was accompanied by the simplest of notes: ‘There’s ‘a rat’ in separate.’ How obvious! How mundane! A rat!
I’m confident that I will always be haunted by the spelling error that devastated my preteen ego. I’m also confident that the moment of reckoning was far less poignant than it now feels (maybe there was no thunder). Regardless, I have come to reflect on it as an awakening. Ms. Dionne’s prosaic note stirred a passion in me for words, word play, writing, composing—for showing, not telling. Ms. Dionne and The Rat unwittingly set in motion my life-long quest to find and exploit the power of words.
After graduating from high school, I was fortunate enough to be faced with the “predicament” (but is it?) of picking a major course of study for my undergraduate years at a liberal arts college. I had been enamored of English and Spanish, and excelled at both in my high school years, but I felt the common pressure to pick something more practical. Practical in its most literal sense: what Merriam-Webster would agree was “capable of being put to use or account.” What would I do with an English degree? I wasn’t sure a career in academia was the best fit for me, and that’s the only path I saw at the time.
I declared a major in Psychology with minors in English and Spanish, which served me well, but I soon realized how unfounded my earlier course of thinking had been. In my second year of college, I had continued to puzzle over what I would ‘do’ with my passion for writing. Becoming a New York Times bestselling author seemed like a good idea, but a lofty one. As I ratcheted my aspirations down to something more attainable, and with a bit of elbow grease and research, I realized a career in law was my solution.
To me the practice of law was, and still is, very much about harnessing the power of language. This is particularly true in the arena of contract drafting and interpretation, which occupy the majority of my time here at Wiley. What others may see as legalese is often the careful crafting of language shaped by a vast history of common law; slight revisions made here and there, every court case a fine chisel to define and re-define the words that govern how we collaborate with each other.
It muddles me now to think that I once could not fathom more than one practical application of a study in language, a quintessential element of humanities. My education in humanities, and now my career, has been one long journey of understanding what that word means. And if you look carefully enough, just as you can see the rat in separate, you can see the human in humanities.”
– Emily Cumberland, from Wiley’s headquarters in Hoboken
Emily is an attorney and a recent transplant from Washington, DC. Outside of the 9-to-5 she enjoys rock and ice climbing and spoiling her nieces and nephew.
“Consider your humanities education.
When I set out to write an essay on the importance of humanities, my first reaction was to jump to its defense. And why wouldn’t I? The humanities are on trial, and these past few years have been the most turbulent. Amidst tightened budgets in education, the growth of funding in STEM, and the growing belief that some subjects can survive without public support, the unfortunate conclusion has become that the study of languages, linguistics, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, archaeology, religion, art, and musicology are all conditions of our culture rather than components of it.
And it is with the very nature of these attacks on humanities that I now see an underlying problem in a defense approach: when conditional thinking is used to decide an outcome, every decision that you make becomes an objective issue. That is to say, to defend the humanities in our culture and to validate its benefit would be to accept that it is possible for the humanities to be reduced to something as simple as a decision.
I reject the challenge to defend the humanities as a component of our culture not simply because I had a humanities education, but because I still benefit from that humanities education every day. At its core to study humanities is to explore an interest in the human condition; the very interest allows us to communicate, to develop theories based on our understanding of the each other, our experiences, and our history, to publish our research and share our findings. To be inquisitive, open-minded, expressive, and to think simultaneously among and beyond norms.
Instead of using a defense approach, I implore you to consider how your humanities education influences your life. Today you wrote a difficult email to a colleague, you had to use problem solving skills to reach an agreement with a client, you played a song on the piano for a friend. Those experiences aren’t just reactions; they are trained exercises that benefit you and those around you. They are not just components of our culture, these experiences are the essential makeup to our culture.”
– Nick Dormer, from Wiley’s Boston office
Nick joined the Wiley Society Strategy & Marketing team after seven years with a scholarly communications service provider. He has experience in association management, publishing, and organizational strategy.
“My love affair with the humanities began before I was born when the English department at the college where my parents taught gifted me with a set of books, inscribed with notes of ‘baby’s first canon.’ The highlight of this collection was an anthology of poetry, illustrated by the glorious Tomie dePaola. Here was art, literature, material culture all rolled into one beautiful object.
The humanities opened my eyes to the world, and opened the world to me. They made me desperate to learn and wildly curious about everything.
In college, I studied literature, creative writing, and art history, and I came to realize the problems inherent in that igniting idea of the ‘canon.’ I was caught up in the ‘greats,’ in capital-L Literature. There’s a paradox here between the humanities and their study. To me, the humanities are about expressing and experiencing what it means to be human in this world. This study is endless, the metaphors infinite. The humanities are where the universal and personal collide, where questions without answers are asked. In contrast, the study of the humanities can too often be about dividing high culture, low culture, about marginalizing unheard voices or cultural objects that have mass appeal. (I’ll never forget a moment where I was told I needed to prove that the books I wanted to write about were a ‘valuable contribution to literature.’ The book in question? The Hound of the Baskerville). The study of the humanities was having an identity crisis. I think it is still in the midst of one today.
The study of the humanities should embrace all of humanity, all of their culture—from harlequin romance novels to Proust.
I finally found my home in the humanities in graduate school. Children’s literature. Here is a field that’s often marginalized, dismissed, seen as educational instead of aesthetic. But here, I found my personal humanities haven: a field of freedom, experimentation and commitment to changing our society. Children’s books are the ones that changed my life; they made me want to be who I am and do what I do. What better way to learn that anything is possible than by reading about magic and mystery?
If the humanities are going to change the world—and they can, and they must—then I think it’s important to look at those early years, at our first interactions with art and text. As a child, I learned to empathize with and understand other people through the characters in the books I read. And now as an adult, I see children’s literature as a changing world of representation (#weneeddiversebooks), imagination, and curiosity that centers the experience of a child holding a book in their hands. For me, there’s nothing more powerful than the moment when a child becomes a reader, when that drive to learn and understand humanity is born.
And I can trace it all back to a tongue-in-cheek note written on the first page of a book.”
– Samantha Green, from Wiley’s Boston office
Samantha Green is a children’s literature researcher and a member of the Society Strategy & Marketing team at Wiley. She holds an MA in children’s literature and MFA in writing for children from Simmons College. As a child, she once fell out of a tree because she was too busy reading to mind her balance, and now as an adult she sometimes misses her subway stop for the same reason.
– Marissa Koors, from the Wiley Boston office
Marissa is the Assistant Acquisitions Editor for Philosophy at Wiley Blackwell. She works closely with authors and editors to develop new book proposals, conducts market research, and determines editorial strategy. She self-identifies as a tea drinker, violinist, and cat person, and in her spare time theorizes about the critical capacities of video games.
“From 1992 to 1995, I studied Classics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I chose this subject with my eyes fully open to the fact that it would not lead directly to a career – unless I became a Classics teacher – but I simply didn’t care. I LOVED my subject. What other degree course would have given me the opportunity to study language, art, architecture, history, literature, medicine..? Without exception, my lecturers and tutors were passionate: my ancient history tutor had spent his honeymoon in the early 1950s retracing Hannibal’s route across the Alps in a Morris Traveller (with his incredibly patient wife).
The seed had been sown early for me. As a child I had pored over my parents’ book Gods, Men and Monsters, with its ghoulish front cover depicting Medusa. Although my secondary school was an ordinary state grammar school, it had an excellent Classics department, led by the formidable Dr. Barratt. During my school days I had the opportunity to visit the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the Greek sites of Athens and Delphi. These trips must have been a logistical nightmare for the school, but Dr. Barratt was insistent that we couldn’t possibly immerse ourselves in the Ancient World without walking the streets walked by those we were reading about. I will never forget my first glimpse of the full-body plaster casts of those who had died trying to escape the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 – that trip to Pompeii truly ignited something in me. My love for my subject translated then into applying myself to learning across all subjects, as I needed to go to University to learn more. When it became apparent that the timetabling of lessons meant my school was unable to offer both Latin and Ancient Greek at GCSE level, Dr. Barratt stepped in once more, and found a creative solution (combined lessons with the local boys’ grammar school).
Wiley’s Humanities Festival has prompted me to ask myself: was my degree useful? And I realise that absolutely, yes, it was. It taught me to think critically. It gave me a thorough grounding in grammar and etymology that my University housemates – all students of English – did not have, and which I use daily in my role as Publisher at Wiley. My grasp of ancient languages helped me to learn modern languages. Most importantly, it taught me that I need to do something I love. And I’m really, really good at crosswords…”
– Anna O’Brien, from Wiley’s Chichester office
Anna O’Brien is a publisher for Wiley’s proprietary Social Sciences & Humanities journals program. She lives by the sea in Brighton with her husband and two daughters – one of whom is already developing a love of history!
-Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
Sweetness and light, these are the gifts a Humanities education bestows upon those who pursue it. I took my undergraduate degree in British and American literature with a minor in music. I am quite pleased that I did so. Contrary to those who hold to the false idea that the Humanities impart little that is of practical use; a Humanities education broadened my opportunity and enabled the convergence of personal passions with professional ambitions. But this result, with its happy practicality, is not the perihelion of the Humanities orbit, the pull of its perigee is eclipsed by the personal benefits that soften the rough edges of personality, elasticize the mind to allow the entrance of new ideas, and solidify a sense of self.
I observe the world through a colorful lens that perceives sweetness of beauty and illuminates critical and creative thought. When I see a storm threatening on the horizon, I hear passages of Beethoven or Wagner–bass drums, and thick brass heralding the approaching fury. When I ponder the tumult of politics, the maelstrom of wars, and the tragedies of the modern human experience, I recall the words of Churchill inspiring the British nation to hold fast against a strong and determined foe. Philosophy consoles me in seasons of self-reflection. And when I communicate and express my ideas to others through visual art, music, or prose, I mine the riches of the Greats—kindred spirits who birthed grand ideas and blazed paths through the darkness, opening trails that debouched into bright fertile fields of potential. All of my personal creative work grows in this blue-skied grassland. The gentle breeze an admixture of thought, of art, of the written word and the engraved demi quaver.
The supreme gift of the Humanities is the impartation of humanity. The study of the best in the arts, literature, philosophy, etc. reveals the deep interconnectivity of seemingly disparate disciplines and people. Recipients of this great legacy can harvest a luminous, lively interior life, but only through the continuous cultivation of thought and creative endeavor. Goodwill, a gentleness of heart, and empathy will take root. In time, just as the seedling grows to become a mighty tree, the invisible reveals itself in blazing blossoms lit by the spark of the “best that has been thought and [made] known.” Let us encourage, elevate, and celebrate the best creative achievements; achievements accomplished irrespective of race, class, gender, or geography. To squander the sublime favors of the Humanities is to place the light of humankind under a bushel and allow an invidious Cimmerian mist to darken the sunny meadow of the human spirit. Whatever academic backgrounds we as individuals hold, it is the duty of all to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ranks impenetrable to the enemies of sweetness and light. Violence, hatred, and intolerance cannot long remain where the Humanities stand as the castle and keep of peace, kindness, and universal acceptance.”
– Christopher Ruel on Sweetness and Light, from Wiley’s headquarters in Hoboken
Christopher Ruel, Senior Manager of Community and Social Marketing within Wiley’s Knowledge & Learning division, is a composer, visual artist, and writer. He is currently working on his first novel, and his music has been featured in films.
The study of foreign languages is, to me the most ‘human’ of the humanities as language is fundamental to communication. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the fact that I was given an opportunity to begin studying a language other than English when I was 10 would set the course of my education, my career, and my life.
Beginning with French, because it was romantic and then Latin, because I thought it would help me with the vocabulary section of the SATs, the study of foreign languages opened my mind, and ultimately my heart, in ways I had neither expected nor imagined.
I expected to learn a few words, order a meal, and grab a few extra points on a test. I never expected to also study Spanish and Italian and use these languages to connect with professors and students with whom I studied in France, grocers from whom I bought grapes in Italy. I never imagined that I would study Russian which I would then use to greet my very own family who, in 1980, finally arrived from the Soviet Union.
I had been studying Russian for about 6 months when my few remaining blood relatives arrived at my family’s home. They had landed at the airport the night before and they spoke just a little English. My Russian vocabulary included the words for shoes and teeth and notebook, but I had no idea what to say to make them feel welcome, or how to truly understand their decades-long journey. So, I said what I knew to be true: ‘я плохо говорю по России,’ which means ‘I speak Russian poorly.’ My grandmother’s sister, the matriarch of the family (who looked exactly like my own beloved grandmother), glanced at her daughter and said something I did not understand. I was certain I had mispronounced the words, or worse, insulted them somehow. What followed was a flurry of words, both Russian and English, and waves and waves of laughter. As it turned out, my family genuinely appreciated my effort to speak Russian. They enjoyed the self-deprecating humor, a familiar tradition which convinced them we truly were family. Most importantly, my attempt to speak in their own language spoke to their hearts, which was so much more important than the actual words.
This kind of connection has occurred again and again; on the subways, in restaurants, in airports, and in the workplace. I have tried to pass on my love for languages to my sons, but they have chosen languages that I don’t speak: music, sports, finance. But regardless of the language, by communicating with each other we find our common experience; we find our hearts. I know I did.
– Rhea Siegel, from Wiley’s headquarters in Hoboken
Rhea Siegel is a full-time attorney, and a part-time wedding officiant. With a husband of 30 years and two sons in their 20s, she has very little time for anything else. And she’s ok with that.
“I studied music from a young age, learning the recorder, violin, oboe and saxophone. I came from a family where music was encouraged by my parents and both my brother and I followed this course of study at University.
I found it a useful thing to have as part of who I was during my further education (pre-university) as it widened my circle of friends outside of school, the discipline of practice and playing in groups (orchestras and the like) prepares you for group interaction, team work and accountability. I studied for my BAhons Music at Dartington College of Arts, as I wanted an environment that was very open to innovative musical practices and also offered a cross discipline approach to the humanities (it wasn’t just a straight music college).
I knew in my final year that I would not pursue music as a career (I had a couple of car accidents where I suffered from whiplash, so violin was off the cards) so I looked at alternative careers and honestly wasn’t sure.
I fell in to a publicity administrator role in a marketing team and loved it, it was creative, collaborative, and as I progressed required a certain amount of ‘performance’ so my training came in to play – I enjoy giving presentations, editorial board meetings, client meetings – it is all a level of performance, where practice and preparation allow you to build confidence and improvise.
A music degree for me has given me the foundations of my marketing career, whenever I am recruiting team members and I see someone has a music degree, I know that it wasn’t just a three year university course, but it has been in the making for 10 years prior to that requiring tenacity and passion – highly prized skills in the workplace! A humanities degree has a real utility in the modern workplace, allowing for a reflective and critical approach to (marketing/business) practice.”
– Kate Smith, from Wiley’s Oxford Office
Kate Smith is the director of library marketing for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia at Wiley.
“The most common question I’ve had to answer as a humanities student is ‘What’s the point of that?’ At best the question is well meaning, and asked out of unfamiliarity with the field in question, at worst it reflects Margaret Thatcher’s declaration to a student at her old Sommerville college, that a PhD in Norse epic poetry was ‘a luxury.’ In our society, there is a common sentiment that the humanities are the bookish preserve of aging dons, in old tweed jackets with leather elbow patches – and I’ve certainly met a few dons that are exactly that. But lest we forget, our first female PM’s defining contribution to the field of chemistry, which she read at Oxford, was the Mr Whippy ice cream; is that truly less of a luxury than a proper understanding of our cultural heritage?
I came up to Oxford in 2007 to read history, completing my BA in 2010 and undertaking an Mst in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies and then onto a doctorate in the Late Roman Army in 2011 at King’s College London. The area to which I dedicated myself is not a popular one; even fellow historians turn glassy eyed at the content of my thesis (the mechanics of military unrest in the third-sixth century Roman Empire) and politely move onto other topics. Even amongst academics, the decline of the Roman world is not a common topic, despite being the subject of arguably the first work of modern historical scholarship, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (begun in 1776, just as the American Colonies threw off the British Empire, and finished in 1789, as the French Revolution commenced). Just in the symmetry of the dates of Gibbon’s work, we see the contemporary relevance of the humanities; they help make sense of the world that we live in. Just as an astronomer can understand how our planet was formed billions of years ago by observing the formation of new planets, by observing and understanding the birth, evolution and decline of past civilisations, we can understand the spasms which rack our own world.
Some examples of this from my own field of study; a popular argument as to why the Roman Empire fell, revolves around mass movement of peoples, fleeing the Huns and entering the Roman world – was this a refugee crisis, or immigration to be resisted? The Emperor Justinian, in the early 6th century, brutally put down a mass uprising in the capital city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) killing around 30,000 citizens who had risen against his rule; his next policy was to implement a policy of reconquest of lost Roman territory, to make Rome great again. What happened when the transnational Roman Empire gave way to the smaller, national identities of the proto-nation states of Europe?
These examples can be carried too far – direct analogy between very different historical periods is often misleading, but we can certainly make observations about how societies and institutions operate. The best answer that I ever received to the question ‘why does history matter?’ is that history is society’s memory. Without a robust and vigorous humanities field, our memory, both long and short term, becomes increasingly fuzzy and open to abuse from those who want to make us ‘great again’.”
– Michael Stawpert, from the Wiley Oxford office
Aside from Roman history, Michael Stawpert co-authored a biography of Armin Stromberg, the Soviet scientist, which was published in 2011. Michael now works in journals publishing at Wiley. His love of history has taken him to Milan, Istanbul, Rome and many other parts of the world.
– Michele Thomas, from the Wiley Indianapolis office
Michele Thomas is an Account Manager working in the higher education market. She has a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MA from Indiana University in English Literature. She lives near Indianapolis with her husband; their three daughters are in college and recently graduated. She has been elected to the local school board twice and has run for mayor; Michele thinks everyone should run for office!
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