Jane Ellen Harrison meets 'Health 'n Safety'
I have now finished my Aberdeen lectures, and am spending my last days here exploring the archives. I'm in search of (among others) Jane Ellen Harrison, the maverick, brilliant and intensely irritating - let's be honest - classical archaeologist, who was one of the iconic founding figures of my own Cambridge college (and whose portrait, as an old lady, I have in my college room; not the sultry version by Augustus John at the top of this post).
Before women were allowed to take degrees at Cambridge (a privilege not granted till after World War II), Harrison got her first formal degree (an Honorary LL.D) from the University of Aberdeen in 1895 -- before picking up another honorary academic gong at Durham a couple of years later.
I've long wondered what the story was, and whether the degree was at all controversial at the Aberdeen end.
The answer is that it wasn't all plain sailing.
At the great "Historic Collections" department of the Aberdeen University Library, I've been ordering up anything that might throw a bit of light on the Harrison honorary degree (the first awarded to a woman at Aberdeen) -- minutes of the University Senatus, student newspapers, the local press and so forth.
Committee minutes are always such fun to decode, a wonderful combination of terse reticence and oozing frankness. On this occasion, they give away quite a lot. The whole vote on the Harrison slate got postponed (one of the members of the Senatus gave notice that he would be putting forward the name of another candidate not suggested by the LL.D sub-committee, then one of the proposed candidates died).Then when it came to the votes of the Senatus, there was a proposal that it should (unusually) be done by secret ballot -- presumably to give people a chance to vote against Harrison secretly (or maybe to vote for her secretly...?). This procedural proposal was contested, but it went through -- the result being that Harrison was awarded the degree, along with eight men.
What I hadn't realised was that, at the same time, Henry Jackson of Trinity College also got an honorary LL.D. Jackson is one of my heroes, and ancient philosopher and a reforming Cambridge liberal, who pretty well invented the Classics course that we now have. But he has one blot on his record for me. One note in the Harrison archive at Newnham makes it clear that once, when Jackson spotted Harrison carrying a book from the University Library (to which she was not entitled, as a woman), he wrote "shopping" her to the University Librarian; he inferred that Harrison had wickedly got one of her young men to borrow the book on her behalf.
I've always wondered why Jackson should have been so uncharacteristically mean spirited. But, anyway, it is odd to see them on the honorary degree line up together (Jackson was, I imagine, a bit irritated).
All this has been fascinating -- and I have a couple more days to go. But I now realise that I have broken all the rules and have omitted to carry out a risk assessment for work in the Historic Collections at the University of Aberdeen.
For just a few days ago I got a University Health and Safety reminder, explaining that for all research trips away I should be going through a series of risk assessment hoops. As I read the rules, since this is a research activity connected with my job, I should have considered (amongst others) the following points:
* what are the hazards: eg personal attack, lone working, adverse weather, unfamiliar terrain, disease
* what control measures are proposed: eg mobile phones, protective clothing, vaccination, local knowledge
* what emergency procedures will apply
etc etc (I am sparing you quite a lot).
What the hell do you say to this? Aberdeen has adverse weather conditions and gets dark early. I am only partly familiar with the terrain and I may come across those who unknowingly have swine flu. I have my mobile phone but you aren't allowed to have them on in the Historic Collections reading room -- though I promise I will leave immediately if the alarm bell rings.
Jane Harrison might have been precluded from getting a degree in the University of Cambridge, but at least neither she nor Henry Jackson, for that matter, had to put up with this kind of rubbish.