On cloud nine in Asturias
I am sure it is very bad for one to get treated like royalty, so it is probably a very good thing that in my case it is only going to last a week! Blog regulars may recall that back in May I heard that I had been awarded the Princess of Asturias prize in Social Sciences for 2016. Well here I am in Oviedo to receive the award, and trying damn hard not to let the wonderful reception go to my head -- and really enjoying what I am seeing of, to me, a new part of Spain, and meeting people interested in humanities in all kinds of different ways.
It's a very big occasion in Asturias, and I am being followed round by cameras and interested jounalists -- and am even stopped in the street by people who just want to say congratulations -- and absolutely everything is done for me, from opening the car door to carrying my bag. I guess it's what a few people on the planet have every day, but for me it is a curious and pleasant temporary novelty. This is my view from the stage at the University of Oviedo, where this morning I did a Q and A about Classics and other things. (Thanks all for the tremendous welcome.)
But the visits I have been doing (not just to the university, but including a tour -- part guided by me -- of a vast local Roman villa) have given plenty of more serious food for thought. Much of the discussion, as in the UK, turns to the "crisis in the humanities". What are we to do about cuts to funding? How do we hold our own against the hard sciences etc etc.
It's a serious issue. But my time in Spain has produced as much optimism as pessimism. And that optimism was never more optimistic than on my visit to a local school -- IES Perez de Ayala high school -- where well over 100 kids from 46 schools in the neighbourhood had come to meet me, after spending some months doing all kinds of classical projects. You can see a few of them at the top of this post.
Perez de Ayala is not in a posh area of Oviedo, but is a great hub of Classics (the head is an inspirational classicist, and there are all kinds of traces around the place of that enthusiasm, including memories of their visits to Greece and Italy). And all the pupils who showed up had loads to say about the ancient world, had great questions -- many of which, UK pupils take note, were posed in good English. If this was anything to go by, it didnt seem that the humanities were in terminal decline here.
Nor does it seem in general that public interest in the ancient world was low. The visit to the villa had apparently 'sold' out of the free tickets within an hour or so. And tonight I am doing a night time tour around the local archaeological museum, talking I think to another packed house.