Home thoughts from Yale
Don’t get at me please for always being away. I am trying to write my book on images of emperors and the only way to do that is to bunker down in a library out of reach. I am delighted to say that the out of reach place I am currently inhabiting is Yale, where I am temporarily attached to the Classics department and to the Yale Center for British Art . . . and am much enjoying getting up at 6.00 am and going to the library and not emerging till 6.00 pm.
The truth is that it is quite hard to write this book , not because I don’t know what I want to say but because of all the things I have to pull together readably, at once. My main focus, as regular readers will know, is on modern images of Roman emperors but, as I want those other than classicists to read it, I can’t overlook explaining the ancient history and image making that lies behind it (besides, one of my big points is that you have to see antiquity and modernity together).
But I have to find a neat way of doing that, and I mean ‘neat’. That is to say, I don’t want to start with a load of unwieldy preliminaries about the ancient Roman background, before getting down to the modern images. It’s much more a question of finding ways of letting the necessary information out at the right time, as the book moves forward. It is easier in a series of lectures (and this book is based on lectures), because in lectures it often works well enough to say ‘look I want to take a bit of a break here and just explain a bit of the background to problems of succession in the Roman emperor, because we’re going to need that background for what comes later’. But that reads ever so clunkily in a book.
Anyway, while I am wrestling with this (and I took all of three days to unpick 4000 words I had written last week, and get them to flow better), I am enjoying being on foreign soil. It’s always very hard to weigh up the pros and cons of different universities when you are just a visitor (your own versus the one you are temporarily part of). There is certainly a ‘grass on the other side’ aspect to this, and you tend to notice the very practical advantages of the unfamiliar place. So, no, I could not properly evaluate Yale versus Cambridge. But for what it is worth there are two things I’ve found here, that it would be great to see back home.
The first is in the library. Yale has a wonderful system if you just want to read one chapter or one article from a book or periodical that is in store, you can simply order a scan of it, sent to your email — you don’t actually have to go and collect the book and read it in the main library. Now my heart goes out to the poor people who must spend their working lives actually providing this service (and I have visions of battalions of scanners in some dark basement somewhere), but blimey it is really time-saving from the reader’s point of view.
The other thing is even simpler and you can see it in the rather grainy picture taken from my apartment window at the top of this post. It’s the large hammocks on the grass in (the newly renamed) Grace Hopper college. If I had taken the picture at a different time of day, you would have seen students, or pairs of students happily sprawling in them. Looks absolute bliss. Can’t we have some of those in Cambridge, I thought? And for the profs too? (Or maybe there are some already that I have missed?)
(And the other version of this blog is here: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/home-thoughts-yale/)