FRA transit tunnel


Passenger transit at FRA. 0959 7 Jan 2017.

I have many feelings about this.



Ruling the Empire and its readers

An example of imperial order. Basilica Cistern. Theophilos Papadoulos. CCBY-NC-ND 2.0

This blog is part of a wider project looking at the connections between early Christianity and modern colonialism. It comes from a couple of ideas I had while writing a chapter that was recently published on Junillus Africanus and the rules that he thought governed the text of the Bible. Understanding these linguistic rules is necessary, he believed, for understanding the Bible. While focussed on the biblical text, Junillus’s book tells us something about how rule and governance themselves were understood in the Roman Empire.

In the sixth century CE, Justinian, the ruler of the Roman Empire, tried to bring order to the Christian Church. One man who worked closely with Justinian at this time was Junillus Africanus, who acted as Justinian’s quaestor (a sort-of spokesman and drafter of imperial laws). As a legal expert, Junillus also agreed to write a book of divine rules to help people read the Bible. Like the Empire itself, Junillus explained, the Bible was governed by a clear set of rules, the understanding of which would allow the astute reader to prosper in this ordered kingdom.

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What are universities for?

Salle Wagram, credit: wikimedia commons


Over the summer I was reading police reports detailing the harassment of André Mandouze, an outspoken critic of colonialism in Algeria and professor of Latin philology at the University of Algiers during the first part of the Algerian War. Like others who held explicitly anti-colonial positions (e.g. Robert Barrat), Mandouze was targeted by right-wing activists.

What follows is a brief account of one particular incident. I’ve reconstructed it as best I can from Mandouze’s autobiography and these reports.

In late January 1956 Mandouze had given a speech at the salle Wagram in Paris. He had, he said, arrived in Paris from a war that had come to fill the space of Algiers. He pointed out that the struggle in Algeria would either degenerate into an all-out (à outrance) conflict or there would be a negotiated peace and independence. The international community and the mainland (la métropole) would never countenance such a war, and so a negotiated peace was inevitable. Indeed, if the government wished it, negotiations could begin immediately.

News of this “explosive” address had already reached Algiers when Mandouze and his family returned there at the end of February. On the afternoon of 6 March 1956, he returned to the University of Algiers to teach a class on Latin philology, arriving early to avoid a blockade of “European” students at the front door of the Faculty of Letters. As he began to teach, his classroom was invaded by students, many of whom he knew. These students were angered by Mandouze’s anti-war position and his close association with Algerian Muslims. Police reports say that there were roughly 500 students at the Faculty and that they threw oranges and other fruit. Amid the ensuing melée, Mandouze fled through a door behind his lectern to avoid being assaulted. His course was suspended by the Rector and the Muslim students in his class were escorted back to their accommodation.

The job of historians is to imagine the past and to make that past present. As I’ve been learning about Mandouze and his colleagues during the Algerian War I’ve become conscious that, as much as they studied the past, it was the future that worried them. Like other French historians working in Algeria, Mandouze was acutely aware that the university is a political space and that teaching is an act which calls a particular politics into being.  For Mandouze, a philology lecture focussed around a Latin text could make present a future Algeria. The classroom in the warzone could become an image of the peace to come: two peoples united in a common nationality.

Today I was reminded of Mandouze, his students, and the power of the university to make space for the future. In the below post the university is for the future. The question of what future, and whose, is one that we have to decide.

Educated Optimism

A few weeks ago I found myself on a sunny Wednesday afternoon sitting on a river bank in Uppsala, Sweden, with a group of students and staff from the CEMUS centre, discussing how they might creatively use a new space they have been offered in the centre of the city. Such an opportunity raises hundreds of questions – should this new space be a platform for student work, could it act as a resource for community knowledge building, can research be conducted here, who should govern it?

These questions, and myriad others, keep coming up everywhere I go recently. A couple of days later, I found myself talking to the head of strategy and innovation for a Stockholm municipality, who wants to attract universities to the region. The problem, she says, is finding institutions who want to think creatively about what they are for. A few weeks before that I…

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Testimony, témoignage, martyrion 2: Babel

Part 2 of a series. Part one is here.

Communication towers… Radio towers on Mount Bromo by Matthew Klein. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A letter written to the bishop of Rome in 381 explains why human beings speak different languages. In the beginning, says the letter, all human beings spoke Hebrew and this was the language of creation, the language that Adam and Eve spoke and the original tongue in which things were named. Through this common language, the letter says, human beings were able to organise themselves so that they could build the tower at Babel. In so doing, they caused offence to God who scattered human beings across the earth and rent the fabric of human language.

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On insisting that academic labour is work…

Katrine Smiet

 Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic Subject.

If you’ve met me recently, online or offline, you’ll know that I’m in the middle of finishing my PhD dissertation. That’s to say: I’m in the middle of finishing a manuscript, a book, the largest piece of writing I’ve ever written. Some 90.000 words, excluding bibliography.

So it should not come as a surprise that writing and everything related to it have been on my mind these past months. How to reduce procrastination time and be more effective in my time management? How to overcome writer’s blocks and deal with the anxiety that comes with trying to finish up a project like this? How to edit your own text and how to be satisfied with what you’ve written?

Because I’m nerdy like that, I also love reading, thinking, talking and even writing about writing. Yeah, that’s some ‘meta’ stuff! The genre of…

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Patristics and Europe in 1951

Closed for business. Snack bar on Avenue Robert Schuman. Photograph by me.

“… since we are gathered here on the soil of Great Britain, how could we not call to mind a model or antitype of the labour we’re now doing: the work completed in the ‘dark ages’ by the scotti monasteries, heirs of the first rush out of Ireland; by the monasteries and episcopal schools of the Anglo-Saxons … where the beginnings of the Carolingian Renaissance, and so our civilisation today, were sketched out.” – Conclusion to Henri Marrou’s address to the first Oxford Patristics Conference (1951)

This quote is a good example of the ways in which people came to see the connections between the end of the Roman Empire and Europe after 1945. I’ve spent some time in the Archives nationales d’Outre-Mer trying to make more sense of these connections. As I walked to and from the archives I also thought about how memories of the past shape our world today.

The building containing these archives stands on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence at the end of Avenue Robert Schuman. Schuman was a key figure in the early negotiations on European integration after the Second World War. Over the past week, as the consequences of Brexit begin to play out, this junction between the colonial archive and Schuman’s avenue has come to seem a physical monument to the intersection between memories of empire and the European present. Continue reading “Patristics and Europe in 1951”

Library #2: The BnF

A forest grows through the national library of France.

Forest at the centre of the BnF, photograph by me.

In early June I spent a week in the Bibliotheque nationale de France. Every day I walked up through the 13e arrondissement and onto the roof of the library where one found the entrance. The BnF was designed to take its place alongside a host of other monumental buildings along the banks of the Seine – Les Invalides, for example – but I always approached it crab-wise, through a building site on the other side of the Avenue de France, criss-crossing through the roadworks.

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