Thursday, February 1, 2018

Being Mary Beard

Guardian, The Cult of Mary Beard

I've found myself a part of the cult of Mary Beard, impressed by her model of how to be a professor.  

Everyone who has met Beard seems to have a story about encountering her for the first time – usually involving her rigorous intellect, her total lack of formality, and her sense of mischief.

 

In public, in private and in her academic writing she is skeptical, wary of consensus, the kind of person who will turn any question back on itself and examine it from an unexpected angle. She is not afraid to take apart her own work:

 

The learned but approachable figure you see on TV translating Latin inscriptions, carving up a pizza to explain the division of the Roman empire, or arguing about public services on Question Time, is precisely the Beard you encounter in private, except that in real life, she swears magnificently and often.

 

Beard is a celebrity, a national treasure, and easily the world’s most famous classicist. Her latest book, Women and Power, about the long history of the silencing of female voices, was a Christmas bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. In the eight years since her debut TV documentary, Pompeii, she has conquered the small screen. She is one of a trio of presenters who will, in March, front Civilisations – a new, big-budget version of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, the most revered cultural TV series in the BBC’s history.

 

As recently as a decade ago, it would have seemed unlikely, even outlandish, that a middle-aged classics don, her appearance a million miles away from the groomed perfection expected of women in the public sphere, would end up so famous and, by and large, so loved.

 

Since then, Beard has become a standard-bearer for middle-aged women, and beloved by the young – indeed, by anyone who wants to be seen in terms of their ideas, not their looks; anyone who think it’s cool to be smart; and by those who relentlessly ask questions and never reject a contrary opinion out of hand. Beard’s intellectual style, which suffuses all her scholarship – a commitment to rigorous scepticism that refuses to be cynical – has made her a model for those who worry that the shouting and bullying of the digital world make reasoned political debate impossible.

 

Her career stands, in a way, as a corrective to the notion that life runs a smooth, logical path. “It’s a lesson to all of those guys – some of whom are my mates,” she said, remembering the colleagues who once whispered that she had squandered her talent. “I now think: ‘Up yours. Up yours, actually.’ Because people’s careers go in very different trajectories and at very different speeds. Some people get lapped after an early sprint.” She added softly, with a wicked grin: “I know who you are, boys.”

 

Beard describes herself as academically “flighty”. Instead of burrowing into one small area – a single Latin author, for example, or Roman religion in a given period – she has darted between topics; and, perhaps because of her gregarious nature, has preferred those topics not to be especially obscure. ...This eclecticism has given her the means to range widely through the ancient world in her public work. So has the fact that her scholarship has been relatively mainstream, rather than at the bleeding edge of academic fashion. 

Her full story is well worth the read.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2018/02/being-mary-beard.html

Education, Work/life | Permalink

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