Hello, my name is Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. Classics has always been a broader field than many people would guess, so my work has ended up covering subjects as varied as epic poetry, cricket, and Game of Thrones. But most of my research focuses on Roman historical writing of the last two centuries BC, and especially the importance of understanding these texts as works of literature and not just repositories of factual (or mistaken) content. My first book, Magistracy and the Historiography of the Roman Republic, looked at how Roman magistrates were depicted across a variety of sources, and how the writers imagined political life, theory, and ideology working - and not working - together. Many of my current projects concern the historian Livy, a remarkably influential and brilliant, yet still underappreciated, writer. The huge scope of his work provides a model for understanding pretty broad phenomena, such as scholarly references, text reuse, and canon formation. So one of my aims is to insert Livy, and by extension Classics, into discussions of wider interest to the academic community.
But the main thing I’d like to talk about this week on We The Humanities grew out of a very different project. Still new and somewhat amorphous, that project studies the relationships between Classics (the discipline) and cricket (the game). I think amorphous is the mot juste here, because when you put two things together that don’t naturally belong, one of the most important tasks is to formulate the right questions. I don’t claim to have settled that, but one of the features I see connecting both domains is a persistent interest in exemplarity, the habit of organizing thought around imitation or rejection of models from the past (I’ve written a bit about this topic here: http://www.cambridgeblog.org/?post_&s=Ayelet+Haimson+Lushkov&submit=Submit).
Exemplarity is a form of popular education, a way of making the past useful in the present by getting one to think about multiple scenarios, how they’re grouped, what the salient characteristics are, whom we should admire and whom not. This impulse of connecting past and present by embracing, rather than shying away from, value judgments seems to me to be one of the defining features of the humanities in general and Classics in particular. And it strikes me as compellingly odd – but far from inexplicable – that it appears so consistently in cricketing contexts.
So cricket and Classics is one thing I want to discuss this week, which is not coincidentally the week of the Lord’s Test, one of the pillars of the English summer, and one that exposes rather well some of the class issues with which exemplarity is frequently concerned. But a larger question I’m interested in is how the humanities interact with sports, games, and athletics in general. In my own institutional context, it can be easy to feel that the two are in direct competition, but it was the Marxist historian C. L. R James who famously asked ‘What do they know of Cricket who only Cricket know?’ and went on to explain the game as an elaborate Greek tragedy. James also pointed out that people throughout the generations have turned to sport in times of turmoil as well as times of peace as a means of national and individual expression. In other words, sports is something that people have always wanted and demanded. How can we in the humanities, then, interact with, speak to, and harness the energies of sport to further education or get our own message across?
There are other questions here, too. For instance, is Classics in cricket still Classics? Can we dilute what we do beyond recognition, or is there a useful (or not so useful) distinction between the humanities as a public good and the humanities as a scholarly practice? As a Classicist, I have in mind Edith Hall’s recent Guardian piece on Classical Civilization degrees and the ensuing fracas – which ties in well to last week’s discussion on the importance of languages. So there’s much to talk about. I hope you’ll join me!