Saturday, November 24, 2007

Food for thought

Our regular readers by now will be familiar with SQA's hatred of blockbuster exhibitions. Of course we refer to our previous blog Is Nothing Sacred?

We are pleased to report on a sequel to the first story, which concentrated on the British Library's exhibition Sacred.

Jonathan Jones



This time the exhibition is Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, mounted at the British Museum. Jonathan Jones dismembers it in an article entitled Tomb Raiders in The Guardian of 15 November 2007.

It is refreshing to note our national institutions' blockbuster exhibitions are establishing such a critical following. However, there is something else that catches our eye in the article.

Jones states:

It may be that you live in dread of your child growing up to be an archaeologist, stuck in an underpaid job at a local museum surrounded by dusty pots. If that's your nightmare, then by all means take your children to see this exhibition. It will put them off Egyptology - and may put them off history, art and the entire education system.

We at SQA find this most amusing. Of course we see a parallel straight away between archaeology and museum curatorship on the one hand and archives on the other. For dusty pots, read dusty parchments. For local museum, read local archives. Everything else is the same including and especially the pay.

While some archival bodies attempt to raise the profile of archives, few including the rival Society of Archivists [sic] seriously attempt to raise the profile and status of archives as a true professional elite worthy of practitioners who have spent at least four years at universities. For graduates holding a postgraduate diploma in archives administration, the Society of Archivists recommends a starting salary of £20,895. The average reader and many graduates may think this is adequate. The catch is, salaries and career progression mean many archivists remain on little above this figure for most of their career. The post recently vacated by the long serving, experienced and respected Elizabeth Silverthorne, Archivist of Bromley Borough Council, was advertised at £25,000, a figure that devalues the employer as well as the profession.

Sensing some deep social malaise must be at the heart of this problem, we asked Dr. Pochin Sturge, consultant anthropologist to SQA and an eminent Darwinian, to offer an explanation of the underpaid role of the archivist in society.

The position is relatively simple (oh, and may I say how delighted I am to be called upon occasionally to comment on what is a most intriguing profession, whose members' behaviour is most worthy of anthropological investigation. And so close to home as well; I am more used to investigating the culture of Alpine and Mediterranean Europeans, but I digress.....) you are caught in what my students have flatteringly called the Sturgian Cycle.

What is the Sturgian Cycle you ask? The Sturgian Cycle theory is founded upon the very unpopular premise that humans are by nature cannibalistic. In our natural state, without a modern economy and such fragile and controversial social assets as out of town shopping centres, we are perilously vulnerable to events such as total war and natural disasters such as earthquake, inundation, famine and drought. In consequence of such extreme circumstances many would inevitably be reduced to cannibalism.

Brazilian cannibals tucking in

Now here lies the rub. In our modern society in which we are encouraged to take the view the sexes are equal, it is hard to grasp how society might exist in the conditions I describe. However, this is not a matter for speculation as ancient societies and early anthropologists have left sufficient record. Indeed, I refer among others to the work of that great man Charles Darwin who during the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830s was privileged to meet and question the cannibals of Tierra del Fuego who for much of the time merely subsisted. In their society, there was little discretion and no lottery when it came to deciding who should be eaten. Oh no, you see, they had a harsh method enforced by need. This was to eat only the women, who were considered expendable at such times. The men and boys were considered essential for hunting; even the dogs were spared for the same reason. And no doubt cannibals the world over from the dawn of time have conformed to this natural law. The only exception to this I should say is ritualistic cannibalism which however is not true cannibalism and merely stems from it as society takes steps towards a slightly more advanced stage.

HMS Beagle in Tierra del Fuego

Now my theory proceeds thus. Society, even modern society, must in nature's view, always position itself for disaster and it is then the tendency towards cannibalism emerges. Lying not so far below the surface as to discourage our social institutions from fully accepting women into equal roles, the cannibalistic tendency dictates a re-emergence of the function of the female as a food source.

Do you see the connection? Over the generations women's social and economic status has been decided by this largely unknown and unrecognised instinct or imperative. So you see, if a profession is underpaid, those persons most likely to be eaten in times of famine will fill it, in other words women. The solution is to encourage those members of society most likely not to be eaten in times of natural or man-made disaster to join the profession by raising salaries, in other words men. I should add your profession is not alone, the same can be said of primary school teachers.

I trust my contribution has been acceptable.

Indeed is has been and we thanked Pochin.

Further reading

Lancashire girl made into kebabs

Career Guidance




If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

- Joseph Goebbels

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