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Ancient and modern.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across a picture of myself in History Today ('The Great Escape; March 2011). I am the student being taught Roman history by C.E. 'Tom' Stevens at Oxford in 1958. I well remember the arrival of the Life magazine photographer, attracted by Tom's reputation as a colourful character.

The choice of that photograph is a strange one, being intended to illustrate Nicholas Orme's polemic against the way modern history was taught in those days. But we were in the Classical Greats school, studying philosophy and ancient history, to which Orme's strictures scarcely applied. As an example, Tom Stevens was dedicated to his students, taught long hours and treated us as adults with enquiring minds to be fostered. Dialogue and challenge were normal. We were taught to the highest standard of appraisal of sources and reliability of evidence. On that account, Orme's talk of 'Trappist silence' and a 'three-year jail sentence' is absurd.

There was also an interesting difference between ancient and modern history, as I discovered by comparing notes with friends studying the latter. They were expected to make their judgements and write their essays on the basis of far more evidence than had been available to the decision-makers of the period concerned. On the other hand, for ancient Greece and many aspects of Rome the surviving texts, inscriptions and archaeological evidence are very limited. Thus the student could often read them all in the course of writing one essay and be to that extent on equal terms with the tutor. Ironically, working with fragments of ancient records is a much more appropriate preparation for jobs where decisions must be made on the basis of only partial knowledge of the wider picture.

It was certainly inspiring enough for me to retain a life-long interest in many aspects of history; hence my subscription to your excellent magazine.

Dr Nicholas Hawkes

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Hawkes, Nicholas
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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