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HISTORY IN THE MAKING

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

And so it seems that it takes the likes of TV funnyman Tony Robinson to discover that the Romans came to Britain a century earlier than is commonly perceived. While pupils have always been taught that the Roman invasion of Britain occurred in 43AD, the Daily Mail recently claimed that this is not actually true.

It reported that the TV archaeology programme Time Team, presented by Robinson, had found Roman artefacts in the UK that pre-dated the 43AD invasion, indicating that, while conquering Gaul 100 years earlier, the Romans had also settled in Britain. It painted a picture of Sussex peasants chatting merrily in Latin in 50BC. One of Channel 4's Time Team team told the newspaper that this revelation is 'like discovering that the Second World War started in 1938'.

Now I know the media gets carried away sometimes but this isn't really news, is it?

Simply put, Caesar came to England in 55BC, went away, and then the full-blooded Roman invasion occurred in 43AD. Finding artefacts of the earlier period is undoubtedly exciting and it sometimes clouds the mind but even with the parlous state of education today, if you type the words 'Roman Invasion of Britain' into Google, it shows that a junior school in Tunbridge Wells already knew this bombshell.

Robinson appears to be the new voice of British archaeology and has captured something of the mood of historical education today.

'One of the frustrating things with history, ' Robinson told the Daily Mail, 'is that things become set in stone. We all believe it to be true.' Once described as a 'top geezer' by none other than Alistair Campbell, for services to New Labour, Robinson's comments seem to reflect a wider educational agenda.

Obviously, the further back in history we go, the more we are testing hypotheses: as more evidence is unearthed, so the experts can either fine tune the theory or make a leap of imagination.

This is the way that scientific inquiry goes. However, it does not mean that each theory is inherently untrue. The way we should appreciate and understand scientific thinking and critical enquiry is to recognise that at each stage of research, evidence is produced to help formulate a rounded interpretation of the truth.

Provided that it is combined with genuine peer review, advances the understanding of the subject and uses the scientific method, these staged 'interpretations' are not less true just because they may eventually be refuted.

Unfortunately, history teaching today does not convey a series of factual events to be learned but instead a series of personalised events which are left open to interpretation.

And so, in this issue Jonathan Foyle - writer, curator, presenter and all round clever bloke - has written the first in a series of essays which will explore the role, place and setting of architects throughout history. And this fi rst essay focuses on Julius Caesar's military architect, Vitruvius, the author of De Architectura.

Vitruvius' observations, which are commonly reduced to 'commodity, firmness and delight', were part of a broader ambition for the proponents of architecture to appreciate the expertise of specialists and yet to develop a more rounded understanding of the arts and sciences for themselves.

The Roman architect, concludes Foyle, 'was intellectual and technically experienced'. Given the pressures to accept today's more relativistic educative practices, these are two historical traditions that it would be very good indeed for us to reclaim.

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