Monday, 15 April 2013

Reply to "Review: In Search of the Romans"

As a follow-up to last week's post by Guy de la Bédoyère where he reviewed the new publication "In Search of the Romans", I'm publishing some further thoughts by author James Renshaw. It would be great if any other Blogging Pompeii contributors or readers would like to send us your comments on the challenge of teaching the Vesuvian sites.

I welcome some critical feedback on In Search of the Romans, and having read Guy de la Bédoyère's review, my feelings are rather mixed: 
  • some of Guy's criticisms are really useful, particularly where he has spotted errors (which will inevitably occur in any publication - the trick is to spot them and correct for the next print run). In addition, his points about needing a 'further reading list' and a much better bibliography and index are well made. Since Duckworth has recently been taken over by Bloomsbury, I think that there will be more technical and financial resources available in future, and so issues such as this can be addressed in a second edition, which might only be in a couple of years or so. I think that this will also improve the look of the book (which he refers to). 
  • There are some points I'd hold my ground on, in particular on the scope of the book. Chapter 1 is very definitely supposed to be a whistlestop tour through Roman history, and so of course it will be rudimentary. However, I've had very positive feedback on this chapter, even from school teachers who didn't have a good appreciation of what happened when. I was really just trying to give sign-posts to work from when dealing with the Romans. In addition, the point that the Pompeii chapter is 'serviceable enough' but that there are plenty of other better resources rather overlooks the fact that most of those resources are not written for school students. Books such as Joanne Berry's are excellent resources, but perhaps students need something more manageable first - I'd be happy to recommend books such as hers for further reading, and would agree with Guy that this would be a good idea. 
  • His points about exam syllabuses obviously reflect a key interest of his. In general, we've written the book with the purpose of it not being an 'exam factory' book, but more of a general reader, albeit one which includes everything on both GCSE syllabuses. There just wasn't the scope to include all the A Level syllabus material too, although I agree that we could have included more on Herculaneum to overlap with the A Level syllabus - particularly since there are far fewer books for 'further reading' on Herculaneum as opposed to on Pompeii. We can certainly look at this for a second edition.
  • In terms of how to structure the book, his suggestion that it could have been done differently (e.g. by themes such as houses, baths, amphitheatres) is to my mind arguable but not clearly preferable- I think that if I'd structured it in the way he suggests some would have suggested that I should have structured it as I have done! There are copious cross-references (although I take on board the places he suggests others could be added), and this was going to be inevitable however the book was structured. 
  •  All in all, therefore, I think that a lot of what he has to say is very helpful, and will be listened to by Bloomsbury. Conversely, I do think that we have the scope of the book about right, and so far the sales are very good (about 1700 copies sold in the first year), suggesting that it has hit a spot. 

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