Friday, January 28, 2011

Barford: A Frustrated Talent

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ins and outs of my tempestuous and often oppositional relationship with Paul Barford, an archaeologist whose views regarding private collecting of "archaeological artifacts" have led to frequent conflicts in his and my blogs.

In this post I seek to unveil Mr. Barford as perhaps being a possibly once very highly regarded antiquarian talent whose career in archaeology was somehow derailed by processes unclear to me, which have never been publicly explained and which might not stand the light of day if they were now fairly exposed.

Perhaps one of the most burdensome aspects of my conflicting views regarding Mr. Barford is that he is without question a very knowledgeable, perhaps definitive expert in many aspects of archaeology. Whilst I do not include numismatics in that informed appraisal of his professional expertise, I still consider it to be on the whole very impressive. One could fairly characterize my perspective of Mr. Barford as a "love-hate" relationship. I love his impressive expertise. I hate his reckless and (in my view) often irresponsible tendencies to pass judgment upon issues regarding which he is not an expert. I would be glad to pass many agreeable hours in a discussion of the merits of "top brewing" vs. "bottom brewing" with Mr. Barford in a less oppositional environment. I have no doubt that his knowledge of antique brewing practices vastly exceeds anything I could ever hope to attain.

But in struggling with that clearly favorable impression of Mr. Barford, I am also oppressed by my informed view that if Mr. Barford devoted the remainder of his life to an intensive study of numismatics, he could not hope to learn half of what I (or many other experts in that discipline) presently understand.

In taking a rational view of the merits of expert opinion, society long ago came to realize that experts are not infallible, nor are they free from bias. Such a perspective characterizes my informed view of Mr. Barford and his opinions. His views are not evenly founded upon infallible expertise, nor are they unbiased. But still, these views should not be ignored.

In those seven words is a significant statement which I do not now pretend to be able to fully encompass. Others understand Mr. Barford much better than I, perhaps much better than he does himself. Possibly their insights will become available as insights into how the present conflict between collecting and archaeology may ultimately be resolved.

Others, perhaps better qualified than I, have decided to negatively characterize his provocative remarks and often outrageous assertions. But for all the distaste and overt offence that I often feel for the lack of nuanced sensitivity and fairness in Mr. Barford's biased views, that bias, more than anything else, is the reason for which I believe that they cannot be ignored.

There is more than one way to deal with perspectives that are controversial and seemingly irreconcilable. During the worldwide catastrophe that took place between 1939 and 1945, it became clear that doctrinaire pursuit of such conflicts in the face of evidence that they were socially irresponsible had become disastrous to the regimes imposing those conflicts.


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