Happiness Society: The Structured Deposition Factor

Emperor Claudius – bet you never knew he was pumpkinified…

Another column from the exec this week. The idea behind these Happiness Society columns is to explore the psychology surrounding happiness – everyone perceives it in different ways. We are trying specifically to explore the ways students in Durham experience happiness – studying, working, cooking, going out… There are interesting stories to be found in these everyday activities.

So two weeks ago I wrote about chocolate cake, in anticipation of the annual Chocolate Cake Crawl. This week I’ll write about my degree – Ancient History & Archaeology. Hey, I chose it because it makes me happy, which makes it a valid topic to explore. Here are some of my views, derived from a term full of amusing, if rather puzzling, lectures:

The Structured Deposition Factor: term begins – the excitement of a new notebook and blank pages eager to be filled with infinite wisdom, or something along those lines. Then your lecturer steps up – fiddles with the PowerPoint for a bit – and exclaims “structured depositions!” with a big smile. Realisation hits you with a shovel: wait – what am I studying?

We all experience the tipping of this delicate balance on a daily basis: “oh this is amazing” – “shit this is boring”. “This essay is going to be interesting” – “wait, I have to go to the library?” And then of course “oh I love the library” – “who the hell took out my book?”

The “you-can-tell-it-is-a-Tell” Reaction (no pun intended, according to my lecturer): I find it so satisfying sometimes that I now know about Imperial Ideologies in Early Historic South Asia, polygonal masonry and Φιλοφρονησις. Or indeed, to recognise a Tell on a rather vague black-and-white aerial photo of a patch of desert. Then again, I do not always care for Postprocessual approaches to households, AMS dating of British Long Barrows, or peripteros sine postico.

My Natural Sciences-studying friends had a fight written in formulas the other day – my housemate came home laughing about a random model they had discussed in Economics. Even though we all have a love-hate relationship with our degrees, there are rare moment of satisfaction nested between the quick naps in the dark.

The Pumpkinification Alternative: ancient writers (and apparently the Classics department) find the so-called deification (or “pumpkinification” … ha… ha) of Emperor Claudius hilarious. Well, I do not quite find myself rolling on the floor just yet, but I can see how this may happen. Our degrees are endless sources of amusement, even if it really does not seem funny to anyone else.

I can agree with my archaeology professor that Cooling Castle is “NOT EVEN ROUND; NOT EVEN COMPLETE; NOT EVEN SOLID!” (adding in a French accent: “I spit on you, English!“). This is my most entertaining lecture quote to date – about the terrible defences of an English castle. I bet that you did not giggle at that, even a little bit. You have to be there, you have to like it. My favourite story from one of my friends is about a Science lecturer throwing a chair through the classroom in an attempt to explain some physics – this was probably also much more amusing when actually present, and a physicist. French accents and thrown chairs can be entertaining to anyone, but when it is about something you are supposed to study, and you are supposed to understand – ah, it becomes something amazing.

The philosophy behind all this? I love my degree. Maybe you do too, or maybe you do not. In any case, degrees are like relationships: sometimes we are completely in sync, we sit on the sofa, cuddling, and smiling. On the other hand, sometimes we just want to set fire to Syme and Tacitus (science version: quantum mechanics), and throw books across the room. Sometimes we simply fall asleep. I suppose I am lucky enough to get along with my degree quite well – at least, until exam time.

In the end is all boils down to this: “The hippos are in the mud and life is just great.”

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