The Wonders of the World: An Interview with Mary Beard (pt. 1)
Mary Beard is a Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, where she is a fellow of Newnham College. She also writes a blog for the Times, called A Don's Life, and she is the editor of an excellent new series of books, The Wonders of the World.
The latter is "a small series of books that will focus on some of the world's most famous sites or monuments." It is published by Profile in the UK, and by Harvard University Press in North America.
A few notable titles in that series include Mary Beard's own book about The Parthenon; her collaboration with Keith Hopkins for The Colosseum; Cathy Gere's extraordinary look at The Tomb of Agamemnon (previously discussed on BLDGBLOG here); and many others
In the following two-part interview, Mary Beard talks to BLDGBLOG about the Wonders of the World series, including how and why the particular buildings and monuments have been chosen.
BLDGBLOG: To start with, what are the basic editorial intentions behind the Wonders of the World series? For instance, who are the books for?
Mary Beard: You sometimes wonder whether you reinvent your editorial intentions as you go along! But I suppose there are three intentions. The first is that I want these books to open up culture and history, as well as dissent about culture and history, through the contested life stories of individual monuments and wonders – real or imaginary. I think it's about using a single object – a single monument, a single wonder – as a kind of window onto not just culture and history but also the controversies of culture and history. That's number one.
Number two – and these are not meant to be hierarchical – is quite a simple one, and it's to show that bricks and mortar, or concrete and marble, are always more than that. A great building is always more than the sum of its parts: it's about mythology; it's about argument; it's about cultural re-use and re-presentation.
And I think the third intention is that you want to help people to enjoy looking at monuments, and at the complexity of monuments – and to see that the complexity and the arguments are what's fun about this. Sometimes, when people write for what they think of as a popular market, they think that they should make it simple, whereas I think that what you should be doing is helping people to enjoy how complicated it all really is.
Of course, some of these buildings work better for one of those functions rather than others – but that's the overall theme.