Caring counsel

August 17, 2017

In an amusing interview with John Elmes (HE&Me, News, 10 August), Stephen Milner described a “memorable moment” of his career. He related how, as a PhD student at the Warburg Institute, he had received a letter from a postgraduate student in the US suggesting that he find another PhD topic. But Sir Ernst Gombrich told him: “In the theatre of scholarship, there are no reserved seats.” Gombrich was, of course, correct, and I have on occasion had to make a similar argument.

Still, as I happen to be the person who wrote that letter to Milner, I feel obliged to reply that it was both practical and well-intentioned. I had been working in a largely unexplored municipal archive, and my publications necessarily proceeded ahead of Milner’s work. Milner’s dissertation resulted in only a few articles, and it remains unpublished to this day. Perhaps my advice was not so far off the mark.

Milner has since moved on to new research topics, and in the process no doubt accumulated other memorable moments. I am sure that I join others in wishing him well as the new director of the British School in Rome.

William J. Connell
Professor of history and La Motta chair in Italian studies
Seton Hall University, New Jersey

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