Many moons ago I was at uni; it’s actually been around 9 years since I last studied anything in that sort of context. This will amaze most who have known me over a decade as I spent around 12 years at uni altogether. Most of it on a BA, followed by a Master’s of Information Management (Librarianship) to commemorate my 10th year of uni. I got into Honours in History & Philosophy of Science (HPS – one of 3 majors – it helps justify how long I was at uni – the other 2 being Computer Science and Philosophy) and promptly burnt out halfway through.
Throughout it all, like many students I reckon, I made lots of photocopies. Sure, I tried to abide by copyright as best I could, only doing 10% of whatever, or sticking strictly to the reading list, which occasionally took me over the 10% barrier. And, in a couple of instances, I’ve even photocopied whole books. I did feel a little guilty at the time, and justified it somewhat by the idea that when I had a decent job with a reasonable salary, I’d buy some of those books, I copied so religiously, or felt influenced by. Honest guv.
Funnily enough, I have occasionally grabbed titles as I saw them over the years. In particular when browsing a quality second hand store (Cornstalk) in Newtown a few years ago with Dad, I came across Brian Easlea’s “Witch hunting, magic, and the new philosophy : an introduction to debates of the scientific revolution, 1450-1750“. Actually, that’s not quite true, Dad had picked it up and commented that this looked interesting, I turned, read the cover, recognised it as the tome for which I’d long been searching, and instinctively ripped it out of his hands – he was a little shocked to say the least. This was one of the major texts when I was studying HPS and part of a short list of titles that I absolutely, at all costs, had to have. I didn’t photocopy all of it but I reckon I wasn’t far short.
One title I did photocopy in full was Paul Feyerabend’s “Science in a Free Society“. I remember reading bits of Feyerabend and thinking, this is the stuff that is most in tune with what I’ve been looking for. Part philosophy, part shit stirrer, Feyerabend seemed to be someone who had genuine fun with ideas and tearing down ivory towers. He appealed to the cynic in me, the person looking to understand science beyond some clinical separation, trying to work out how it fitted into society. It was radical and anarchic and for Feyerabend, often misunderstood, he seemed to be more about creating circuit breakers so that folk could think freely rather than destroying institutions altogether. This one book I have long sought, I spied it once at a massive bookshop in Cambridge in 1999, but failed to buy it as I was trying to save my pennies. Never seen it since. I’ve occasionally seen it available secondhand online but never got round to ordering it. I no longer need to. My lovely girlfriend entered the chase, engaged in the hunt, and procured a first edition (1978) for my birthday. It’s in really good nick and we reckon it’s probably sat on an academic’s shelf for much of the time. I’m rather staggered that it’s in my collection at last, and can’t quite believe it’s real.