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Crooked Timber is running an online book seminar about Jo Walton’s ‘Thessaly’ novels, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, and the main aim of this post is to point you in that direction forthwith. My contribution reflects on the books as meditations on different aspects of the classical tradition, and I would hope that most visitors to this blog with an interest in classical reception will need little persuasion to take a look at them. However, I had far more things to say than would fit comfortably into a more or less coherent blog post, and so I’m going to take this opportunity to try to persuade sceptical historians, ancient or otherwise, that they should be just as interested in a fictional exploration of Platonic political philosophy, its limits and its implications. Continue Reading »

Someone over on Crooked Timber asked if I could outline the debates about the nature of the ancient economy and its historiography, in the context of discussions about the contribution of Ellen Meiksins Wood; I was thinking of posting my response here anyway, just to keep the blog ticking over and to avoid these thoughts languishing at the bottom of a thread that no one’s following any more, but it’s taken me so long to get round to writing this that the thread has closed to comments, and this is the only outlet I have. Of course, if you’ve read much of my academic work these ideas will be pretty familiar, but for everyone else…

What Are We Talking About When We Talk About The Ancient Economy?
Continue Reading »

A Class Act

RIP Ellen Meiksins Wood (and see also here)

A week and a half into term, and I am already being forcibly reminded of why I didn’t manage to post more than once or twice a month for much of 2015. It’s not as if I don’t have a load of stuff I’d like to write about – not least because Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australian, has just produced a load more Thucydides references in a recent speech, on the (not unreasonable) assumption that this is how to communicate with US foreign policy types these days (cf. Xi Jinping) – it’s just the quantity of other stuff that has to take precedence. But some things do deserve recognition and comment, above all – despite the fact that this blog has started to look like an obituary column – the passing of yet another significant figure in my intellectual pantheon. I have got to find some younger, healthier people to get influenced by… Continue Reading »

Damnatio Memoriae

There’s a great scene in the 1990s Welsh teenage drama series Pam fi, Duw? [Why me, God?], where everyone has gone to London (can’t remember why) and the indomitable grandmother insists on dragging the family across the city to visit the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square – to their utter bemusement, as she’s a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, but you don’t argue with Mamgu. When they finally get there, she sticks up two fingers at it and says something to the effect of “That’s for Tonypandy, you bastard!” Continue Reading »

RIP Geoff Hawthorn

It has not been a good couple of months for people who have inspired me and influenced my intellectual development, to the point where I’ve been wondering about whether I should send out cautionary messages to others on the list (although receiving a “Better watch your step” from me might be open to misconstruction). In early November, one of my school classics teachers, Aubrey Scrase, died, albeit having reached the age of ninety; any idea of writing a blog post at the time was buried by the avalanche of other commitments that month, but I do say something about his role in my early encounters with Thucydides in the preface to my book on Thucydides and the Idea of History. At the close of the old year, on December 27th, Christopher Brooke died, as discussed in my last post – and in the early hours of New Year’s Eve we lost Geoff Hawthorn. I have no idea what the status of his work within political theory or international studies may be – at any rate the TLS review of his and my books on Thucydides seems distinctly equivocal – but I would certainly argue that he ought to be a significant figure for anyone thinking about the relationship between history and the social sciences. Continue Reading »

RIP Christopher Brooke

As I think I’ve mentioned on here before, I was the sort of undergraduate who would give a personal tutor in the modern university nightmares.* Quite apart from the complete lack of social skills and the regular bursts of disappearing into a black hole, and expending so much energy on writing, music and low-level student politics rather than academic work, when I did focus on history I went to virtually no lectures.** It just seemed so pointless, going along to hear someone summarise the textbook when I could work through the material much more efficiently on my own and set it against other reading (and the nightmare moment, when I wondered if I was really in the right place, was when one lecturer cheerfully announced that the lectures would give us all we needed to know without any need to read anything else). Continue Reading »

Pick of 2015

It’s been an interesting experience to look back over my posts from 2015, deciding which ones to re-promote as representative of my output (not least in the hope of bumping my viewing figures up in order to beat 2013) – and to realise how little I ended up writing for rather a lot of this year, almost entirely due to pressures of work. Once again, my resolution has to be to blog more frequently, given that the world doesn’t show any sign of letting up on the supply of things to comment on.

This post, however, is prompted by one this morning from my Bristol colleague Will Pooley, offering the pick not of his own (eminently pickable) posts but of other blogs he enjoyed this year. Continue Reading »

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