Apologies yet again for the lack of posts, not least the lack of a continuation of the User’s Guide to Thucydides (just start at the beginning, folks, and at some point I’ll get round to telling you when you can begin skipping tedious accounts of maritime manoeuvres to get onto one of the famous set-piece episodes), but I remain horribly busy – and am now wary of writing much here because of the number of people who could legitimate send me annoyed emails, demanding to know why I’m doing this instead of getting on with the chapters I was supposed to have submitted months ago. However, the latest twist in the use of classical analogies in characterising the Eurozone crisis seemed too good to miss: Larry Elliott in this morning’s Grauniad, describing the German attitude in current negotiations as offering Greece a Carthaginian peace. That is: surrender absolutely and without conditions, or we’ll wipe you off the face of the earth anyway. Continue Reading »

The Power of Love

Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) – professor of International Politics at Tufts and author of the excellent Theories of International Politics and Zombies – has just started a Twitter hashtag #IRvalentines, imagining what different theorists of International Relations might have said to their nearest and dearest. Obviously it’s hard to resist the temptation to extend the range of Thucydides quotes beyond the one he suggested, and so obviously I haven’t – but it is slightly disturbing how quickly a pattern sets in: hard-edged quote about realism, power relations, general nastiness, off-set by the claim that this time with you it’s different. Obviously I’m reacting to the selection of quotes normally adopted by IR people, which do largely involve the most brutal expressions of might is right, but I suddenly had the alarming feeling that Thucydides might as well be writing taglines for 50 Shades of Grey, such is his apparent concern with power and its abuses (and thanks to @apothetae, I cannot now think of this in any terms other than #50ShadesOfThucydides). It’s one of the points where the quotes do seem most unrepresentative of what Thucydides is really about; the effect of his narrative is precisely to undercut the apparently straightforward sentiments of the quotable bits, which generally represent the Athenians or other actors rather than Thucydides himself. If we characterise his underlying attitude, I suspect it’s a world-weary recognition of the way things are in reality – why does love have to be so sad? why do we always hurt the one we love? there’s a thin line between love and hate… – with a dogged optimism that, if only we can learn from our mistakes, there’s still a chance that things could work out next time…

11th European Social Science History Conference 2016, Valencia, Spain, 30 March – 2 April 2016

Antiquity network: Call for Papers and Sessions

The ESSHC is a biennial conference that brings together historians and other scholars from across the world who are interested in studying the past using the methods of the social sciences.  The programme is organised around Networks, each of which organises panel sessions (including collaborative sessions with other networks): some of these are period-based, some based on geographical area, and some focused on themes or methods.  You can find further information about the ESSHC on its web page, http://esshc.socialhistory.org/.

The ESSHC has had an Antiquity network since its inception; it has become the main regular forum for discussions of ancient economic and social history, an opportunity to meet scholars from other countries as well as to see what’s happening in other periods and other fields. The network is currently co-chaired by Neville Morley (Bristol) and Arjan Zuiderhoek (Ghent).

We now invite proposals for panel sessions and individual papers for the next meeting of the ESSHC, in Valencia in 2016.  Panel sessions last two hours, and generally involve four (sometimes three) papers on a specific theme, with or without a discussant, and with a chair.  Ideally, panel contributors should come from a mix of countries, and certainly a mix of universities.  We are particularly interested in proposals for inter-disciplinary and comparative panels, on such themes as urbanisation, credit and debt, or poverty and inequality, but we will be happy to discuss any ideas you wish to put forward.  The earlier you contact us, the more advice we’ll be able to offer.

There is also scope for proposing an individual paper, of roughly 20 minutes, if you do not wish to organise a whole panel; if your proposal is accepted, we may put you in touch with the organiser of a relevant session, to see if your paper could be accommodated there, or we may seek to put together a composite panel of individual submissions.  Again, the sooner you contact us to discuss your ideas or submit your proposal, the better.

Two important notes.  Firstly, proposals for both panel sessions and individual papers need to be submitted via the ESSHC website using their online pre-registration form by 1st of May 2015 in order to be considered, even if you have been discussing the idea with us. Panel organisers need to ensure that all participants in their panels have sent in their abstracts and pre-registered by the deadline, with an indication of the name of the session to which their paper belongs. Secondly, the ESSHC does have a relatively substantial conference fee (but with a good discount for postgraduates), and does not have the resources to support travel expenses, so if you’re organising a panel you will need to make sure that all your speakers are aware that they’ll have to cover their own costs.

Once again, please do contact one or both of us if you would like to discuss proposing a paper or a panel.

Arjan (andriesjohan.zuiderhoek@ugent.be) & Neville (n.d.g.morley@bristol.ac.uk)

Football has long since become an all-purpose symbol of the decadence and dysfunction of globalised late capitalist society and culture. Perhaps this is because it retains traces of its more virtuous and popular origins so we feel its transformation more keenly (plus of course there’s the Land of Cockayne where the stadiums have terraces and the lager is cheap, aka the Bundesliga, mocking us from across the Armelkanal), whereas we don’t honestly expect bankers and the like to be anything other than unscrupulous, avaricious tax evaders. So we despair over modern football because it makes us acutely aware of what has been lost in the transformation.

It’s scarcely surprising, therefore, that discussions of higher education regularly evoke modern football as their touchstone for the evils of marketisation. Continue Reading »

Welcome to the world of Thucydides! It’s a world that is broad, deep, rich and complex, bringing together the ancient Greek past and the global present with the claim that understanding the former can help make sense of the latter. It’s not to everyone’s taste – indeed, Thucydides makes a big thing of the fact that many readers will be unimpressed with his work and will fail to grasp what he’s doing – but if this does turn out to be your sort of thing, then there is a lifetime’s worth of ideas to be uncovered here. Continue Reading »

In Our Time

Greetings to anyone who’s found their way to this blog as a result of the discussion of Thucydides on Radio 4’s In Our Time this week; for anyone who missed it, listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b050bcf1. It was great fun; yes, we could have done with another hour or so to tease out all the issues, not least so that I could dispute some aspects of Paul Cartledge’s account of Thucydides’ take on politics, but I think we managed to pack quite a lot in. Paul, who’s done the programme loads of times, offered Katherine Harloe and me the advice to forget about the radio audience and just concentrate on the conversation between Melvyn Bragg and the three of us, and that worked – apart from the moment when I suddenly remembered that I’d forgotten to tell my parents about the programme, and that my mother might be one of the people listening, rather more surprised and considerably more annoyed than the average…

If you are a new visitor to this blog, it’s probably worth my noting a couple of things: (i) it isn’t exactly an academic blog, but it is somewhat high-brow at times, not to say pretentious, and some of the posts are really of interest just to people working in higher education; just skip those; (ii) I blog on whatever interests me, including historical theory and ancient economic history, rather than just Thucydides, so just skip things that don’t interest you; (iii) I do tend to take a certain amount of knowledge for granted, e.g. I’m not going to spend time explaining what the Melian Dialogue is – but I do have plans to write a quick User’s Guide to Thucydides for anyone who’s now curious about his work but doesn’t know where to start, so watch this space…

The New Alcibiades

One of the hazards of studying references to Thucydides in contemporary public debate is that, after a while, you start to anticipate them, and develop pre-emptive analysis. Clearly there are people who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of a Peloponnesian War analogy; I seem to be turning into someone who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of what Peloponnesian War analogy these people are likely to think of – which occasionally means I end up drawing parallels that no one else bothers to develop. Continue Reading »


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