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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

I’ve just discovered this blog post lurking in my ‘Drafts’ file, having apparently been created in mid-March; I can’t remember why I never got round to finishing it – unlike another post I started back in the autumn, which perhaps needs to wait for an appropriate moment – but that’s probably revealing in itself. Anyway, in a number of ways this unfinished discussion connects to what I was planning to write this morning, so I’ll post it here and then add current thoughts underneath…

If what you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If what you have is a copy of Thucydides, everything looks like the Melian Dialogue. (more…)

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What’s the key lesson of the Melian Dialogue? The dominant tradition has been some sort of variant on Crude Realism, from the perspective of the would-be superior power: justice only between equals, we the strong have the right to dictate and you the weak must comply, and forget all this nonsense about hope. The usual response, from those who reject such a worldview and/or, perhaps more significantly, aren’t in any position to pursue it, is to question and reject the Athenian logic, by detaching it from the authority of Thucydides and pointing to the consequences of their attitude. But of course it is also possible to be one of the Weak and nevertheless accept the logic of the Strong; like the prisoner in Life of Brian who praises the Romans for their strict approach to crime and punishment, or the cow at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there are those who fully accept the right of others to dictate terms and exact obedience. (more…)

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Never mind the hover board, what I was really expecting by 2018 was that we’d all be projecting ourselves into overseas conferences as holograms. Sorry, Belfast, but while I did find some quite nice beer, I still would have preferred to experience the round table discussion of Walter Scheidel’s The Great Leveler and other delights of this year’s European Social Science History Conference without all the rain… (more…)

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Ever since the days of Thucydides, states have used force to get what they want, and have expected weaker states to comply with their wishes. Ever since the days of Thucydides, they have claimed that this is all perfectly justifiable as the way of the world. Ever since the days of Thucydides, men have made confident claims that war is easy, straightforward, risk-free, simply an opportunity to demonstrate one’s greatness and reorder the world in a more congenial manner. Ever since the days of Thucydides, international relations academics and military strategists have spouted cliches like “Ever since the days of Thucydides…” as a cheap source of borrowed authority and gravitas. I just don’t get the part where this is supposed to be reassuring, even if it is delivered by a chiselled jaw and Action Man stare. (more…)

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If ever there was a good week to smuggle out an announcement of a conference with a few diversity issues, it’s this week; unless you have Jordan Peterson and Steve Bannon as keynotes and put on a minstrel show as part of the evening entertainment, there’s no way you could look worse than the Stanford Sausage Fest.

But having more female speakers than none is hardly cause for self-congratulation; 25%, as we have for our forthcoming workshop in Berlin at the beginning of next month on Thomas Piketty and Capital in Classical Antiquity, really isn’t great. I’m writing this partly to acknowledge the problem and accept responsibility for it, and partly – more importantly – to emphasise the lesson: having a diverse range of speakers as one of your goals in putting together a conference programme, and taking various steps to try to ensure it, may still not be nearly enough. (more…)

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Just a quick heads up that the call for papers and panels for the next European Social Science History Conference, to be held at Queen’s Belfast in April 2018, has just been published. Full details for the Antiquity Network, which I co-chair, can be found over at the little-frequented Social Science Ancient History blog (https://socsciah.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/esshc-2018-belfast-call-for-proposals/), so I won’t go into detail here, except to say that this is always a great opportunity to meet not only fellow ancient historians working on topics in economic, social and cultural history, but also to engage with colleagues from all periods and geographical areas. If you have an idea for a panel – and don’t feel that you need to be a senior academic to put together a proposal – then Arjan and I would really like to hear from you; we have a few plans of our own for sessions focused on one or more of the really important books that have been published in our field in the last year or so, but it’s always the variety of themes and debates that makes this such a worthwhile and stimulating occasion, and that depends on you…

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I spent the weekend in Tübingen at a conference organised by John Weisweiler on Debt: the first 3500 years, exploring different aspects of the ideas presented by David Graeber in Debt: the first 5000 years within ancient contexts, from early Babylonia to the early Islamic period; programme can be downloaded here, or follow my attempts at pithy summary on Twitter under #Debt3500. My initial reaction to the idea was that it’s amazing no one had thought of doing this before. It’s not just that Graeber’s book offers some provocative ideas about the roles of debt and money in shaping human relationships (above all, different forms of dependence) that seem well worth exploring in the context of antiquity, but also that the periods we ancient historians are concerned with play a significant role in his overall schema of historical development – this is the Axial Age, in the phrase he borrows from Karl Jaspers, where world-changing intellectual developments went hand in hand with far-reaching economic and social changes, with dramatic implications for everything that then followed up to the slow-motion car crash of contemporary capitalism. (more…)

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