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If ever there was a figure to be taken seriously but not literally, it’s Oswald Spengler. The catty remark of A.L. Rowse, that “because the Germans were defeated, Western civilisation is to be regarded as coming to an end”, is unfair but not completely untrue. There’s a lot more to Spengler’s ideas than that characterisation (not least because much of his framework of thought predated WWI), but they are pervaded with the masochistic joys of apocalyptic expectation, and a sense of superiority over everyone else who hasn’t yet realised that they’re living in decadent and pathetic times. Spengler represents a fascinating offshoot of C19 critiques of modernity, throwing biological analogies and the second law of thermodynamics into the mix as explanations and justifications of feelings of Weltschmerz and cultural malaise. (more…)

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A day or so ago, I remarked that one reason I take a “that’ll do” approach to writing books is the fact that there’s always the next thing that I want to move on to writing about. Yes, butterfly mind and all that. This thought was then powerfully reinforced by the remark of a friend on Facebook: “Anyone else at that age when they think ‘that would be a great project, conference, grant, book…’ and then, ‘hmm, I wonder how much longer I’ve got?’” Oh god yes – and I’m not thinking about retirement, because (1) I suspect retirement ages are going to retreat endlessly into the future as we approach them, as in one of Xeno’s paradoxes, and (2) I have every intention that retirement will enable me to write much more, whatever my wife thinks about finally getting the garden sorted out.

No, we’re talking about death here. (more…)

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When it comes to my own writing, at least, I’ve always been a follower of the “that’ll do” principle; not quite the slapdash approach the phrase might imply (though doubtless there are critics out there who think my books exemplify the slapdash approach), but the art of recognising the point of diminishing marginal returns, when – given that perfection will always remain out of reach – the expenditure of addition time and effort ceases to yield proportionate improvements in the quality of the manuscript, especially when it’s probably already months (if not years) overdue and double especially when there are loads of other things I want to write about as well. It’s all about the jazz idea of creating something in the moment, of the moment, and then moving onto what the next moment calls for, rather than endlessly honing the same thing in the hope of transcending intellectual entropy.

This approach has worked well enough – until now. (more…)

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I’m just back from a weekend break in Croatia, a trip that was partly about the glorious food and excellent Zagreb craft beer scene, partly about the history and architecture, and mostly about giving a seminar and lecture at the University of Zagreb, hosted by Jelena Marohnic, and also being interviewed by the history students’ journal. The latter was especially nerve-wracking, with a strong sense of the risks of putting my foot in it inadvertently through sheer ignorance of local circumstances, without having had the opportunity to think about any of the questions in advance. Why are they so concerned about the chronological boundaries of ‘ancient history’? How does the ‘ethnicity in Roman Britain’ debate look from here – and was it a good or bad thing that I didn’t until afterwards think to chuck in a remark to the effect that Roman Pannonia and Dalmatia must have been equally multicultural? (more…)

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Amid the constant froth of “how the internet has transformed our lives, and ohmygod the robots are coming!” chatter, it’s occasionally worth reflecting on the things that could have changed but haven’t, or haven’t much. Take the scholarly article; yes, we can all access things so much more easily (provided we have the institutional support that gives us access to JSTOR), which is generally fabulous, and it’s becoming a reflex to remember to worry about Open Access issues, at least for those us in the UK worrying about whether our publications will be able to ‘count’ for the purposes of the Research Excellence Framework hoop-jumping exercise – but the article itself hasn’t dramatically changed in decades, and nor have the journals that might publish it (even something completely online like Histos otherwise more or less replicates the format of a traditional journal). Of course this is at least partly a consequence of working in a humanities discipline; for the most part we don’t have large quantities of supporting data that isn’t accessible elsewhere, so the possibility of uploading masses of supplementary material doesn’t mean as much to us as it does to those working in other fields. (more…)

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I’ve been making a few changes to the blog recently – adding the Twitter feed, reordering some of the widgets, expanding the biographical information and the like – as a result of an interesting conversation a few months ago with a couple of people on Twitter (@lizgloyn and @EllieMackin, as I recall; apologies if I’ve forgotten others) about online presence. My move to Exeter this summer brought it home to me that this blog, plus my Twitter feed, represents my professional activities online at least as much as any official institutional profile (especially when I’m still struggling with the publications database). I’ve never trusted academiadotedu, so felt smugly reassured when their commercial orientation became more obvious this year – but that does bring to mind the things that this blog currently doesn’t do, that might be useful for some visitors. (more…)

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