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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

So, when I announced my Exeter inaugural lecture a few weeks ago, I was persuaded to arrange for it to be recorded, for everyone who wasn’t in a position to trek down to Devon on a Thursday evening. It has turned out to be surprisingly and annoyingly difficult to make this happen, but we have the technology…

This is offered to the general public with the usual caveat that it was written far too hastily while trying to do too many other things at the same time, and so it would have been much better if delivered in different circumstances; and the slightly less usual caveats that (1) it was recorded from the very top of a rather weird, extremely precipitous lecture theatre, which is why you mostly see the top of my head from a steep angle, and (2) my watch was ever so slightly slow, so my brilliant timing actually meant that the recording cuts off literally seconds before the end. (more…)

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Warm greetings to all new followers of this blog (even if usernames suggest that a surprisingly large number of you are heavily into the supply and fitting of high-quality flooring…). I don’t actually know why WordPress should have chosen this week to give me a boost, as it’s actually really terrible timing; the first couple of weeks of term are always a bit hectic, but on top of that I’ve been writing my inaugural lecture (last week) and pursuing a lengthy and increasingly tetchy correspondence about why I don’t seem to be allowed to share the recording outside the university (this week), plus finishing a short-but-nevertheless-quite-substantial-given-everything-else book that ought to have been finished last month (yesterday). (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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Democracies are always at their best when things seem at their worst. (Thucydides)

Alongside all the obviously false and/or completely unverifiable ‘Thucydides’ quotations to be encountered on the Twitter, there is a minor strand of what could be called ‘misleading paraphrases’, where someone quotes someone else’s summary of what Thucydides said as if it were Thucydides’ own words. I’ve previously discussed the Henry Kissinger version of 1.22.4 – “The present, while never repeating the past exactly, must inevitably resemble it. Hence, so must the future” – which Niall Ferguson and Graham Allison seem to have successfully launched as a genuine quotation. Yesterday I came across the quote above for the first time, a line which likewise looks not completely implausible but nevertheless wrong. And so it proved… (more…)

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I’ve written on a number of occasions about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ idea and why I disagree with it – indeed, I imagine that this is why the viewing stats for this blog have risen appreciably in recent weeks – but there’s nothing like reading someone else’s critical but largely wrong-headed review to prompt a bit of reflection. Arthur Waldron’s review in the Straits Times (which I first encountered via SupChina – and is that the worst name for a site ever?) has been widely circulated on the Twitter (at any rate by the normal standards of Thucydides-related references) with a measurable atmosphere of glee and Schadenfreude. It seems that a fair number of people want Allison to be not just wrong but catastrophically wrong – Ian Buruma’s New Yorker review is just as critical of Allison but much more measured, and hasn’t been nearly so widely cited as a result – and Waldron gives them what they want.

Waldron’s opening sentences are brutal – and frankly bizarre: (more…)

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It is a bizarre but entirely undiscussed paradox that the alleged technological underdevelopment and primitivist mindset of the ancient world – see M.I. Finley and his followers – was often illustrated by the story (Pliny NH 36.195, Petronius Satyricon 51) of the man who brought to the Emperor Tiberius a goblet made of unbreakable glass, that did not shatter when dropped and could be made perfectly whole again if damaged – and was put to death for his pains. “Hostility to innovation!” they cry. “And isn’t it significant that an inventor went to the emperor for a reward, not to a hi-tech start-up for capital investment?” Well, maybe. But the most important questions are: what was this material, and where did it come from? (more…)

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Is there a plausible outcome in the Melian Dialogue situation in which the Melians ‘win’ in any sense? I’m starting to think about developing the second half of my “choose your own adventure” version, and obviously this is a crucial issue; is the point of the exercise that players should try every possible approach and gradually recognise the bleak reality of their fate, or that there should be a way out, however obscure and improbable? This question was actually brought into focus this week by the spectacle of Yanis Varoufakis offering advice to Theresa May on negotiating with the EU: the man who knew he was in a Melian Dialogue situation, but still tried to force it to a different outcome. Yes, that went well… (more…)

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