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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

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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Reading David Andress’ thought-provoking new book Cultural Dementia*, on the ways that the anger and resentment of much contemporary politics in the UK, France and USA are founded in confused, self-serving and largely imaginary ideas of national pasts, I’m inevitably reminded of Thucydides, and his denunciation of the Athenians’ unwillingness to make any effort to enquire into the truth of the past but simply to accept the first story the hear – especially, we may surmise, if it flatters their sense of themselves and their place in the world, like the story of the tyrannicides that served as a foundation myth of democracy. The duty of the historian – the theme that I’m lecturing on in Toronto this week, as it happens – is to struggle to uncover the truth of things, to treat everything critically, to make no compromises for the sake of personal loyalties or entertainment, to acknowledge ambiguity and complexity, and try to help others to come to terms with it. (more…)

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For all that I spend quite a lot of my time critically analysing the deficiencies of modern claims to ‘learn’ from Thucydides, or simply throwing rocks at them, I do firmly believe that his work has enormous potential as a source of insight into the way the world works, not only in the past but today. There are continuities as well as dramatic changes in human behaviour across time; we can draw from Thucydides’ account understanding of the ‘human thing’, the way that people think and behave. Yes, I tend to think of this in terms of tendencies and persistent mental habits rather than ‘laws’ of ‘human nature’, but it’s part of the same general project to read the work as Thucydides’ intended it, a ‘possession for ever’ from which readers can learn valuable things for the present. (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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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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