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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

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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It seems entirely possible that there are certain people out there reading this blog and noting the fact that I’m currently managing to post at least once a week on average, and also remarking on my occasional contributions to online book seminars* and other non-academic publications, and thinking to themselves: “Okay, Neville, so where the hell is that book review you should have submitted eighteen months ago?” I try not to think about this too much, as I am genuinely embarrassed and guilty about my large backlog of missed deadlines – not to mention the thought of other colleagues’ reactions when they realise that I’m the reason why their book hadn’t been reviewed – but I’m prompted to do so this morning by discussions on the Twitter in the light of the recent debacle at the American Historical Review (links via @helenrogers19c). Why haven’t I got these reviews written? Not because I’m lazy, and not just because I keep taking on too many things, but because writing a decent academic book review is hard, and boring, and fraught with problems. (more…)

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As regular readers may faintly recall, one of my minor projects for March was to monitor all the occasions when that stupid William F. Butler quote about “A society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” was attributed on the Twitter to Thucydides, if only to work out precisely how much of a waste of time it is for the Thucydiocy Bot (@Thucydiocy) to keep correcting it. The results are now in, and the conclusion is: lots. (more…)

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I have made my first, incredibly tentative, step into the world of “Gaming the Past”*: using simulation games, in this case interactive text, to explore historical issues. It is, with crashing inevitability, based on Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, considered from the Athenian perspective, and you can test the first version at http://www.philome.la/NevilleMorley/might-and-right-the-athenian-version. Part II, allowing you to play the Melian side, will follow in due course – and, once I’ve got these both up and running, I will then be developing some contextual material to tie the two together. All feedback and comments gratefully received. Yes, I know the links are going funny colours on an apparently random basis; working on this… (more…)

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