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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

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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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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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