I am not a gambling man – but I know a pretty sure thing when I see one. David Engels has written a substantial rejoinder to the critique of his ‘The EU Is Doomed, Because Rome’ argument written by Roland Steinacher and me, characterising it as an Althistorikerstreit, and concludes with the suggestion that time will show whether he’s right or not. Fair enough; if over the next 20-30 years Europe collapses into civil war – and it’s worth stressing that this is not about a return to warring nation states, according to Engels’ model, but about conflict between suburbs and districts within different regions of Europe – and then willingly surrenders in toto to a single charismatic autocrat, then he wins, and as the prophet of the new regime will presumably be in a position to have me locked up and my property confiscated. We win if it doesn’t. My real problem is deciding what the stakes should be; let’s say 10 litres of fresh water, as that will be worth its weight in gold in any post-apocalyptical wasteland you care to imagine, and will be perfectly serviceable in any case. (more…)
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“The future is dark, the present burdensome. Only the past, dead and buried, bears contemplation.” Thus G.R. Elton in The Practice of History, a book that I read at an impressionable age and so can still quote large chunks verbatim despite disagreeing with most of it. This line has always struck me as particularly, but interestingly, wrong; it encapsulates, tongue in cheek, the essentially conservative view of history as a means of escape into a past that is always conceived as preferable to the present – if only because it’s already over, so human suffering is more bearable (echoes again of Hegel’s account of history as the view from the shore of a distant shipwreck). It’s also linked to an explicit anti-determinism; there is no underlying logic to historical development, so the past speaks only to itself, not to the present, let alone to the future. Stuff happens, and we can grasp it properly only in retrospect. (more…)
The most interesting and provocative comment on Rachel Moss’s wonderful blog post last month on Choosing Not To Give, on the sacrifices that women are expected to make in academic culture, was from Lucy Northenra: “How many women are remembered for their ability to never miss a school run compared to those who manage against all the odds to publish enough to be made professors?” Rachel’s response was equally passionate: “I may well only have one child, and during the week I see her for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening. Perhaps I might somehow write an extra 4* publication if I gave up one of those hours each day. For me, the cost isn’t worth it.”
Do you want to be remembered as a great scholar but a lousy parent – or not remembered at all except by your nearest and dearest? Why are you mucking about with plasticine instead of changing the world? Why are you wasting time on an article that five people will read with limited attention when you could be making a real difference to one or two individuals who completely depend on you? Such dilemmas go to the heart of academic ambitions and self-image.* Who do I think I really am, who do I want to be, and what to do about all the things that threaten to get in the way? (more…)
I’ve been involved in an interesting exchange on the Twitter this morning with Helen Rogers (@helenrogers19c) and Will Pooley (@willpooley), both of whom work on different aspects of historical rhetoric, narrative and creative historiography about – well, those things, starting with the question of why ‘narrative’ is sometimes (often?) regarded as a dirty word by academic historians: too easy and simplistic, too focused on Great Individuals and traditional political/military history, too closely associated with popular history, too literary and hence liable to undermine modern critical historiography’s claim to have transcended the old ‘history as art’ model. Of course, none of those things is necessarily true, but that doesn’t necessarily make a difference, given how much is at stake in mainstream analytical historiography’s claim to offer a trustworthy, objective account of the past (and how fragile we know that claim actually is).
Partly as a distraction from the ongoing ghastliness elsewhere, this has prompted me to offer another installment in my – very, very slow – project to make available copies of various old articles that may not be readily available. This is one of my favourites, perhaps because of its utter obscurity: Narrative Economy, first published in P.F. Bang, M. Ikeguchi & H.G. Ziche, eds., Ancient Economies, Modern Methodologies: archaeology, comparative history, models and institutions (Bari: Edipuglia, 2006), pp. 27-47 – an analysis of the different rhetoric approaches of two historians of the Roman economy, Keith Hopkins and Richard Duncan-Jones. The idea was that economic history appears to be the most unrhetorical and artless of sub-disciplines, so demonstrating that it’s actually as rhetorical as everything else would make a general point about historiography…
See Part One here.
July A month of very conflicted emotions. On the one hand, back in Berlin; on the other hand, Brexit. On the one hand, the remarkable pleasure to be gained from the Ablehnung of a Ruf, and an opportunity to reflect on the sheer weirdness of German academic appointment processes; on the other hand, Brexit, and the thought that a job in Germany might be no bad thing. On the one hand, some actual research into cheap translations of Thucydides (though not in a REF-able publication, unless the rules change dramatically in the near future); on the other hand, my most-read post of the year on, you guessed it, Brexit… (more…)
Next to the originator of a great sentence is the first quoter of it. Said Emerson. Stories happen only to people who know how to tell them. Said Thucydides. A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak, minus much of the novel, is money for old rope. Said David Markson. The quotation of a misquotation is still a misquotation. Said @Thucydiocy. (more…)