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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Death. Death. Crisis. Death. Crisis. Death. Death. That was 2016, that was. Good riddance, apart from the uneasy feeling that it may have been just the overture, and next year we won’t have the all-too-brief comic relief of England v. Iceland to cheer us up.

It’s all been very serious German novel. One of the themes on the blog this year has been the avoidance, if not fervent denunciation, of crass historical analogies, so I’ll save my next discussion of Volker Kutscher’s excellent Krimi series set in 1920s and 1930s Berlin [pervasive atmosphere of impending doom and dramatic irony] until the Tom Tykwer adaptation starts next year, by which time I may have caught up with the latest volume. Rather, I’ve been reminded all too often of Jenny Erpenbeck’s brilliant Aller Tage Abend (and I still dislike the English title End of Days without having a good alternative suggestion), in which the central character dies again and again – as a baby, as a teenager, at various stages of adulthood – with a constant dialectic between the hopeful counterfactual (if only this, then she would have lived…) and the inevitability of death, against a backdrop of twentieth-century horrors. That was 2016, that was… (more…)

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I’m Backing Britain!

One of the things I have always found rather weird and off-putting about German academia is the way that some professors include a section in their CVs about the Rufe – the offers of chairs at other universities – they have turned down. I understand, intellectually, why this happens: in many cases, especially in the past, a professor stayed at the salary level at which they were originally appointed, unless they could wave an offer from somewhere else at the university management and negotiate a better deal, so it was only rational to apply elsewhere on a regular basis – and clearly it continues to be a means of arguing for more support staff, more research money and the like, as well as a recognised indicator of social capital. Further, if everyone knows that every job will attract applications from a load of high-powered established professors who don’t really want it but will take at least six months to play this possible future university off against their current university before declining the offer – which is why, from a UK perspective, German appointment processes take a staggeringly long time – then the people who actually end up taking the jobs, two years later, won’t feel at all embarrassed that it’s all out in public: you weren’t competing on a level playing field, so winning by default, so to speak, isn’t an issue. (more…)

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“The distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers,” remarked Thomas Piketty, in a work noted for its regular references to the novels of Austen and Balzac for insights into wealth and inequality in the nineteenth century. Contrary to the claims to scientific objectivity made by mainstream economics, issues of power and money inevitably have a subjective, psychological and hence political dimension; “democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts”, and it is the imaginative artists who can depict the effects of inequality and the workings of the economy ”with a verisimilitude and evocative power that no statistical or theoretical analysis can match.” (more…)

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The Melian Dialogue in Thucydides has been of interest to game theorists since the earliest development of the field; it was discussed on several occasions by John von Neumann, generally accepted founder of this approach, and it appears in the work of a leading game theorist like Thomas Schelling. It’s entirely understandable: the dialogue presents two sides in a high-stakes, zero-sum conflict, pursuing very different strategies with a limited number of possible outcomes, and – if you want to push the boundaries of game theory a bit further, it also offers interesting examples of how each side seeks to anticipate and influence the decision-making of the other, and raises some fundamental questions of rationality. I fully expect to find lots of other examples when I have time to pursue this theme in depth, but for today I want to focus on one case of a game theoretical discussion of the Dialogue, written by the current Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (1997; revised version 2014: 262-83). It is in itself an interesting reading of the situation, in relation both to Thucydides and to the normal assumptions of game theory, but there are also some striking implications for the current negotiations between Greece and the EU, especially Germany, which I will consider in the final section. (more…)

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Apologies yet again for the lack of posts, not least the lack of a continuation of the User’s Guide to Thucydides (just start at the beginning, folks, and at some point I’ll get round to telling you when you can begin skipping tedious accounts of maritime manoeuvres to get onto one of the famous set-piece episodes), but I remain horribly busy – and am now wary of writing much here because of the number of people who could legitimate send me annoyed emails, demanding to know why I’m doing this instead of getting on with the chapters I was supposed to have submitted months ago. However, the latest twist in the use of classical analogies in characterising the Eurozone crisis seemed too good to miss: Larry Elliott in this morning’s Grauniad, describing the German attitude in current negotiations as offering Greece a Carthaginian peace. That is: surrender absolutely and without conditions, or we’ll wipe you off the face of the earth anyway. (more…)

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Now Available in German

.Jetzt kann man meine Kritzelei auch auf Deutsch lesen! Ja, ich habe schon ein paar Rezensionen geschrieben, und einen Aufsatz (im Druck), und ein paar Vorträge gehalten, aber jetzt ist die Übersetzung meines Buchs Writing Ancient History veröffentlicht (von Antike Verlag: erhältlich hier). Ich freue mich sehr darüber: ich fühle mich immer gezwungen, für die Sprachunkenntnis meiner Landsmänner zu entschuldigen, und versuche immer in Tagungen nicht nur auf Englisch zu sprechen, aber jetzt erscheine ich ganz klar als Europäischer Historiker, als einer, den auch deutsche Studenten lesen können, und vielleicht muss ich mich nicht soviel entschuldigen – oder am wenigsten nicht wegen meiner Sprachkenntnis…

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One of the things I most enjoyed about spending a couple of months in German universities this year, and most envy about their set-up, was the sense of freedom when it comes to teaching. Within remarkably broad limits, and subject only to a remarkably small number of regulations and administrative imperatives, it seems that professors can do more or less what they like, and can extend that freedom to their colleagues. One can teach a course over a full semester, or over half a semester with an all-day Blockseminar, or even (presumably) through a number of Blockseminars rather than a weekly class, whatever seems to suit the topic and the level of the students best. One can introduce a new course on one’s research interests without having to complete a lengthy form and submit it for approval from the university – and without the risk of being told, sorry, because of the work involved in completing and approving forms, no new units are being accepted for the foreseeable future. Indeed, when I mentioned even a few minor examples of the bureaucratisation of teaching (without even hinting at the scrutiny of assessment), all I got were incredulous stares. Goodness knows what my German colleagues would think of the full reality. (more…)

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