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Posts Tagged ‘historical theory’

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I’ve spent the last couple of days in a fourteenth-century castle just outside Hildesheim, now the Kulturcampus of the university, at a colloquium organised by Roland Oetjen of Kiel to bring together ancient economic historians and economists with an interest in the ancient world. I originally proposed to give a paper on ‘The time of the ancient economy’, squashing together Braudelian conceptions of the speeds of historical change, patterns of intra- and inter-annual change in the environment, and Kondratieff economic cycles to see what would happen – but, predictably enough, ran out of time to do any actual work on this. Instead I offered a variant on an existing draft piece on Varro, frugality and Roman economic thought that I really, really am close to writing up for publication, honest (just in case any of the editors is reading this); which in various respects probably fitted the occasion better, but does deprive me of the opportunity to construct the opening of this post around the notion of repetitive cycles in ancient economic historiography… (more…)

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Yes, long time since I had time to post anything here, for which I can only apologise to anyone who’s actually interested. It hasn’t all been the usual mid-term weight of teaching and admin, nor can I entirely blame the kittens, their various ailments and the way they’ve been behaving since they got better, that have made uninterrupted sleep a rare and precious commodity. No, there was also a trip to the First International Conference on Anticipation in Trento last week, plus writing the paper for that beforehand, a fascinating and stimulating event that I shall be blogging on in due course – but you’re going to have to wait a bit until I’ve caught up on the emails.

In the meantime, if you’re feeling bereft of history-related reading, I’d like to point you in the direction of Ned Richardson-Little’s latest blog post (he’s also well worth following on Twitter, @HistoryNed, for pictures and stories from the DDR), on The Long Fall of the Berlin Wall (more…)

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I confess: I am @CAConf2015. And yes, I’m afraid I am already married.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I’ve spent the last few days at the UK Classical Association conference, which we were hosting in Bristol; not just introducing speakers and chairing a few sessions, but also running the official conference Twitter feed. This has been a rather strange experience (though not completely new, as I did something similar for the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition last year for the Blackwell-Bristol lectures, and will probably be doing it again at the end of this month). The thinking is presumably that I know the system and style and so can be left to get on with it, but actually I wonder if giving the job to someone new to the whole thing might not be better – it doesn’t need or want someone with experience and confidence, and someone new to the whole thing and hence nervously feeling their way might find it easier to hit the right note, rather than someone like me having to un-learn some habits. Yes, I use Twitter in a relatively formal, work-related capacity, and so what I say there is pretty edited and filtered compared with many, but compared with what’s expected of the official voice of an institution or event, it feels like Hunter S. Thompson-esque stream of consciousness. (more…)

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Unlike certain other historians and classicists, I’m not proposing to offer my ha’penny worth on the Scottish Question, for all that it would probably do temporary wonders for my visitor stats. Rather, I run the risk of annoying people on both sides by declining, and/or being unable, to choose. I can see merits in the arguments of both sides, as well as serious flaws; I can feel something of the emotional and cultural charge of both; I have been inspired and energised, in quite contradictory ways, by passionate voices on both sides; and I am all too aware of how far my own situation and interests influence my evaluation of the debate – which is to say that, if I were living in Scotland and so actually had a vote, I suspect I would still be undecided, even at this late stage, but in rather different ways from my current uncertainty. It is, one might say, the stance of the typical historian; congenitally incapable of not seeing how complicated, ambiguous and uncertain everything is.

What I did want to comment on was a remark in one of the letters in the Grauniad this morning, addressing the article on Scotland and its relation with the Tories by Tom Devine.

Tom Devine seems to show that while historians are good at analysing the past, they are no better than the rest of us in making political judgements about the present or the future.

Well, yes. (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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Another interesting and helpful link via a post on The Monkey Cage (which has recently moved to the Washington Post, and unfortunately seems to have become much slower and less reliable as a result), this time to a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA that seeks to understand global historical development via a cultural evolutionary model. It’s a nice short paper (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/09/20/1308825110.full.pdf+html), so you can and really should read it for yourselves, even if you skip the equations, but in brief the authors constructed a model of the Afroeurasian landmass as a grid of 100x100km squares:

Each grid cell is characterized by existence of agriculture, biome (e.g., desert), and elevation. At the beginning of the simulation, each agricultural square is inhabited by an independent polity, and the cells adjacent to the steppe are “seeded” with military technology (MilTech) traits, which gradually diffuse out to the rest of the landmass.

Once the model was set in motion (from a starting-point of 1500 BCE), each polity had a certain chance of conquering every other polity to build a larger polity, and each conquered polity had a certain chance of taking over the ‘cultural genome’ of its conqueror – i.e. adopting its traits of military technology. The result is a pattern of the diffusion of different forms of military technology and the expansion of complex multi-cell polities (empires) from three cores in the 1500-500 BCE period (Egypt, the Fertile Crescent and eastern China) to encompass most of Europe, the Middle East and China by the end of 1500 CE. This pattern was then compared with the ‘actual’ course of imperial expansion, put together from historical atlases, and the authors claim a 65% rate of prediction of which cells would have which level of ‘imperial density’ at a given date; a re-run of the model, omitting the military technology factor, had only a 16% success rate. It is these claims that have led the study to be reported in the non-academic press as ‘explaining’ history and ‘predicting’ the rise and fall of empires. (more…)

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Strangest dream last night. In the middle of a thoroughly conventional sequence of wandering through empty rooms looking for something and being pursued by something equally ill-defined, I found myself reading a book; a book on historiography, indeed, and from the style I’d date it to the eighteenth or possibly early nineteenth century. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact words, only an overall impression of beautifully modulated periods and cadences, but the gist was clear enough: messing about with historical theory, the history of scholarship and the like was all very well for a young historian who hasn’t yet learnt any sort of discrimination (the phrase used was something like “Clio suitably attired as a fine lady and Clio dressed as a serving wench or lady of the night will alike cause a young man to rise up”), but having sowed a few wild oats in such pastures the true historian will soon find a more suitable match for his station and will settle down in domestic bliss with ‘proper’ history. (more…)

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