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Posts Tagged ‘historiography’

The physicist Werner Heisenberg opens Der Teil und das Ganze (1969; published in English as Physics and Beyond in 1971), his personal account of the development of atomic physics in the first half of the twentieth century, with a citation from Thucydides; 1.22.1, to be precise (more…)

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There’s a very peculiar article in today’s Observer, picking up on the predictably gormless comments earlier this week from Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education, about medieval history being fine for those who want to pay for such a luxury but undeserving of public support. To be precise, most of the article is great, as it’s based around eminently sensible comments from medieval historians like Miri Rubin and John Arnold, but the opening paragraphs are really odd.

Historians have been ridiculed since Herodotus, the “father of history”, was mocked by his Athenian contemporary, Thucydides, as a mere storyteller. So it was with some weariness that medieval historians took to their keyboards last week to respond to the latest slur against their discipline.

Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons select committee on education, is no Thucydides, but he echoed complaints down the ages when he singled out medieval historians as undeserving of public funding.

Okay… (more…)

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This isn’t the Summer of Love; it may be the Summer of Bad-Tempered Arguments About Classics and Racism. Over in the US, Sarah Bond‘s articles on the ‘white-washing’ of classical statues – that is, why do we think of them in terms of gleaming white marble when they were actually painted? – have provoked a furious backlash from the far right, including death threats.* In the UK, an alt-right blogger objected to the fact that a BBC educational cartoon on life in Roman Britain included black people – “I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?” – and was carefully schooled by @MikeStuchbery_, Matthew Nicholls from Reading, Mary Beard and others – with the result that Mary, at least, now seems to be spending six hours a day responding to people on Twitter about this.

What is surprising about these two arguments is that the substantive issues – ancient statues were painted, the Roman Empire (including Britain) was ethnically diverse – are such old hat. (more…)

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We must be old. We cannot choose but be old. We have heard the chimes at midnight at the the end of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme music – twenty years ago? It was a simpler time, when one girl (albeit with supernatural strength) and her friends could avert the apocalypse, time and again, because the apocalypse was a bunch of demons trying to open a gateway to hell, or the mayor of a small town trying to turn himself into a demon, not an entire global system of doom. Even as the threats became more powerful and apparently unstoppable – deranged hellgods, a rogue military experiment, sexually frustrated adolescent boys – they remained identifiable, nameable, and ultimately susceptible to the judicious application of violence. If only… (more…)

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Another installment in my long-term project to make available copies of old chapters and articles, when I have a spare moment. This one is prompted by another exchange with Will Pooley at Bristol, who asked on the Twitter about modern historians using the dialogue form, whether invented or found. My immediate thought was Keith Hopkins’ A World Full Of Gods, which (if you don’t know it) experiments with a variety of unexpected literary forms to capture different aspects of religions in the ancient world and the numerous historiographical issues involved in trying to study and represent them. As I think I’ve remarked on here before, I’m not convinced that many of Hopkins’ experiments actually work properly – the professional exponents of science fiction do time travel stories rather better, for example – but it’s amazing that it was done at all, and a great shame that this aspect was largely passed over by reviewers as quickly as possible with an air of great embarrassment. (more…)

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2016, as I reflected on at least one occasion, was a year that seemed to represent a return to old-fashioned l’histoire événementielle, where world-changing developments occurred at the sort of pace with which we humans feel naturally comfortable (indeed, sometimes a bit faster than we might have preferred) rather than unfolding over decades or centuries. Both Brexit and the election of Trump represented, or appeared to represent, the sorts of dramatic turning-points that make for an exciting narrative, played out on a human timescale. But in addition – and this is something that I noted in passing, but could have made more of – it seems to represent, or can be claimed as, a series of events driven by humans and human-level factors, rather than vast, mysterious and impersonal forces and processes. Indeed, the force of the ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ slogans is precisely that of a revolt against those who surrendered to abstract ideas like globalisation and the march of automation, in the false belief that they are more powerful than any human agency; we are presented with a reclaiming and repurposing of the progressive idea that something else besides eternal capitalism is still possible.

It struck me this morning that there may be a connection here to the sudden popularity of historical analogies, especially classical analogies, for contemporary political developments. (more…)

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