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Posts Tagged ‘historiography’

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…

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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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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…)

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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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As Marx wrote in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, more or less: People write history, but they do not write it just as they please; not under conventions chosen by themselves, but under conventions directly encountered, given and handed down. Especially once the publisher starts weighing in about what readers expect from heavyweight-yet-accessible attempts at encapsulating entire periods of time… (more…)

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I should say from the beginning that this is not the sort of defence of Arron Banks that’s likely to carry much weight with any hypothetical future popular tribunal considering charges of willful destruction of the prosperity and well-being of the British people. Further, my immediate reaction to his original “True the Roman Empire was effectively destroyed by immigration” tweet was a typical kneejerk academic one – something along the lines of “yes, why don’t we revive Tenney Frank’s ‘Race Mixture in the Roman Empire’ while we’re at it?” – followed by an attempt at getting #BanksHistory trending on Twitter, and I don’t think that was entirely wrong. At the same time, there is something about the way that the battlelines in Banks versus Beard ended up being neatly drawn between ‘ignorant right-wing billionaire combining memories of schoolboy history and Gladiator with current ideological prejudices’ and ‘heroic authoritative Professor just fighting for Truth’ that makes me feel a little uncomfortable.* (more…)

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How long was the Twentieth Century? If you spend most of your time studying classical antiquity, that may sound like a trick question, but since Eric Hobsbawm published Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century in 1994, the idea that the 19th Century persisted until the shattering of the European political order in 1914 (not a new idea, of course; it’s found in Stefan Zweig’s Die Welt von Gestern, for a start) and the 21st Century began in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism has been widely recognised as a useful discussion point, if not as a definitive reading. There’s been a flurry of debate on this issue in the last week, with blogs on the topic from Brad DeLong and Branko Milanovic, plus multi-faceted exchange on the Twitter.* (more…)

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