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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Reading David Andress’ thought-provoking new book Cultural Dementia*, on the ways that the anger and resentment of much contemporary politics in the UK, France and USA are founded in confused, self-serving and largely imaginary ideas of national pasts, I’m inevitably reminded of Thucydides, and his denunciation of the Athenians’ unwillingness to make any effort to enquire into the truth of the past but simply to accept the first story the hear – especially, we may surmise, if it flatters their sense of themselves and their place in the world, like the story of the tyrannicides that served as a foundation myth of democracy. The duty of the historian – the theme that I’m lecturing on in Toronto this week, as it happens – is to struggle to uncover the truth of things, to treat everything critically, to make no compromises for the sake of personal loyalties or entertainment, to acknowledge ambiguity and complexity, and try to help others to come to terms with it. (more…)

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If you’re ever short of a case study in the anxiety of influence, turn to the new BBC Civilisations series. It’s a programme which, in important ways, makes very little sense unless you’ve seen the original, while simultaneously doing its utmost to telegraph a wish to distance itself from much of what was supposed to be great the first time around. It’s a reboot made not by fans – which brings its own problems, of course – but by people who want to cash in on the cultural capital of the brand while at the same time claiming superiority. Basically, it’s the American remake of Inspector Spacetime, only with pretensions. (more…)

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Once again, I’ve remembered to keep track of the blogs I’ve especially enjoyed over the last year (with the curious exception of April – I don’t know, at this remove, whether I was too busy to read anything, or not much was published, or I was feeling hyper-sniffy at the time so didn’t think there was anything worth recommending. Very happy to get suggestions in the comments of great things that I’ve missed). This doesn’t claim to be a definitive list, just the stuff I came across – often via the Twitter, which continues to be a great way of keeping up with what’s going on in different regions and fields, despite all the management’s efforts to ruin it and drive everyone away – that deserves a more than ephemeral readership… (more…)

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So, when I announced my Exeter inaugural lecture a few weeks ago, I was persuaded to arrange for it to be recorded, for everyone who wasn’t in a position to trek down to Devon on a Thursday evening. It has turned out to be surprisingly and annoyingly difficult to make this happen, but we have the technology…

This is offered to the general public with the usual caveat that it was written far too hastily while trying to do too many other things at the same time, and so it would have been much better if delivered in different circumstances; and the slightly less usual caveats that (1) it was recorded from the very top of a rather weird, extremely precipitous lecture theatre, which is why you mostly see the top of my head from a steep angle, and (2) my watch was ever so slightly slow, so my brilliant timing actually meant that the recording cuts off literally seconds before the end. (more…)

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Will the people of the future still be reading classical literature and thinking about ancient exempla – and, if so, in what ways? This isn’t a topic that gets a great deal of attention in science fiction; I’m not thinking of the sorts of books that imagine a new Roman Empire with spaceships (see this list – the Trigan Empire lives!) or which deploy classical motifs as a key plot element (hello BSG) but rather those that try to imagine the world of the future in its own terms, but take the time to mention whether anyone still references Thucydides. (more…)

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For all the ghastliness everywhere else, it’s felt like a good year for blogging. Partly this is because I’ve managed to keep up with this blog rather better than in previous years, and have written some things that I’m really rather proud of; increasingly, I’ve come to understand posts (and articles for online publications, of which I’ve also published a few this year) as valid outputs in their own right, rather than as either advertising for or shorter versions of ‘proper’ academic publications, or as a mere distraction from ‘proper’ research (though there have been times this year when blog posts are the only things I’ve felt capable of writing). Even more, however, it’s been the insights and ideas of other people, which I’d never have found or bothered to read without the internet (and, to give credit where it’s due, without the much-maligned Twitter), that have been most informative and inspiring – and this year I’ve remembered, most of the time, to keep a note of the posts that made the biggest impression and are certainly well worth reading if you haven’t yet seen them. (more…)

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So it begins. It seems a reasonable bet that the election of Trump will join Brexit in the category of Momentous Events of 2016, at least within the horizon of l’histoire événementielle, joining various developments whose significance we haven’t recognised yet in hammering an extra stake into the heart of that ‘End of History’ nonsense. But the beginning of what? Competing narratives before the election seemed to be offering a choice between the Return of American Greatness and the Rise of the New Nazis as the likely outcome; now that it’s actually happened, we can add ‘small earthquake, relatively little damage’ predictions like Trump as the new Berlusconi to the mix. History offers us a myriad of possibilities; we don’t know which one (if any) is the better comparison, or how far our choice is driven by emotions (fear, hope, desire, loathing) rather than any sort of reason. History offers comfort, if that’s what we’re looking for; it offers reasonable grounds for buying gold and a copy of The Zombie Survival Handbook. It doesn’t offer any kind of certainty. (more…)

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