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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Aristotle dreamed of the robot revolution. A slave is a living tool that serves multiple purposes; likewise a craftsman’s assistant (Politics 1253b). This is demonstrated by the fact that, if every tool could perform its own work when ordered, or by seeing what to do in advance, like the statues of Daedalus or the self-moving tripods of Hephaestus, craftsmen would have no need of assistants or masters of slaves. Tools are an essential component of the state; workers, maybe not so much. (more…)

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Amid the constant froth of “how the internet has transformed our lives, and ohmygod the robots are coming!” chatter, it’s occasionally worth reflecting on the things that could have changed but haven’t, or haven’t much. Take the scholarly article; yes, we can all access things so much more easily (provided we have the institutional support that gives us access to JSTOR), which is generally fabulous, and it’s becoming a reflex to remember to worry about Open Access issues, at least for those us in the UK worrying about whether our publications will be able to ‘count’ for the purposes of the Research Excellence Framework hoop-jumping exercise – but the article itself hasn’t dramatically changed in decades, and nor have the journals that might publish it (even something completely online like Histos otherwise more or less replicates the format of a traditional journal). Of course this is at least partly a consequence of working in a humanities discipline; for the most part we don’t have large quantities of supporting data that isn’t accessible elsewhere, so the possibility of uploading masses of supplementary material doesn’t mean as much to us as it does to those working in other fields. (more…)

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There is one crucial question about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ model of power transition and the confrontation of rising and ruling powers* that has not yet, so far as I’m aware, been asked: what sort of trap did Thucydides have in mind? Mouse? Elephant? Bear? Rat? Lobster? Honey? Because clearly this must affect how we imagine the process of being captured and the possibility, if any, of escape – and indeed the likelihood of realising that one is in a trap in the first place, before it’s too late. A basic starting assumption for such an analysis is that the idea must be based on ancient Greek hunting technology, and so, in the absence of any comment on the subject from Thucydides himself – we can safely assume his familiarity, as an Athenian aristocrat, with the basic techniques – we turn to a comparable figure in the next generation, Xenophon, and his treatise Cynegeticus, or Hunting with Dogs. (more…)

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It is a bizarre but entirely undiscussed paradox that the alleged technological underdevelopment and primitivist mindset of the ancient world – see M.I. Finley and his followers – was often illustrated by the story (Pliny NH 36.195, Petronius Satyricon 51) of the man who brought to the Emperor Tiberius a goblet made of unbreakable glass, that did not shatter when dropped and could be made perfectly whole again if damaged – and was put to death for his pains. “Hostility to innovation!” they cry. “And isn’t it significant that an inventor went to the emperor for a reward, not to a hi-tech start-up for capital investment?” Well, maybe. But the most important questions are: what was this material, and where did it come from? (more…)

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There are two carved reliefs above the entrances to the Yale Law School intended to make a point about teaching. On the left (or above, depending on how your browser is showing it), above the students’ entrance, we have the students’ conception of the lecture: they’re engaged and eager to learn, but the professor is bored and would rather be doing something else, and his assistant is completely disengaged, reading pornography. On the right (below) we have the professors’ conception: brilliant, passionate lecturer with students fast asleep. The dominant contemporary image of the lecture is the worst of both worlds, with disengagement on both sides – let alone when we’re talking about scores of students rather than half a dozen. That is, the negative perceptions and expectations on either side – and, let’s be honest, there are real negative experiences on both sides as well – are taken to define the nature of the whole exercise.
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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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It’s the week before my first week of teaching in Exeter (a week earlier than I’m used to, creating an unfortunate clash with the Deutsche Historikertag in Hamburg, so it’s actually going to be my first half week of teaching…). Busy uploading module (not ‘unit’ or ‘course’; must remember that) information onto ELE, learning the relationship between seminars and study groups, revising the ILOs according to house style, checking availability of e-books, re-writing guidance on source analysis exercises, navigating SRS to send out messages, trying to grasp the workings of BART and RECAP, and wondering where I put my copy of the guide to local acronyms. I dunno, in my day you got a photocopied bibliography in the first lecture if you were lucky, none of this spoon-feeding and eDucation nonsense… (more…)

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