More on Codex: Books, Performance, and Archaeology

I was initially drawn to Micah Bloom’s Codex project because it combined two elements that have become more or less central to my life: books and archaeology. At our book launch event last Friday, I realized that Bloom’s project had even more in common with my interests than I had initially recognized. In a short presentation Bloom unpacked the process of developing both the Codex book and short films that came from his efforts to document the books scattered about the Minot landscape.

If you don’t know Micah Bloom’s Codex, do go and check it out now.

In a brief back-and-forth in Minot, I asked Micah if he was inspired by recent work in “archaeology of the contemporary world.” I was inspired to ask after he discussed the particular care that he and his team took to document the scattered books both in situ and to number, label, preserve, and photograph the collected books systematically. Moreover, his team donned hazmat type as you can see in this clip from his film, and approached each artifact with extraordinary care

He admitted that he wasn’t particular familiar with this frequently theoretical (or at least conceptually ambitious) branch of archaeological work. He was inspired, however, by various manuals and technical literature that he found on for dealing with toxic objects, biological waste (including bodies), and other potentially contaminated (and contaminating) detritus. In other words, he used technical literature as a guide to performing real archaeological fieldwork, not in order to produce a thoroughly and systematically documented record of the 2011 Minot flood, but capture the particular sanctity of the books left behind in its receding waters. Performing archaeological work demonstrated care.

Archaeologists like Michael Shanks have long recognized the confluence of archaeological work and performance, and, indeed, theater. Without delving too deeply into this inspiring, if complex set of ideas, I have always struggled a bit to understand the relationship between the superficiality of theater – that is the concession in theater that the actors and the audience both have to suspend disbelief and recognize the actors as acting their parts – and archaeological methods, which ideally guide actions even when no one is looking. This isn’t meant to denigrate the work of actors and the depth of the characters that they portray or the promote the idea of the archaeologist as a singularly and consistently principled practitioner (but I’m sure most of us say that we try to be). The desire to keep our scarps straight is not just a cosmetic act that reinforces the scientific (scientistical?) precision of our work, but a practical way to make the stratigraphic relationships between various depositional events more visible. An actor may embrace certain aspects of a character off the stage (perhaps as part of an approach inspired by method acting), but this is fundamentally secondary to role played on the stage. There is always a risk, then, in emphasizing the performative in archaeology that we succumb to the artificiality of the aesthetic and as Michael Shanks has realized “abstracted from what is being represented, removed in an escape from social and historical reality, from anonymous popular masses, from the messy vernacular human and natural detail…”

Micah’s work offers an intriguing complication to this risk. Not only did he document his work to bring order to the messy chaos of flood recovery speak to a particular moment in time (and an effort to resolve what must have been a pervasive feeling of disrupted existence), but he also documented the books themselves in ways that are not immediately visible in his published work. For example, he disclosed that he has photographs of hundreds of books in situ and once he and his team collected and documented them. He also has a database (technically a spreadsheet) of close to 800 books recovered, identified, photographed, and documented from his work. Unlike the public facing work of the film and book and installation, these aspects of the Codex project, like the method actors behind the scenes routine, remains out of sight (at least, for now). 

Since Micah’s presentation, I’ve been turning around in my head how to make at least some of this archive available. Whether this archive will produce new archaeological, historical, or cultural knowledge is difficult to say, but it does reveal the depth of Codex as a form of authentic archaeological engagement with the world. 

The Digital Version of Codex is LIVE.

I’m super excited to announce that the digital version of Codex is (a)live now.

Go and download it!

Codex Tradebook Cover Cropped

This project feels like the most ambitious project that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has undertaken to date, but made possible through the generous and sustained collaboration with Micah Bloom, Marissa Dyke (his design intern), and the contributors and editors of the volume (including Dave Haeselin’s writing and editing class in the English Department).

The digital volume is beautiful, well-designed, and thought provoking.

And the work isn’t done, yet! We are almost ready to release the trade paperback version of the book and there is talk about a small, unnumbered, print run of the hardbound version. 

Finally, we’re doing a public release of Codex tomorrow at Minot State. 

Book poster as book

So stay tuned for more.

Codex final large book 3

The Matter of History

I really enjoyed Tim LeCain’s first book, Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet (2009) and that made me particularly excited to read his newest work The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past (2017). LeCain pulls apart the recent interest in materiality in history and situates it as a response, in part, to the growing dissatisfaction with so-called constructivist views of the past. These views, championed by critical theorists of the 1970d and 1980s, “marginalized matter” by viewing the world as a cultural construct established by a dense network of relational ontologies. While this remains a tremendously influential method for understanding texts, historians and archaeologists have typically approached these ways of thinking with a bit of ambivalence. After all, historians and archaeologists build arguments from evidence and, as a result, view these pieces of evidence as somehow being sufficiently essential to support our arguments for a real past. 

For LeCain, this view of the past as real opens the door not to some kind simplistic epistemology that sets the past up as a kind of immutable reality to be mined by the historian for facts, but rather provides space for the place of matter – in all its myriad forms as objects, animals, buildings, landscapes – in our understanding of the world. For LeCain, the matter of history is quite literally matter itself. By allowing matter space in the world of the historian, LeCain recognizes that humans are material and the materiality of both human things and non-human things constrains and enables humans to act. 

While this might sound like the fairly heady (if increasingly typical) and philosophical stuff circulating widely in the world of new or neo-materialists, LeCain grounds his commitment to empiricism in a series of compelling case studies that range from the fate of long-horns in the Deer Lodge Valley in Montana when confronted by the polluting smoke of a smelting furnace to the role of the silkworm in modernizing Shimotsuke Japan. LeCain’s arguments develop from his significant understanding of copper mining and smelting on a global scale. In both Montana and Japan, the expansion of copper production compromised local agriculture and sericulture by introducing sulfur, arsenic, and other heavy metals into the local ecosystem. The conductive properties of copper were vital to the electrification of the modern world and advancing the ambitions of Japan on a regional and ultimately global scale. By interweaving humans, animals, industry, chemicals, and even the very much elemental cooper and downright molecular quality of electricity, LeCain works to demonstrate the fundamental continuity between aspects of the world frequently divided into categories of “nature” and “culture.”

Butte MT Berkeley Pit April 2005 Composite Fisheye View

Historians are nothing if not practical in their approach to the past. By challenging the divisions between the natural and the culture in our world, LeCain not only offers a compelling critique of the once-pervasive constructivism, but also establishes the practical value of the new materialism for historical work. Over the last decade, this critique has frequently come from scholars eager to recognize the agency of things. In many cases, this has resulted in making things oddly human with biographies and agency that frequently do little more than present the “life of things” as a superficial reflection of how we have traditionally seen ourselves. As a result, we avoid dealing with the “thingness” of things, but slotting them into an existing ontology that is ultimately derived from the very nature-culture division that we’re seeks to subvert. LeCain’s book avoids this common challenge in talking about things by both recognizing the humanity of humans as vital for understanding the world (there is, after all, a limit to our powers of empathy; it is pretty much impossible to feel for a hammer or an atom of copper), but not as something that exists outside the world. Things of all kinds – from silkworms and longhorns to arsenic – are allowed to thrive in LeCain’s narrative, but they do not bear the burden of a concept of agency built upon an assumption of human dominance of the material world.    

Instead, LeCain might be accused of limiting, in a cautious and deliberate way, the agency of humans in their control over the world. His book starts with a discussion of the symbiosis between various gut bacteria, mineral resources, and the long trajectory of human evolution to recognize the place of humans within a world that we frequently set aside as “natural.” He then engages R. G. Collingwood’s critique that all history is the study of thought (and thought is manifest, in part, in human action) and not the study of the unthinking material world of nature and things. LeCain’s book is in many ways a response to Collingwood’s views. He demonstrates that the division between the material and the human is illusory because we cannot separate thinking about things from thinking with things. If Collingwood celebrated the transcendent and even disembodied human mind as the locus of history, LeCain returned the mind to both the body and its place in the world. In his hands, this proposition seems less of a radical explosion of centuries-old divisions between mind and matter and more a commonsensical reminder of the real task of the historian is to unpack the complexities of human action in the world. 

Micah Bloom and Codex in Minot

If you’re in the Minot, North Dakota area, you should make a point to come and check out my presentation with Micah Bloom, the author of the very soon to be released book Codex from the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Friday, November 3, at 12. I’ll be joining Micah and three contributors to the book, Bethany Andreasen, Ryan Stander, and Robert Kibler in Minot State University’s Aleshire Theater. 

I’m pretty excited to head out West, and while my visit with my colleagues at Minot State will be short, I’m looking forward to catching up with Ryan Stander, who worked with us one summer at Koutsopetria as our artist in residence. Unfortunately the online exhibit associated with Ryan’s ran out of funding here at UND, but I have the images and the essays associated with the project and still think about doing something with them.

Micah has been the consummate collaborator on the Codex project and has literally worked on every part of the project from the layout and design of the book to helping edit the essays and strategizing publicity for the event. In many ways, Codex was the ultimate example of cooperative publishing with students from David Haeselin’s writing and publishing class lending a hand in copy editing, Micah and his crew chipping in on layout, and my little outfit working on the production side of things.

So, please check out my talk on Friday!

Here’s the flyer:

Caraher Bloom Minot

And, if you’re still reading, do click this link.

More Punk Rock (with an interview)

I used to do this more often (and I probably should do it more), but today, I’m going to send you over to the North Dakota Quarterly page where I have a long interview with Brian James Schill about his recently published book This Year’s Work in the Punk Bookshelf, Or, Lusty Scripts (2017). It’s a good book and was just reviewed by the LARB in an article about a few new books on literature and pop music, and Brian was a really good sport about talking with me over a string of emails. 

It was pretty hard to do an interview without constantly blurting out “YEAH, you think you’re SO COOL? Well, I know some OBSCURE BANDS TOO, man! And, like, I also produced a book about PUNK ROCK MUSIC. So, you’re not THAT cool. I mean, pretty cool, but only because you’re LIKE ME, not because you’re book. I did my book in 2014, and MOST PEOPLE only like the earlier stuff.” 

I think I more or less managed avoid to say those exact words, but I think the sense of that is still there in the background. What can you do, right?  

It’s an epic interview with a bunch of music and a really cool playlist at the end and some fun links to music throughout. 

So go and check it out.

Another One for The Punk [Archaeology] Bookshelf

I finally got a chance to finish reading Brian James Schill’s This Years Work in the Punk Bookshelf, or, Lusty Scripts (2017). It is a vital component to any collection of recent punk rock literature and holds its own next to Zach Furness’s Punkademics, Beer’s Punk Sociology, and, even (modestly of course), Punk Archaeology.

Unlike those books which tend to deal more with the performative aspects of the punk movement, their radical politics, DIY aesthetic, or their general ambivalence toward convention, Schill’s book considers the intellectual roots of punk rocks and reconstructs a punk bookshelf filled with the works of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Genet, and Philip K. Dick. While, I won’t do too much of a review here, because I’m interviewing him for a longer piece over at North Dakota Quarterly that’ll appear next week, I wanted to draw some attention to this book, especially among my punk archaeology friends.

One of the key things that I learned from Schill’s careful reading of punk lyrics and punk literature – from the genuine literary outputs of Richard Hell and Exene Cervenka to the myriad interviews in often ephemeral punk and music zines of the day, is the tremendous ambivalence in punk. For every moment of Dionysian fervor on stage, there’s an equal moment of contemplative reflection on genuinely challenging texts that fueled their transgression. The careful reading of Marx and the frequent commitment to radical politics belied their sometimes bourgeois upbringing and tastes in literature. Their rejection of convention often did not extend to their rejection of education with numerous punks going on to receive graduate degrees. Schill’s work explores and attempts in many ways to resolve this tension and to demonstrate certain broad patterns in punk bookshelf that both elucidate and run counter to the prevailing view of punk as an anti-intellectual movement.

The book is very much an exploration of punk as a field of literary expression that is only gently tethered to social, economic, cultural or political life of the day, the grind of the music industry, or even the musicality of punk in general. But this is not a bad thing, necessarily, because it shows that however much punks were sellouts, products of their era, poor or untrained or just uninteresting musicians, or posers, they were well-read, thoughtful, and reflective. In a word, no matter how much their music seemed and sounded derivative, uncontrolled, and angry, they were not superficial and in their own way they sought to be genuine.

When Kostis Kourelis and I started talking about punk archaeology, we began with the simple question of why so many archaeologists found something significant in punk rock music. Pursuing that across a blog and a book, we argued that it was the DIY aesthetic, the critique of convention, or even the explicitly performative character of archaeological work that drew us to punk. We didn’t say as much about the intellectual side of punk rock. Maybe we recognized the Marxist, collectivist character of the Mekons, the presence of entropy and destruction in the work of the Velvet Underground or Iggy Pop, or the focus on materiality in Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and other cyberpunk authors, but we certainly didn’t dig as deeply (see what I did there?) into the intellectual roots of punk rock to find cross currents with archaeological work (or at least I didn’t). Even the allusions to Freud that Schill excavates from numerous punk songs passed through the collective sieves of our punk archaeological imaginations.  

Schill’s book brings the intellectual aspects of punk rock into a greater focus, and in that way deserves a place on the punk [archaeology] bookshelf. Stay tuned for a conversation with the author over at the North Dakota Quarterly page next week!

Hybridizing Paper

This is probably too grandiose a title for this blog post, but after my post last week, I realized that I had some odds and ends that I meant to include, but for various reasons did not. Most of these focus on the idea that the potential of digital media and digital books has tended to be set in opposition to paper books and traditional media. If hybridization occurred, as I proposed in my post last week, it tended to be in the creation of digital media that formally adopted some of the characteristics of paper books. This is best manifest in the continued currency of the PDF files as probably the most common and perhaps the most functionally useful way to circulate digital content. They look like a page, act like a book, yet are open to external hyperlinks, video, audio, and 3D content, and relatively seamless linear and nonlinear organization that does not compromise the basic structure of the page or the codex.

I’m more interested right now in the flip side of this situation. This past week a paper book that I wrote with Bret Weber has appeared from North Dakota State University Press. It is published only in paper, and as far as I know, there are no plans to make the book available in a digital format. As I’ve blogged on before, I have an interest in expanding the paper book to include both updates to the itineraries, but, more important, updates to the ideas present in the work. In effect, I want to wrap the book in a new context that allows the original paper volume to continue to stand as a unit, but can also offer new ways of thinking about it through updated research, reading, and thinking.

The desire to move from digital to paper and to digital again, I think is one of the intriguing challenges facing publishing these days. As I outlined with my new project in collaboration with the digital journal Epoiesen, establishing ties that link paper to digital content is both an aesthetic and practical challenge. 

It is interesting to note that there are some recent ventures in commercial publishing that have wrestled with the exact same issue. In my little corner of the world, for example, the watch blog Hodinkee recently published its first paper magazine. Carrying over many of the key aesthetic features from the blog, including the high quality color photography and genteel style, the magazine runs to $27.00. There are, of course, branding issues here that suggest that perhaps serve to distance the premium periodical from the more lowly blog while at the same time demonstrating a family resemblance.

My favorite audiophile blog, Parttime Audiophile, has recently initiated a similar venture with a downloadable .pdf called The Occasional. While this is a clever play on the “part-time” name, it sets itself apart with its higher production quality and its explicit print orientation, although at present, it is only available as a download. The presence of two page spreads, the organization of the text in difficult to read (and non-justified!) columns, and the absence of hyperlinks makes it more difficult to read as a digital document, but also clearly echoes the paper page. 

As I’m looking ahead to new ways to bring North Dakota Quarterly to a new and expanded audience, I’m likewise facing the challenge of integrating regular digital content appearing on our website with ab annual paper version.  

There are reasons, of course, for the persistence of paper. In the case of Hodinkee or (perhaps hinted at by The Occasional), there is a prestige associated with print even if it is digitally mediated. For upscale commodities like watches and high-end stereo equipment people expect a certain kind of luxury even in the media surrounding these products. My colleagues at NDQ have tended to emphasize the physicality of the paper book and the character of the final product as evidence for having MADE something. I admit that this feeling of making has carried over into my love of producing paper books as well. 

For academic work, there is another important and more practical aspect to producing paper that hybridizes with the digital. In academic culture it is still easier to cite paper (or paper-like) versions of books and article according to page numbers. Reviewers continue to prefer paper books – when given the option – and libraries remain better equipped to catalogue, preserver, and circulate print copies even as their book budgets continue to shrink. Paper copies, whether on the desk of an editor or on a library shelf, conform to certain institutional expectations for how knowledge looks physically. Of course, this might be a temporary or transitional stage in how knowledge looks and circulates as we come to terms with a more robust and complex digital future, but the massive history and continued ubiquity of printed media suggests that these paradigms will be slow to change.

All this is to say that one of key challenges facing publishing these days is not making digital less like paper, but making paper more like digital. There is a present need to create hybrid forms of paper media that push the boundaries of how the paper codex has traditionally functioned and to blur the lines between paper and digital. This under-appreciated and under-recognized form of hybridity will be part of what The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota explores.

Analogue Anxieties at a Digital Press

A few weeks ago, Sebastian Heath, one of the more thoughtful and long-standing participants in my corner of digital archaeology, and I got into a bit of a disagreement about the continued utility of the .pdf file type in digital publishing. Heath argued, to put words in his mouth, that other superior formats exist that are more flexible, dynamic, and suitable to a digital medium. Various forms of mark-up allow texts to be machine readable to present embedded data in a more accessible and useful way and enable text to be displayed in different formats on different machines by different software. In most ways, mark-up formats (I suppose we can call them) are better than the crusty old .pdf file type.

At the same time, as a small publisher and a regular consumer of .pdf files, there are certain advantages of this venerable file type. First, they are ubiquitous to the point that they don’t require any special software on most devices (with the exception of dedicated ebook readers which generally only like one kind of file), they don’t require an internet connection to read, and are archival. Second, they are baked into most publishers’ workflows because they represent a useful and easy intermediate step between digital layout and print publication. And finally, there is something tremendously familiar to the .pdf. It produces a document that looks like a page and works, on a basic level, like a book. Whatever its limitations from a technological standpoint, a .pdf is the digital expression of the codex page and there is something deeply comforting in that. They’re easy to cite, because they’re well-suited for page numbers and most pdf software allows readers to even annotate these files with highlights, underlines, and even skeuomorphic post-it notes that reinforce the idea that a pdf page is the digital equivalent of a page in a codex. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the codex and the published book – whether in paper or digital form – is fundamental to the construction of academy and the reading public (as Laura Mandell has so clearly argued in her Breaking the Book (2015)). Between digital convenience (in both production and consumption) and familiarity, they represent a particularly useful hybrid type.

At the same time they do produce certain challenges. As my fall production schedule at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota gets underway, I’m facing some analogue anxieties as I think about producing my next batch of analogue/digital hybrids.

Epoiesen Annual. Earlier this month, I agreed to work with Shawn Graham and his team to produce an annual print (and probably pdf) volume from the content of his new journal Epoiesen. He sent along a bunch of markdown files that I had to then figure out how to convert to something that can be easily ingested into InDesign where I do layout. This ended up being fairly simple using Pandoc, but now I’m also confronted with the challenge of designing a page to accommodate the the complexities of a markdown document including hyperlinks (which will function perfectly well in a pdf, but not necessarily in a paper book!). In particular how will I keep the page uncluttered while displaying hyperlinks as well as marking each article with its own DOI and license? 

Secret 3D Project. So I have a slowly developing, “top secret,” 3D project that will involve embedding 3D archaeological objects in pdf documents using the 3D pdf capabilities. This allows for a small press like mine to disseminate 3D content in a tidy and familiar package. Unlike recent efforts to publish archaeological objects in 3D, this project will embrace the hybrid nature of the pdf by retaining the traditional format of the codex while at the same time introducing more dynamic data. Like some earlier efforts at producing a linked pdf version of a traditional archaeological monograph, the pdf version will have links to both higher resolution 3D models and their complete digital associated metadata, but the pdf will also serve as a truly portable, standalone book that can be used independently of a broadband internet connection. At the same time, I’ve been urging the authors to consider a paper version of this digital book. Obviously the paper version will not include 3D content, but it will take the concept of digital hybridity a step further by working to develop the paper side of digital hybridity in a more seamless way.

Codex. As a template for this kind of hybridity, I’ve been working with Micah Bloom on a dynamic multimedia publication project that involves a digital book, video, and a trade paperback. One of the little cosmetic challenges that he and I have faced is that many stable URIs are not aesthetically attractive or humanly readable. In the case of Open Context URIs for example, they look like this: This will be less than optimal to use outside of a purely digital context. As the address behind a link, for example, it won’t matter that the URI runs 50 characters, but in a print book, this is an awkward address in a footnote or in in-text citation. One alternative, that we used in Mobilizing the Past, is QR codes, but from an aesthetic and formatting perspective, these are always a bit less than ideal. They tend to be clunky, are no more humanly readable than a massive URI, and require a device with an installed QR code reader to direct the audience to a website (and these readers are less common on laptops and more common on mobile devices, but many of the data-rich pages that a reader might want to view are probably best viewed on a laptop.) There isn’t a simple solution to this issue, but it does, to my mind, reinforce certain challenges that face various kinds of hybrid publications that seek to move the reader from the world of print and the page (whether digital or paper) to the more fluid space of the web.

It goes without saying that we’re in a liminal space in the history of paper and digital media. The codex and the printed page (whether digitally or physically rendered) continue to play an important role in academic communication. Our citation systems, design language and aesthetics, technologies, publishing workflows, and even – as I have observed before – reading preferences (which still favor paper books or rather more linear and “orthodox” engagements with texts) are embedded in the construction and persistent utility of the codex and the page while at the same time, there are legitimate pressures literally pulling the book (and the publishing industry) apart. Navigating these pressures remains, for my little press, the greatest challenge in contributing to the construction of a sustainable alternative model of publishing. 

On The Classical Debt

Like 98% of the Classicists (or at least Hellenists) in the world right now, I’ve just finished reading Johana Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Age of Austerity (2017). It’s a remarkable book that traces the history of the concept of “Greek debt” from conversations about the West’s historical debt to Greek democracy, philosophy, and science to the recent economic crisis in Greece largely triggered by Greece’s economic debt to various Western European institutions. Hanink shows how these two concepts of debt are deeply entangled with the former working as an Enlightenment fueled spark that ignited Greek nationalism in the 17th and 19th centuries and the latter shackling the resulting Greek nation to the political and economic interests of Western European powers.

(Read my friend Dimitri Nakassis’s post on the book here.)

Hanink’s account begins in Classical antiquity where she argued that Athenian propaganda provided a foundation for later accounts of the “Greek miracle” which produced the flourishing art, architecture, philosophical life, and, of course, democracy. She located this propaganda within a critical context of the Classical period demonstrating that even in the 5th- and 4th-century Athens, dissenting views existed. In the end, the more heroic and triumphant narrative of Athenian and ultimately Greek exceptionalism came to dominate the canonical view of the Classical age owing in no small part to the Roman, Byzantine, and even Arab, Ottoman, and Medieval interlocutors who celebrated the monuments and literature of Pericles’ city.

Hanink largely overlooks the gap between the ancient and modern world and relegates a millennium of engagement with the Classical past to the status of passive “filters” that distilled the narrative of Athenian and Greek exceptionalism down to an almost irrefutable essence. This leap makes sense for the larger goals of her work which really begins with the potent re-imaginings of the European and Greek Philhellenes whose late 18th and 19th century work formed the basis for locating the Classical spirit in the landscapes, monuments, and people at the periphery of the shaky Ottoman Empire (with a brief, but significant passage through Evliya Celebi’s accounts of late-17th-century Ottoman Athens). In many ways, the paradoxes of this initial engagement of Europeans with the town of Athens culminated in Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles and their bumpy journey back the England and into the British Museum (if not in the wayward Venetian shell that began the task of purging the Acropolis of later accretions). The desire to transform the physical place of modern Greece into a European home for democracy, philosophy, art, and literature came in the aftermath of the Battle Navarino in 1827, when the opportunity to construct a modern nation-state on the physical territory of the Classical past became clear. With inspiration from Byron and Koraïs, the European debt to Greek antiquity became politically manifest in the new Greek state and its reconstructed capital crowned by the Acropolis and the ageless Parthenon.

Hanink’s description of the modern debt crisis in Greece is among the best that I’ve read in that it both maintains the utter incomprehensibility of contemporary global finance while also driving home causes and consequences ranging from the 2004 Athens Olympics to the collapse of the Greek public sector and social safety net. (On a personal note, the trajectory of the Greek economic miracle of the late-1990s and early 2000s parallels my own discovery of Greece and two lengthy stints in Athens. Hanink doesn’t quite capture the pride that Athens felt being welcomed into the club of Europe (despite being part of the EU (and its predecessor the EEC since 1981) by adopting the Euro and ultimately hosting the Olympics.) The scorn that Greece attracted with the collapse of the Greek economy and the painful and humiliating bailout conditions appeared in the jeering cartoons published in multiple media outlets that framed the Greeks as unworthy heirs of their Classical legacy. Whatever debt Europe owned to Ancient Greece became a burden borne by the nation as it alternately reminded Europe of its intellectual and political history and endured the economic consequences of its modern legacy.

The book concludes with an epilogue the offers a way to engage with the narrative of Western Civilization that recognizes both ancient Athenian discourse and its influence on the modern construction of our own views of antiquity. At the same time, she urges teachers to consider alternate narratives that offer the potential to free ourselves from our debt to the ancient world (and Greece, in particular) enabling us, like modern Greece, to find a new way forward and to image new, less encumbered, futures.

This is a very good book. My only real critique of Haninck is that her work contributes relatively little upon which to form an alternative narrative of Greek debt. In fact, the book’s binocular vision of Classical antiquity and the modern world reduces the crucial two millennium between the peak of Pericles’ Athens and Renaissance to the passive status of filter. By doing this, she largely overlooks the contribution of the Roman second sophistic, the complicating burden of Christianity, the trauma of the Crusades, the Frankokratia, and Ottoman conquests, as well as the complicated and sometimes contradictory narrative present in contemporary Greek nationalism. Her reasons for overlooking these centuries are, of course, understandable considering the book’s accessible approach and, more importantly, her focus on a particularly influential strand in the current political discourse. At the same time, I suspect that understanding and even rehabilitating the filtering history of these two millennia offer the best hope of creating a new foundation for our own Western identity and freeing Greece from the pressures that Hanink rightly views as overwhelming and overwriting any autonomous and potentially liberating counter-narrative.

My point isn’t to undermine or question the motives of Hanink’s work, but to push it just a bit by suggesting that her own work does little to complicate the 18th and early-19th prefiguration of a “Greek” nationalism that emerged from the Classical discourse. For example, Evliya Celebi’s description of the light-filled mosque of the Parthenon is almost certainly an echo of the Byzantine tradition which celebrated the miraculous the light associated with the Parthenon as the cathedral of Athens. Anthony Kaldellis has argued that this  Medieval “filter” magnified this building’s renown during the Frankish period and ensured that the Parthenon would hold pride of place among Classical monuments in Greece. Elsewhere, she slips and says that the Greeks were never really colonized, but, of course, that overlooks the history of the Ionian Islands and the Dodecanese, whose identities and connection with Western Europe emerged in a kind of colonial continuity that extended from the Fourth Crusade to French Revolution (and beyond), as well as the unique political history of Crete. These places with their colonial histories provided modern Greece with many of its influential political leaders from Capodistrias to Venezelos. Finally, the Megali Idea, that fueled so much Greek nationalism of the first half of the 20th century, owed as much to ideas cultivated in a kind of post-Byzantine millenarianism that regularly witnessed a hope for liberation in religious images of the empty imperial throne in Constantinople.

The point of this isn’t to find a niggling examples with which to undermine her argument, but perhaps complicate it in a productive way. Her binocular attention to Classical antiquity and the modern world set in a kind of relief the two-millennium-long filtering process between various groups who made often-rival claims to the Classical past, inhabited its ruins, and negotiated a dense web of economic, religious, and intellectual debts. I suspect that these tangled, dynamic, and obscure millennia offer a key to a productive reconsideration of Greek debt, both in terms of our persistent interest in a shared (but diverse) narrative of Western culture and in the real consequences of the growing economic inequality between creditor and debtor nations that preserve the historical legacy of the  “Classical” Mediterranean.