More 7th Century

Just a short post this morning, but I’ve really been enjoying John Haldon’s The Empire That Would Not Die: The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740 (Harvard 2016). In many ways, Haldon has been responsible for the changing perceptions of the 7th and 8th century among historians and archaeologists with his several, high-influential works on the topic.

His most recent work stands 25 years (well 26), after his Byzantium in the Seventh Century, and surveys the field since this important work. The book brings together politics and religion with institutional history of the Roman state and the archaeology and even environmental history of the Late Roman world. I’ll reflect on the book more expansively next week.

What interested me the most for now, however, is that Haldon decided to use a biological metaphor for his study of the Roman state. His title and, indeed, the main focus of the book, is that states must “die.” The persistence of the Roman state in the Eastern Mediterranean, despite the massive dislocations, turmoil, and changes of the 7th and 8th centuries, is, in some ways, its exceptional feature. For Haldon, the military and economic pressures on the state created conditions under which it should fail, but it didn’t.

It’s interesting that among archaeologists, we’ve increasingly come to expect continuity despite political and economic changes. In other words, we’re less inclined to expect a local social organization, political structures, or material culture to change even under rather dire or extreme pressures from military interventions or regime change. This speaks to the deep affinity to structuralism among archaeologist, our inclination to study society at the scale of centuries, and our profoundly ironic attitude to the traditional historical discourse. If history says change, archaeology frequently calls for continuity. 

As I read Haldon’s book, I can’t help but constantly turn his premise on its head and wonder what agents and force would be necessary to make a state change at all and what kind of change would be necessary for us to declare a state well and truly dead. 

The Northern Great Plains History Conference and the Bakken

Next fall, the Northern Great Plains History Conference will be in Grand Forks. So my colleagues and I put together a panel proposal on the Bakken.

Here it is:

The 21st-century Bakken Oil Boom in Historical Perspective

While the Bakken Oil Boom may have gone into momentary abeyance, its long shadow continues to extend over both the economy and the cultural and political imagination of North Dakota. The papers in this panel consider the technological innovations that led to the increase oil production and population, the historical context for violence in the region, and the structure of the Bakken work force as a manifestation of the 21st-centurty concerns with precarity. The final paper presents a broadly synthetic attempt to frame the Bakken at the intersection of late modernity, petroculture, and the tourist’s gaze upon an industrialized landscape. These papers offer a distinct local and early effort by historians to understand the history of the Bakken Boom and to reflect on contemporary and future challenges facing the state.

North Dakota’s Super Boom:  How Fracking Changed Production in Bakken
Clarence Herz, Department of History, North Dakota State University

From Prohibition to Safe Harbor: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of North Dakota’s Commercial Sex Laws
Nikki Berg Burin, Department of History, University of North Dakota

Tales of Murder and Mayhem: Historical Violence in the Bakken
Richard Rothaus, North Dakota University System 

Aliens in the Bakken: Precarity and Workforce Housing
Bret Weber, Department of Social Work, University of North Dakota

The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of an Industrial Landscape
William Caraher, Department of History, University of North Dakota

 

Three Things Wednesday

I’ve been writing a bit frantically lately, and this morning, I don’t really feel it. So instead of some (in)coherent blogpost rant, I’ll offer three quick things that occupied my mind on my drive to campus this morning.

Forty Book February

This month was the first month in the history of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that we sold 40 books (actually 41)! Selling paper books has always been a rather small part of what I do at The Digital Press, but as recent, middling figures for the sale for ebooks have shown, people love paper. (That being said, downloads of our books outpaced sales by about 10:1).

The strong February sales were driven in part by Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, but almost every book in our catalogue got some love this month. 

What is more interesting (at least to me) is that Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology edited by myself and Brandon Olson is the only book that did not sell a copy, despite being the most widely cited book in The Digital Press catalogue with close to 10 citations in a wide range of books and journals (Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Antiquity, Journal of Field Archaeology, Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization). I suspect the price ($24) has something to do with it and this was an unavoidable consequence of the color printing. Maybe the topic of the book, which was meant to capture a particular moment in time, made the book easily dated?

Immigrants and Emerson 

Here in the Northland, we’ve heard an alarming number of stories about immigrants crossing the rural border between the U.S. and Canada out of fear of deportation. Crossing the border by foot in the winter has cost some of these individuals fingers and toes and nearly their lives. This terrifying new reality has put a profoundly human and local face on the global refugee crisis and got me and my colleagues, Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis, thinking about whether an archaeology of these crossings could help us (and our communities) understand what we need to do to help people so desperate and afraid that they’d risk their lives to be free. Taking a page from Jason De León’s Undocumented Migration Project and our own experience working on the archaeology of the contemporary world, we’ve just begun to imagine ways in which we could realize an archaeology of care here in North Dakota.

We don’t have plans yet and recognize the need for collaboration on both sides of the border and the time and space to develop a thoughtful, humane, and systematic approach to the local side of a global problem. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming forum in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology that will help frame archaeology’s role in the ongoing crisis.

Threshold Concepts

The next big thing in pedagogy (at least here in North Dakota) seems to be threshold concepts. While I won’t pretend to understand the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of the idea, it seems to have something to with the idea or concept in a class (or even a discipline) that pushes a student from superficial bafflement to deep understanding. I like the idea because it so neatly describes the breakthrough point that most of us have experienced when studying, say, an language or a particularly tricky text that allows us almost suddenly to wrap our heads around what an author or even a culture is saying. The idea behind threshold concepts, from what I gather, is to recognize and foreground the understanding that creates this breakthrough experience.

A colleague got me thinking about the threshold concepts for history and how students think about arguments, facts, evidence, and theory. For many – even some of our M.A. students – history is about combining “facts” into arguments. This is a fine basic understanding, but runs the risk of essentializing historical evidence as static facts and viewing arguments as self-contained entities that do not rely on larger (and more complex) standards for their validity. After all, an argument is only as good within a particular regime of authority, style, discourse, and even political standing. 

Three Good Reads

There has been a pretty entertaining and perhaps useful conversation about the future of Classical archaeology over the last few weeks and the blog posts and chat across social media and email has prompted me to read some things that I wouldn’t otherwise. (For a start on that, check out Dimitri Nakassis’s two part blog series here and here.)

First, check out Severin Fowles, “The Perfect Subject (postcolonial object study)” in the Journal of Material Culture 21.1 (2016). Fowles argues that the recent shift to objects as the focus for study in anthropology (but this could be expanded across the humanities and social sciences) is really a response to growing anxiety that speaking about and for other people (whether formally colonial or simply colonized by our academic gaze) has become ethically challenging. The article is a compelling critique of our recent fetishization of stuff.

Then, check out Susan Pollock’s “The Subject of Suffering” from American Anthropologist 118.4 (2016). It was the Patty Jo Watson lecture AAA annual meeting. This article circulated as we discussed the need for a new sense of ethical responsibility in Classical archaeology. Pollock argues that one aspect of this is the archaeology of suffering. In her discussion of the archaeology of a Nazi era site she emphasized the unexpected impact of objects associated with abject human suffering in her excavations and how this challenged long held ideas that archaeology should be objective, detached and scientific. It is an interesting contribution to our recent thoughts about an archaeology of care.

From the same volume of American Anthropologist, check out Mark D. Flemming’s “Mass Transit Workers and Neoliberal Time Discipline in San Francisco”. Flemming riffs on E.P. Thomspon’s well-known 1967 article “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” as he explores the plight of mass transit workers in San Francisco arguing that the city supported by local citizen groups used attitudes toward race, a widespread view of civic employees as unproductive, and unrealistic schedules to undermine organize labor. The result is more short-term and part time workers in the San Francisco mass transit system who do not receive the benefits as full-time union workers. For Flemming, this case study reflects a wider transformation of labor, time, and work-discipline to accommodate a set of neoliberal values that further commodify and fragment human labor. 

And, if you still need something to read, do check out the free download of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. Here’s a link to download the book. Every download makes a puppy smile!

Graduate Historiography

Over the last few years, my various blog posts on my graduate historiography seminar have attracted a good bit of attention. I’m supremely unqualified to teach this class and agreed to teach it in a fit of assistant-professor generosity. In any event, I’ve taught the class for over a decade now and have been working on refining the course and making sure the various pieces of the class fit together into a coherent project.

The biggest addition this semester is something on the anthropocene. I think I’ll start with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “The Climate of History: Four Theses” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009), 197-222 and maybe some of its critiques especially R. Emmett and Thomas Lekan’s Whose Anthropocene? Transformations in Environment and Society2 (2016) and perhaps B. Latour’s “Agency at the time of the Anthropocene,” New Literary History 45 (2014) pp. 1-18. Maybe: Timothy James LeCain, “Against the Anthropocene: A Neo-Materialist Perspective,” International Journal of History, Culture, and Modernity 3 (2015): 1-28. Then some books: maybe J. Davies, The Birth of the Anthropocene. Berekely 2016 or J. Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. Cambridge, Mass. 2015. I wish LeCain’s 2017 book might be available: The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past which is due in 2017 from Cambridge. 

As far as pedagogy goes, I have generally shied away from too much writing in this class, but this semester, I think I’ll nudge up the writing a bit and assign a comparative review after the first four books which, in turn, consider history philosophically, practically, disciplinarily, and, for lack of a better term, politically. These facets allow a student to explore history from a variety of perspectives and push them to articulate the various contours of the discipline.

Here’s my current reading list. I’ll post the full syllabus later.  

Spring 2017

History 502 Reading List 

Wednesday 1/11

What is History? 

Wednesday 1/18

R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History. Oxford 1946

Wednesday 1/25

E.H. Carr, What is History? London 1961

            Recommended: K. Jenkins, On ‘What is History?’ London 1995

Wednesday 2/1

M. Gaddis, The Landscape of History. Oxford 2002. 

Wednesday 2/8

P Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto. Cambridge 2015. http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/ 

 

Wednesday 2/15: Capital

E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present 38 (1967), 56-97.
E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 50 (1971), 76-136.
E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class. (New York 1966). Introduction.
A. Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks, Excerpts.
Recommended: K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

Wednesday 2/22: Foucault

M. Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. Trans. A.M.S. Smith.  (New York 1972)
Optional: M. Foucault, The Order of Things. (New York 1970)

Wednesday 3/1: Gender

Judith Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. (Philadelphia 2007).
J. Scott, “Gender a Useful Category for Analysis,” AHR 91 (1986), 1053-1075.

Wednesday 3/8: The Nation

B. Anderson, Imagined Communities. London 1991.
E. J. Palti, “The Nation as a Problem: Historians and the ‘National Question’,” History and Theory 40 (2001), 1324-346.

Wednesday 3/15 SPRING BREAK

Wednesday 3/22: Time

E. LeRoy Ladurie, “Motionless History,” Social Science History 1 (1977), 115-136.
F. Braudel, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II. based upon 2nd ed. 1966 (London 1972).

Wednesday 3/29: Space and Objects

D. Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge 1995).
Daniel Miller, Stuff. Polity 2009.

Wednesday 4/5: Narrative

H. White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination of Nineteenth Century Europe. (Baltimore 1973). Excerpts.

Wednesday 4/12: Agency and Technology

B. Latour, Aramis or The Love of Technology.  Cambridge, Mass. 1996.
W. Sewell, Logics of History. Chicago 2011. Excerpts 

Wednesday 4/19: Postcolonialism

D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. (Princeton 2000).
E. Said, Orientalism. New York 1979. Introduction

Wednesday 4/26: History and Nature

Some books… don’t know yet!

Wednesday 5/4 The Future

Various Authors, JAH Interchange, “The Promise of Digital History” JAH 95 (2008): http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/issues/952/interchange/
J. A. Dougherty and K. D. Nawrotzki, Writing History in the Digital Age. Michigan 2012. http://www.digitalculture.org/bo

Ancient States and Modern Governments

Last week, I put together a short essay reflecting on the relationship between regional concerns and ancient states for a short book that a colleague is editing on the electoral college. The goal of the essay was to situaten the framers’ concept of the electoral college in the historical context of Athens and Rome.

I got some helpful feedback from some colleagues and tweaked my essay to reflect a more nuanced understanding particularly of the Athenian government.

Ancient States and Representative Government: Greek and Roman Models for the Electoral College 

The framers of the US Constitution looked to antiquity as an inspiration for their own republic. The city-state of Athens during its Classical efflorescence represented a model for democracy, but it was not nearly as compelling as the Roman Republic alternately celebrated by Enlightenment authors and English reformers. Both ancient civilizations offered historical precedents for representative forms of government that allowed the architects of the various colonial and state constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution to appeal to a traditions of government outside and older than the rule of the European aristocracy. Neither the Athenian democracy in its various forms nor the Roman Republic offered an exact precedent for the Electoral College, but both recognized the importance of recognizing regional interests in the context of their popular institutions.    

Democratic Athens of the 5th century BC, featured a popular assembly made up of all citizens which generally meant male, property owners, of military age. This assembly met in Athens to vote on whatever legislation that the state required. Over the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BC various institutions served the roles of the executive, generally an office called the archon, and for a range of different judiciary functions. Most importantly for our purpose here, there existed a council responsible for preparing the legislation upon which the popular assembly would vote. In the late 6th century, the Athenian politician Cleisthenes negotiated a series of reforms in Athens including the creation of a “Council of 500” which would serve this function. This council included 50 representatives from each of ten tribes. Each tribe represented communities from each of three non-continguous regions in Attica, the territory ruled by the city of Athens: the city, the coast, and the interior. The goal of this arrangement was to ensure that each region had representation in the Council of 500 and played a role in the preparation of legislation for the popular assembly (whether this is how this arrangement functioned in practice remains difficult to know). The organization of the Council of 500 around territorially diverse tribes provided an important, representative, counterweight to the popular assembly which tended to be biased toward citizens resident in Athens or who could afford time away from their field, businesses, or jobs to attend voting sessions. In this effort to balance regional concerns with the direct democracy of the assembly, Athens provides an early example of a representative council in the Western tradition. While the tribal basis for the Council of 500 did not ensure each region distinct representation within the Athenian government but it appear to acknowledge the diverse regional interests present in the Athenian state and it recognized, at least in theory, that compensating for regional interests served as a kind of counterweight to the popular assembly.  

Whatever the innovation present in democratic Athens, the Roman Republic provided a far more compelling and influential model for the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Rome, like Athens, did not have a written constitution to guide its governmental structure, but we know enough about how it functioned from historians in antiquity. The Roman Republic possessed an array of assemblies and councils each with specific functions and advantages to particular groups. Unlike Athens, there was far less emphasis on the democratic, popular assembly and a fundamental commitment to the republican practice of voting blocks which represented groups of citizens within Roman society. The two most significant of these councils were the comitia centuriata and the comitia tributa. In the comitia centuriata, Roman citizens were grouped into first 193 and then 373 centuries according to wealth. Each century was a voting block and the majority of voters within the century decided the vote of that century. The wealthiest citizens were divided into more centuries than the poorest giving them more voting blocks. Moreover, the wealthiest centuries voted first resulting in most elections being decided long before the poorest blocks voted, although reformers consistently tried to shift the balance toward the poorest voters. 

The poorest voters tended to congregate in the city of Rome, and this marginalized their political influence in other major assembly, the comitia tributa, which was organized according to according to region of residence. The city of Rome consisted of four urban tribes whereas the surrounding regions, eventually expanded to include all of Italy, comprised an addition 31. Each of the 35 tribes had a single vote with the 31 rural tribes tending to represent the interests of wealthier, rural landowners. Like in the comitia centuriata, the majority of tribes carried decisions in this assembly. In fact, the politically marginal character of the urban tribes was such that a punishment for certain kind of crimes included moving the guilty individual’s tribal affiliation from a rural to an urban tribe to affect a kind of political disenfranchisement. Like in Athens, regional concerns play a role in managing the political balance of the Roman Republic.  

While neither the representative council in Cleisthenic Athens or the comitia tributa in republican Rome represented a precise analog to the Electoral College, but the Electoral College and the Roman assemblies shared the concept of voting blocks that is, in some appraisals, central to the idea of republican governance. For Rome, the comitia tributa also allowed for the state to expand voting and citizen rights into newly conquered territories while maintaining the privileges of the traditional aristocracy through their control of the majority of tribes. While this may appear to be a regressive tactic designed to conserve the political power of the traditional Roman elite, it also allowed the Roman state to expand political rights to new populations in ways that would have been more politically risky for a direct democracy like in Athens. By slotting new citizens into existing tribes or sequestering them into a small number of tribes, the Roman elite also ensured the stability of the state even during times of expansion. 

Today, political commentators like to look to Rome and Athens to predict or make sense of the American political trajectory. This makes sense, of course, because the challenges faced by the Roman Republic and the democracy of Athens allow for sensationally tragic presentations of our country’s political fate set amid the fundamental conservatism of the republican political tradition. Whether the US will fail because of this adherence to these outmoded republican practices or find within them stability during times of dynamic change is beyond the limited gaze of the historian’s craft.

 

Ancient States and Representative Government: Greek and Roman Models for the Electoral College

Yesterday, the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota announced the forthcoming publication of a small book on the Electoral College: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin. Do check out Dr. Burin’s trailer for the book and his historical perspectives on the electoral college: “The Founders Fixed a Broken Electoral College – We Should Too.

You may have noticed that I am listed among the contributors so I sat down this morning and hammered out a draft of my contribution, “Ancient States and Representational Government: Models for the Electoral College.”

It’s below. Please comment on this draft! I am particularly concerned with my representations of the Athenian and Roman assemblies and any help finding historical issues would be great.

Ancient States and Representative Government: Greek and Roman Models for the Electoral College

The framers of the US Constitution looked to antiquity as an inspiration for their own republic. The city-state of Athens during its Classical efflorescence represented a model for democracy, but it was not nearly as compelling as the Roman Republic alternately celebrated by Enlightenment authors and English reformers. Both ancient civilizations offered historical precedents for representative forms of government that allowed the architects of the various colonial and state constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution to appeal to a traditions of government outside and older than the rule of the European aristocracy. Neither the Athenian democracy in its various forms nor the Roman Republic offered an exact precedent for the Electoral College, but both recognized the importance of recognizing regional interests in the context of their popular institutions.   

Democratic Athens of the 5th century BC, featured a popular assembly made up of all citizens which generally meant male, property owners, of military age. This assembly met in Athens to vote on whatever legislation that the state required. Over the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BC various institutions served in both the executive role (generally an office called the archon), in judicial roles, and, most importantly for our purpose here, to prepare legislation for the assembly. In the late 6th century, the Athenian politician Cleisthenes negotiated a series of reforms in Athens including the creation of a “Council of 500” which prepared laws for voting in the popular assembly. This council included representatives from each of the major regions governed by the city of Athens. This representative council ensured that each region – the mountains, the plains, and coast – had their interests represented at least in the preparation of legislation for the popular assembly. This served as an important, representative, counterweight to the popular assembly which tended to be biased toward citizens resident in Athens or who could afford time away from their field, businesses, or jobs to attend voting sessions. In this effort to balance regional concerns with the direct democracy of the assembly, Athens produced the first example of a representative council in our Western tradition and regional representation was essential to this concept. 

Whatever the innovation present in democratic Athens, the Roman Republic provided a far more compelling and influential model for the framers of the US Constitution. Rome, like Athens, did not have a written constitution to guide its governmental structure, but we know enough about how it functioned from historians in antiquity. The Roman Republic possessed an array of assemblies and councils each with specific functions and advantages to particular groups. Unlike Athens, there was far less emphasis on the democratic assembly and a fundamental commitment to the republican practice of voting blocks which represented groups of citizens within Roman society. The two most significant of these councils were the comitia centuriata and the comitia tributa. In the comitia centuriata, Roman citizens were grouped into first 193 and then 373 centuries according to wealth. Each century was a voting block and the majority of voters within the century decided the vote of that century. The wealthiest citizens were divided into more centuries than the poorest giving them more voting blocks. Moreover, the wealthiest centuries voted first resulting in most elections being decided long before the poorest blocks voted, although reformers consistently tried to shift the balance toward the poorest voters.

The poorest voters tended to congregate in the city of Rome, and this marginalized their political influence in other major assembly, the comitia tributa, which was organized according to according to region of residence. The city of Rome consisted of four urban “tribes” whereas the surrounding regions, eventually expanded to include all of Italy, comprised an addition 31. Each of the 35 tribes had a single vote with the 31 rural tribes tending to represent the interests of wealthier, rural landowners. Like in the comitia centuriata, the majority of tribes carried decisions in this assembly. In fact, the politically marginal character of the urban tribes was such that a punishment for certain kind of crimes included moving the guilty individual’s tribal affiliation from a rural to an urban tribe to affect a kind of political disenfranchisement. Like in Athens, regional concerns play a role in managing the political balance of the Roman Republic. 

While neither the representative council in Cleisthenic Athens or the comitia tributa in republican Rome represented a precise analog to the Electoral College, but the Electoral College and the Roman assemblies shared the concept of voting blocks that is, in some appraisals, central to the idea of republican governance. For Rome, the comitia tributa also allowed for the state to expand voting and citizen rights into newly conquered territories while maintaining the privileges of the traditional aristocracy through their control of the majority of tribes. While this may appear to be a regressive tactic designed to conserve the political power of the traditional Roman elite, it also allowed the Roman state to expand political rights to new populations in ways that the more direct democracy in Athens did not allow. By slotting new citizens into existing tribes or sequestering them into a small number of tribes, the Roman elite also ensured the stability of the state even during times of expansion.

Today, political commentators like to look to Rome and Athens to predict or make sense of the American political trajectory. This makes sense, of course, because both the Roman Republic and the democracy of Athens ultimately failed, and their failures allow for sensationally tragic presentations of our country’s political fate set amid the fundamental conservatism of the republican political tradition. Whether the US will fail because of this adherence to these outmoded republican practices or find within them stability during times of dynamic change is beyond the limited gaze of the historian’s craft.

Graduate Historiography Syllabus

It’s syllabus time once again. 

This semester, I’m teaching History 101: Western Civilization online and History 502: Graduate Historiography to a group of 7 M.A. and Ph.D. students. The latter is a class that I inherited from my days as an eager junior professor willing to take on any challenge. I now teach it every other semester (or so), but continue to tweak the syllabus. This iteration of the class benefited from me having many of the same students in our basic methods class in the fall. As a result, I have a sense for the strengths, preparation, and aptitude for the conceptual side of historical thinking. 

I think this group will need a bit more background in the history of historical thought than past semesters, so in the first five weeks, I included some classic and solid works on historical thinking to familiarize students with some of the basic contours of the conversation. Otherwise, the topics and the books will look pretty common.

Here’s the reading list:

Wednesday 1/13: What is History?

Wednesday 1/20:
R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History. Oxford 1946

Wednesday 1/27:
E.H. Carr, What is History? London 1961
Recommended: K. Jenkins, On ‘What is History?’ London 1995

Wednesday 2/3:
M. Gaddis, The Landscape of History. Oxford 2002.

Wednesday 2/10:
P. Novick, That Noble Dream. Cambridge 1988.

Wednesday 2/17: Capital
E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present 38 (1967), 56-97.
E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 50 (1971), 76-136.
E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class. New York 1966. Introduction.
A. Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks, Excerpts.
Recommended: K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

Wednesday 2/24: Foucault
M. Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. Trans. A.M.S. Smith. New York 1972. 
Optional: M. Foucault, The Order of Things. New York 1970.

Wednesday 3/2: Gender
Judith Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Philadelphia 2007.
J. Scott, “Gender a Useful Category for Analysis,” AHR 91 (1986), 1053-1075.

Wednesday 3/9: The Nation
B. Anderson, Imagined Communities. London 1991.
E. J. Palti, “The Nation as a Problem: Historians and the ‘National Question’,” History and Theory 40 (2001), 1324-346.

Wednesday 3/16 SPRING BREAK

Wednesday 3/23: Time
E. LeRoy Ladurie, “Motionless History,” Social Science History 1 (1977), 115-136.
F. Braudel, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II. based upon 2nd ed. 1966. London 1972.

Wednesday 3/30: Space and Objects
D. Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Cambridge 1995.
Nan A. Rothschild and Diana diZerega Wall, The Archaeology of American Cities. Gainsville 2014. Excerpts.

Wednesday 4/6: Narrative
H. White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination of Nineteenth Century Europe. Baltimore 1973. Excerpts.

Wednesday 4/13: Agency
M. Sahlin, Islands of History. Chicago 1985.
W. Sewell, Logics of History. Chicago 2011. Excerpts

 

Wednesday 4/27: Postcolonialism
D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton 2000.
E. Said, Orientalism. New York 1979. Introduction

Wednesday 5/4 The Future
Various Authors, JAH Interchange, “The Promise of Digital History” JAH 95 (2008): http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/issues/952/interchange/
J. A. Dougherty and K. D. Nawrotzki, Writing History in the Digital Age. Michigan 2012. http://www.digitalculture.org/books/writing-history-in-the-digital-age/

What if I Recorded a Podcast?

Some time in April (April is beyond the time I can imagine right now), I’ve been asked to contribute to a roundtable on Byzantium in the Public Sphere. More on this in the near future, but the prospect of contributing to a roundtable with some luminaries in the field has me mildly terrified. 

It also pushed me to think about what I do to make my scholarship and interest accessible to a wider public. This was part of the point this blogging enterprise when I started. As I thought about this, I felt drawn back to an idea pitched to be by Richard Rothaus months (maybe years?) ago: we should record a podcast. For a variety of reasons, I ignored it at the time. Then Andrew Reinhard produced a couple podcasts. These were so iconoclastic that, like MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, they are best admired from a safe distance.

I also had to good fortune to meet and spend some time with Emily Guerin who is a radio reporter for Inside Energy and worked on a story featuring me and Bret Weber out in the Bakken oil patch. We spent some time talking about podcasts, and I had to admit to rarely listening to them except, of course, the excellent Professor Footnote, which was more like radio theater than what I envisioned a podcast to be. But what did I know? 

Over the last few weeks, I started listening to podcasts largely because I got a little injury from running around the new year, and cut back on my mileage and intensity. As a result, I went from listening to music to listening to podcasts. Since one of my side interests on the web is technology websites – particular those related the cult of Mac, I started to listen to Mac related podcasts using Marco Arment’s lovely Overcast application on my phone. I was immediately struck by the informality of the podcasts produced by John Gruber, Marco Arment, and Jason Snell. These are not only good and more or less interesting podcasts, they are also conversational and, at least to casual listener, unstructured.

Well, anyone who has ever hung out with me for even a little bit (or read this blog) knows that I love unstructured, and it just so happens that Richard Rothaus is not afraid of the lack of structure either. So, sometime soon, we’ll very quietly release a pilot (or a first draft) of a podcast. We don’t have a name for it. We don’t have guests (at least right now). And we don’t really have a plan (ok, we have a bit of a plan). 

Anyway, since I’m traveling today, I thought I’d drop this little tidbit of news and see what people think. I think it is possible that people might enjoy a podcast talking about archaeology, late antiquity, the Mediterranean world, academia, and “things that Richard is interested in” (which is a topic so vast that I can’t even start to summarize it here). The hope is that we can find in conversation the hooks that bring an audience to Byzantium (broadly construed) or at least to an interest in the past.

In our test run last Sunday, we discovered that we both had good stories about things we did to make our advisor, Tim Gregory, mad. So that was fun. Hopefully, there is more to it than that. With any luck we’ll premiere this project in the next week or so, if we can master the technologies and editing necessary to sound both unstructured and polished. 

Stay tuned!

Method, the Discipline, and The History Manifesto

Like many in my field, I read with interest Jo Guldi’s and David Armitage’s The History Manifesto over the weekend. Guldi and Armitage argue that historians should embrace the recent return to interest in long-term, large-scale historical inquiry which holds forth the potential to shed meaningful light on the most pressing issues of our day. Issues like global warming, growing economic inequality, technological change, and the pervasive spirit of crisis in higher education, all depend upon critical engagement with data from the past. At present, economists, environmentalists, scientists, and journalists all have exerted a substantial influence in how we understand the roots of global problems today, but none of these disciplines have the tradition of critical scrutiny at the core of historical analysis. 

Guldi and Armitage argue that over the last 40 or 50 years, historians has gradually backed away from considering questions of the longue durée in the interest of increasingly focused and small-scale studies sometimes associated with micro-history. The reasons for this are bound up in changes in the profession over this stretch of time. The pressure to focus on smaller periods of time and more focused problems appears to stem from the growing influence of “short-termism” which emphasizes the action of individual human agents, the impact of specific events, and absolute command over a small body of historical documents. Professionally, they hint, this short-termism reflects the pressures to publish efficiently to get a job, earn tenure, get grants, and establish a position within the discipline. The influence of these short-term goals and short-term approaches has saturated how we teach historical methods to undergraduates, who we are constantly urging to narrow their topics, to graduate student research seminars with too little time to go beyond a single body of sources or text subjected to close reading.

Google Ngram Viewer

Anyone who took one to Tim Gregory’s seminars in the 1990s or reads even superficially in the discipline of Mediterranean history knows that interest in the longue durée has only gained strength over the last three decades. From article length studies on containerization to massive monographs on historical connectivity and the protohistoric Mediterranean, scholars have continued to explore longterm trends in the history of the Mediterranean. In fact, regional studies of Mediterranean landscape, whether focusing on a single island or a particular valley, tend to engage in diachronic approaches drawing on archaeological and textual evidence in equal measure. It is genuinely heartening to read a work like the History Manifesto that pushed the discipline to absorb more lessons from the study of the premodern Mediterranean world.

At the same time, I left this book with a nagging feeling that the authors dodged a key issue driving historical work toward more focused studies. For the last century, historians have looked toward their methods to define their discipline. Our tendency to encourage students to focus on small bodies of material and limited questions has not been exclusively the product of short-termism or foreshortened professional horizons, but the need to pass on the basic skills of historical work. Critical reading of a text, for example, requires us to focus on single text, if only for the duration of a class or an assignment. Writing a thesis and making arguments grounded in critically engaged evidence remains the hallmark of historical work and practicing these methods requires attention to detail whether at the scope of a region, an epoch, or a single battle. If historical work depends on a particular set of methods which give historians a command of detail, nuance, and causality central to presenting a compelling argument about the past, telling the discipline to shift their focus toward understanding long-term trends in a critical, historical, way is not enough.

Google Ngram Viewer

Of course, Guldi and Armitage recognized this and argued that digital tools from the simple effectiveness of Google Ngrams to more complex designs that allow historians to perform “distant readings” from a well-defined and substantial bodies of evidence will accelerate historian’s ability to understand longer spans of time and more complex issues. At the same time, these forms of “distant reading” ask historians to suspend a certain amount of critical attention to individual texts and push historians to developed greater expertise in computer algorithms, quantitative methods, and arguments made from large datasets. While these things are possible, I can’t help but thinking that they represent substantial changes to the discipline and its methods. More importantly, these changes suggest that Guldi and Armitage see the strength of the discipline less in its current methodological tool kit (with its strengths, weaknesses, and discursive character) and more in the discipline’s authority in speaking about the past. In other words, they are asking historians to shift their disciplinary authority away from a body of methods, techniques, and skills refined over centuries, to new approaches under the same disciplinary and professional banner. While they couch this shift as a return to perspectives more common before the middle of the 20th century or still thriving in odd corners of the discipline like Mediterranean studies, they are asking historians to step into a very different river with fundamentally different disciplinary and critical character.

The interest in microhistory, agency, and close reading of texts arose, in part, to address the weaknesses of big picture thinking and to maintain a view of the humanities that is conscious of the individual. These practices coincided with the core qualities of the historical method: its philological roots, the character of history as craft, and the passionate faith in our working within a human-centered discipline (e.g. Collingwood’s rethinking historical thoughts). As someone how has spent a good bit of his professional career working with diachronic historical datasets, I continue to be skeptical about their ability to unlock something fundamental human condition, and I share Collingwood’s view that this is the discipline’s highest calling. After reading The History Manifesto, I’m wonder how much of our authority as a discipline is grounded in the humanistic and humane methods at the core of our practice and how much we’d lose when we step back from the individual to understand the past. 

Google Ngram Viewer

Check out the book, it’s free!