Hellenistic Corinth

Over the last few weeks I’ve bee reading Mike Dixon’s new book: Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC for a book review. As with so many of my plans, I had hoped to have a draft of the book review done by the end of September. It doesn’t look like that will happen, so instead, I’ll write a blog post that can serve as a rough draft of the review and to capture my impressions on the book before they get washed out by a million other little projects.

Dixon’s work on the Hellenistic Corinth was eagerly anticipated. His 2000 dissertation on interstate arbitration in the northeastern Peloponnesus became a convenient guide to the unpublished antiquities and general topography of the southeastern Corinthia. It was among the finest of a group of topographic dissertations focusing on the northeastern Peloponnesus in Greek antiquity. In this work he demonstrated that he was a conscientious reader of archaeological landscapes, and he brought this same care to his reading of the political landscape of the Hellenistic Corinthia.

There is much to like in this book.

First, it appears at a time when the Hellenistic world is enjoying a renaissance and the archaeology of Hellenistic Corinthia will get its share. The publication of Sarah James’ dissertation, the imminent publication of the Rachi settlement above the sanctuary at Isthmia, and David Pettegrew’s soon to be published monograph on the historical periods on the Isthmus, and even my own modest contributions to the fortification and topography of the Late Classical and Hellenistic Corinthia demonstrate the extent of scholarly interest in this period and this place. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hellenistic period is the new Late Antiquity. 

Dixon’s book provides a single destination for the literary sources central to the basic narrative of the Hellenistic period at Corinth. This alone makes the book valuable to scholars of the Corinthia. Dixon’s argument that the Corinthian polis negotiated its relationship with its Macedonian rulers through the strategic deployment of eunoia, or reciprocal goodwill, is likely to attract critique, but it is consistent with how scholars like John Ma have understood the relationship between cities and Hellenistic rulers.

Dixon’s book is explicitly and almost exclusively political in scope, and he creatively weaves together the admittedly limited sources for the city’s political life throughout this period. At times, Dixon’s work feels a bit speculative. For example, his efforts to understand why Corinth did not return the actor Thessalos who had fled to Corinth after angering Phillip II for attempting to arrange a marriage alliance on Alexander’s behalf. Dixon offers several possible scenarios to explain why Corinth defied Phillip’s request despite having a Macedonian garrison there. Dixon proposes (albeit gently) that Thessalos could be a Corinthian and this accounted for his confidence in fleeing to the city. The reason for Corinth’s failure to comply and endangering eunoia with the Macedonian dynasty remains unclear, and Dixon’s speculation adds little substantive to his arguments. In fact, if more evidence existed for Corinth during this period, it would be tempting to reject the historicity of the Thessalos affair and the letter of Phillip as many scholars have and move on. In Dixon’s defense, he marks his treatment of this affair as speculative, and I tend to appreciate his willingness to explore the limited sources fully, but to others these red herrings may detract from his overall arguments.

More problematic in Dixon’s work is his tendency to read the behavior of the city as monolithic in its motivation. For example, I struggled to discern the strategy of eunoia from the goals of the Corinthian state. Even when a Macedonian garrison watched over the city of Acrocorinth, there must have existed factions within the Corinthian demos who sought not only different ends but also different means to these end. For example, in the complex political wrangling that involved Corinth’s relationship with the Achaean League and the political influence of Aratos of Sikyon, some of Corinth’s vacillating might reveal political factions within the city who had varied interests rather than the pivot of the entire city based on proximate military or diplomatic threats. 

While we lack the sources to confirm the existence of these factions, Dixon’s reading of the Corinthian politics assumes certain strategic understandings of power relations in the Hellenistic world. In recent years, the study of Hellenistic diplomacy and practical political theory has enjoyed renewed attention. My entrance into these debates came through Michael Fronda’s book on the diplomatic moves of Hannibal and the Greek cities of south Italy during the Second Punic War. Dixon’s book and arguments would have been stronger had he engaged some of this recent scholarship more fully to frame his work in a larger historiographic and theoretical context. Whether this would have revealed more nuanced readings of Corinth’s diplomatic history is difficult to know, but it certainly would have linked the history of this important city more clearly to ongoing discussions on interstate relations in the ancient world. 

I would have also enjoyed a more thorough treatment of archaeological work outside of the immediate environs of the city. Dixon’s dissertation and experience excavating at Corinth demonstrated his archaeological chops, and he dedicates a chapter to the archaeology of the Hellenistic period on the Isthmus. Most this chapter focused on major monuments and sanctuaries, and most of his critical engagement with recent archaeological work in the region appears only in his footnotes. For example, it would have been useful to understand how Dixon understood David Pettegrew’s recent skepticism toward the economic significance of the diolkos. I have also valued Dixon’s take on the various remains fortifications from the Late Classical and Hellenistic period throughout the Corinthia. Understanding the strategies employed by various Macedonian monarchs (and invading armies) to fortify or garrison the city’s chora might provide insights into how recognized Corinth’s military value in a regional context as well as their approach to protecting the city’s  economic foundation in the countryside.

In general, my desire for greater attention to archaeological detail and efforts to connect Corinthian diplomatic practices to ongoing discussions within the field reflect more my interest and the book that I’d like to see, than any shortcoming on Dixon’s part. 

Finally, (and I say this with the trepidation of someone who just published a book) I wish these Routledge books were better copy edited. While copy editing problems never obscured the meaning of the text, they were frequent enough to be distracting. Things like this, however, do not detract from the book’s over all value. It’ll be the first book on a new shelf in my library ready to receive the fruits of the impending Hellenistic revival.   

One-Year Ancient History Position at the University of North Dakota

Since I’ll be on sabbatical next year, our dean has approved a one-year replacement position. These positions are always a challenging for a new hire as they have to get accustomed to new group of students, a new place, and new colleagues. We’ve done what we could to make this kind of position appealing. It has a 2-2 teaching load with only 3 preparations for the year. 

So, please spread the word. We don’t always have the most robust slate of candidates, but I can vouch for the collegial atmosphere of my department, the welcoming nature of the community, and the opportunity to live and work on a campus and in a state that is undergoing some rather remarkable transformations right now.

Please circulate the job ad as far and wide as you like. Here’s a link to the official advertisement.  

—————

History Assistant Professor Position

The University of North Dakota, Department of History, invites applicants for one-year, non-renewable, assistant professor in the field of Ancient History. The successful candidate will teach two classes per semester including the first half of the department’s Western Civilization survey and upper level courses in the history of Greece and the history of Rome.

A completed Ph.D. in history or related field is preferred but ABDs will be considered.

Send an application PDF that contains a letter of application, vita or dossier, a statement of not more than two single-spaced pages describing teaching and research interests, evidence of teaching ability (if available), and copies of graduate transcripts to und.ancienthistorysearch@und.edu. The application also requires three letters of reference that can be sent electronically to the same address or that can be mailed to: Chair, Ancient History Search Committee, Department of History, University of North Dakota, O’Kelly Hall Room 208, 221 Centennial Drive Stop 8096, Grand Forks, ND, 58202-8096. Deadline for ensuring full consideration is March 15, 2014.

The University of North Dakota is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. The University of North Dakota encourages applications from women and minorities. The University of North Dakota determines employment eligibility through the E-Verify System. North Dakota veterans’ preference does not apply to this position.

This position is not subject to a criminal history background check.

The University of North Dakota complies with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy & Campus Crime Statistics Act. Information about UND campus security and crime statistics can be found at http://und.edu/discover/_files/docs/annual-security-report.pdf.

What History Can Learn from Public Philosophy

This past week, our department came to the realization that we have to do more to improve our visibility on campus. In general, we are an active, engaged, and professional department, but we largely keep to ourselves and focus on our own work, our students, and being good colleagues and citizens of academia. The university is beginning a process of reflective critique and involves the prioritization of programs across campus. Our fear is that without increasingly our profile on campus, we will slip between the cracks in the process and lose the modest resources that we have at our disposal.

So there is an instrumental value to promoting the work of our department and working to engage a more diverse audience than our academic peers. This week my colleague and neighbor Jack Wienstein published an article titled “What Does Public Philosophy Do?” (pdf) in a volume of the journal Essays in Philosophy that he guest edited. The article focused on the question in its title, but offers useful challenges to  some basic assumptions about the public humanities in general. I think this article puts forward some useful points of consideration as we move forward as a department to make our work more visible and to expand its impact.

In general, once historians move beyond the idea that making our work publicly visible is pandering to the uneducated and unspecialized, we have viewed our work as vital to creating better citizens of a democracy. Historians have hoped (to generalize) that by creating a more inclusive, dynamic, and complex past, we can create more reflective citizen invested in creating a future that both carries forward the best of the past and seeks to redress historic wrongs. In short, the historical method (such as it is and whatever that might mean) produces a valid and usable past to inform decision making in the present. By presenting our work in public and expanding who has access to the tolls of a professional historian, we dream that we can make inform how the democracy functions and make our world better. It has, of course, vaguely troubled students of history (even in my introduction to the historians’ craft class) that despite our best efforts, historical actors rarely seem to learn from the past or, if they do, it is not in a consistent predictable way.

Jack’s article noted that there has never been any convincing link between public philosophy and more sophisticated, consistent, or rigorous political awareness. In fact, he noted that surveys have shown that Americans tend to respond unpredictably even to issues subjected to sustained engagement in the national media and involving basic historical “facts” salient to political decision making. In other words, deliberate critical engagement with historical issues does not lead the general public’s ability to conclusions consistent with careful historical analysis. Walking a “birther” through the process of evaluating historical evidence is not likely to change his or her mind.

Moreover, Jack points out that claims by philosophy (or any of the humanities) to produce “better” citizens are deeply problematic. At least some part of our modern democracy depends upon the idea that we are intrinsically capable of participating in the political life of the community. The idea of being better or worse at being a citizen would imply the there are those whose participation in the political process would be less valuable because they are not citizens of the better sort. This is anti-liberal.

In many ways, Jack’s critique of public philosophy can apply to how historians have approached engaging the public. If historians or philosophers are not engaging the public to create better citizens, but there remains practical and real benefits associated with raising our profile in the community, we need to find ways to articulate what it is that we do when we step out of our offices and into the public sphere.

Jack cleverly parallels the work of the public philosopher with that of the drug dealer. His job is to try to get people hooked on philosophy and to cultivate it as a particular form of entertainment. He does not mean this to trivialize public philosophy and he clearly regards it as a more healthy form of entertainment than say crack cocaine. His arguments are complex and don’t entirely align with what we do as historians, but they do give us a start. The entertainment value of public philosophy provides a point of entry for a range of experiences:

“It models thinking, is individualistic not collective, it is built on personality not ideas, is passionate and not detached, and advocates for people not ideas. It seeks to prepare ground for future philosophical endeavors, and while the questions asked may be about any area of life, knowledge or inquiry, it should become obvious that public philosophical investigation skews towards the individuals who happen to be there. Most public philosophy involves examination of one’s own personal life. It is about self-knowledge before it is about anything else.”

Of particular utility for historians is the idea that public philosophy models thinking. The philosopher lays bare the process of engaging ideas by standing in front of an audience and taking their comments, observations, and ideas seriously. Modeling thinking then becomes one take-away and positions the audiences’ encounter with public philosophy as less of a collective act of community building and more of an individual act of contemplation. Watching the public philosopher think and understand, begins a process of normalizing reflective thinking that carries on after the event. To affect this the public philosopher has to reveal themselves as much as their ideas to the audience.  The audience has to see the philosopher as someone who is not so different from themselves. Making careful, critical, and reflective thought visible gives the audience permission to reflect in their own lives and, as he summarizes: “public philosophy creates the groundwork for philosophical reflection in personal life with the hope and that this reflection may inspire future wide- ranging conversations about culture and meaning in life.”

Porting these ideas to practice of history in the public sphere is not straight forward. Public history has taken on the trappings of a sub-discipline with all those conceits. Public philosophy, in contrast, is more raw and intimate and personal and open-ended. As a department full of historians without the burden of public history (as a sub-discipline), I wonder if we’d be well served to think carefully about Jack’s ideas. To consider public history as a moment where we can show the community what we do as part of who we are. Rather than falling back of problematic platitudes about making better citizens or building “a sense of community” (whose community? for whom?) we can communicate the idea that doing history is one way to mediate between the individual and the community. The entertainment value of public history gets people into the room and our job is, to use Jack’s phrase, “to prepare the ground and to let people figure it all out on their own. I turn the dirt and watch what grows.”

Engaging New North Dakotans in the Bakken Oil Patch

This weekend, I had a fun chat with some folks from the North Dakota Humanities Council. As many of my readers probably know, I’m on the board. One of the topics of our conversation was how do we engage younger people in the larger project of the humanities. We talked about how busy many 20 and 30somethings are as they attempt to start their careers and personal lives. The conversation then went in two directions. First, we discussed how young people rely on the flexibility of the web to consume cultural content and engage the humanities. Then, we turned to the largest new community of younger people in the state: those associated with the Bakken Oil Boom.

And in no time at all, the inspired leadership of the North Dakota Humanities Council worked with me to create a proposal. I should emphasize that this is just a proposal, but I find that the best way to make proposals “work” is to make them public and see what the response is.

So here’s the first draft of my proposal to the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Recent research by the North Dakota Man Camp Project has suggested that many new North Dakotans in the western part of the state feel disengaged from their local communities, the state, and its history. The attitudes of new North Dakotans is not unexpected, in part, because these new arrivals do not come to North Dakota for the cultural experiences, but to make a living. That being said, some of the new arrivals intend to make North Dakota their home and even the short-term residents have the potential to contribute to the larger humanities project in the state. In fact, the dialogue between longtime residents of North Dakota and new North Dakotans offers the potential for stimulating and renewing critical reflections on the state’s culture. For example, recent debates about how to best approach improvements to basic infrastructure in western North Dakota has revisited Elwyn Robinson‘s famous “too much mistake”.

The disengagement of the newest North Dakotans from local communities should not imply that these groups have not developed a sense of community among themselves. Like the first settlers to the state, new North Dakotans have worked to forge their own kinds of community centered on work, neighborhood values, and recreation. Unlike the first settlers many of these new communities stretch from physical locations into online social networks mediated by Twitter, Facebook, or blogs.

The presence of a well-developed set of online social networks and an intriguing hook to revitalize conversations on what it means to be a North Dakotan makes the prospect of engaging the new North Dakotans of the Bakken boom a natural focus for the North Dakota Humanities Council. To facilitate this renewed (and renewing) conversation, we will invite leading experts and personalities across the state to contribute short essays (<5000 words) on the history, environment, and values of the state. The format for this renewed conversation will include an interactive online space and print. For distribution of the print publication, we will focus on the “man camps” of the Bakken, leverage existing social networks, and include within each book a QR code that links the printed copy to the online conversation.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has developed the tools and expertise necessary to be a valuable collaborator with the North Dakota Humanities Council in these endeavors. We propose not only to solicit contributions (under the advisement of the NDHC), to edit the volume, and to prepare the manuscript, but also to take the lead in raising the necessary funds for the production, publication, and distribution of the final product. The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is a new project and will benefit from the value in the North Dakota Humanities Project name and longstanding leadership.

This project will not end with the book, but continue as a catalyst to engage both North Dakotans of longstanding and new North Dakotans in a renewed discussion of the past, present, and future of the state. 

First, we hope the renew a statewide conversation about “being North Dakotan” by creating a point of departure provided by a cross-section of the state’s intellectual community.

Second, the introduction of the essays in the published volume online produces an online forum from discussion of the ideas in the essays. The combination of a robust online presence, existing social network communities, print publication distributed in a targeted way to new North Dakotans, and the use of QR codes to direct readers of print to online sites ensures that the NDHC web community will have a regular flow of engaged readers. Moreover, the readers will be trackable from across the state to determine whether the program succeeded in reaching the intended audience.

Finally, the renewed conversation on the state of North Dakota sets the stage for the 50th anniversary of Elwyn Robinson’s landmark History of North Dakota in 2016. Robinson’s work has framed the various ways of understanding the past and present of the state for a half of a century and will undoubtedly inspire a new set of reflections which the NDHC will clearly lead.

Placing Public History in its Proper Place

This weekend I read over Denise Meringolo’s Museums, Monuments, and National Parks (University of Massachusetts 2012) as part of my effort to get more familiar with the discipline of public history. Over the last few years, I’ve been drawn more and more into the field of public history. Some of this has come through my interest in digital history (including my efforts to figure out what to do with a blog), some has come through our department’s efforts to develop a public history program, and some has come through my growing engagement with the very recent history of the Bakken oil patch. In the classroom, my brief remarks on public history generally comprised of some exceedingly general comments about the changing discipline of history in the 1970s, alternate careers for historians, and the needs of the federal and state government (and the private sector) for specialists in historical knowledge. (Then I say something like “no more questions”).

Meringolo’s book places public history in a much larger historical perspective by grounding the development of public history in the development of the discipline and profession of history in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Weaving the story of public history in the U.S. into the federal government’s involvement in historical preservation and parks, changing attitudes toward museums, and the rise in scientific archaeology, Meringolo begins to make public history part of the larger narrative of the history’s professionalization and changing attitudes toward the role of the government in developing a sense of national identity.

Prior to the Civil War, the relationship between efforts to create national parks and to protect sites of historical significance to the young nation intersected with southern lawmakers’ efforts to limit the authority of the federal government. In other words, slavery and regionalism thwarted the effort to preserve a common past in the U.S. Without the aide of the government, women took up the work of preserving buildings important to both local and national history. While this work as invaluable for the preservation of sites like Mt. Vernon in Virginia, it also led to the work to be dismissed as “women’s work” and outside the pale of men’s professional concerns.

For the first handful of chapters, this book would make a useful companion to Peter Novick’s magisterial That Noble Dream (which she cites regularly throughout). For example, Meringolo provides useful background on the history of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association. This group developed in part as a protest against the apathy within the American Historical Association toward regional history and scholars associated with state historical societies in the midwest.

An aside: It is worth noting that Orin G. Libby of the University of North Dakota was active from the early days of the MVHA serving at its vice-president in 1909 and president in 1910. In 1908 the campus of UND hosted the associations second annual meeting. The goals of the MVHA paralleled Libby’s goals of developing the study of regional history at the University of North Dakota and creating a stable and enduring state historical society.

The book also explores the vital links between early 20th century archaeological policy and public history. Here Charles Eliot Norton’s American Institute of Archaeology makes a cameo appearance as it funded both the important extensive survey of Adolf Bandelier of Native American sites in the American Southwest in the 1880s, supported the landmark Antiquities Act of 1906, and helped found of a School of American Archaeology in New Mexico (now the School for Advanced Research) in 1907. 

These efforts supported by the AIA at the turn of the century provided a counterweight (in some way) to the continued marginalization of regional history by the AHA. Despite growing resources and collections, local museums at National Parks and Monuments, struggled to assert their independence from the national agenda advanced by the Smithsonian. According to Meringolo, it was not until the influx of resources experienced by the Park Service during the New Deal that regional museums gained complete independence from the long arm of the Smithsonian and its efforts to remain the main federal repository. Here in some ways, her story comes full circle with regional interests – in this case of the parks and local communities – trumping efforts of more central institutions to set the agenda and pull cultural heritage back to a single repository.

Meringolo’s “genealogy of public history” will not answer every question about this growth field, but it did establish some of the major influences in its development. 

Teaching Thursday: Teaching Byzantine History

This fall for the first time since 2007, I’m going to teach an upper level undergraduate history class. I figure once every 5 years is about as often as both the students and my own workflow can handle it. Because another faculty member teaches Greek and Roman history, I have some limits on what I can teach in my specialty. I had prepared and taught a one semester Byzantine history course some years ago so I dusted it off, gave it some thought, and decided to teach it as an overload this fall.

For a textbook, I am using the second edition of Tim Gregory’s History of Byzantium (Blackwell 2011) in part because he was my academic advisor at Ohio State, but also because it is the best single volume history available. 

The course will have five graded assignments. Two primary source papers (3-5 pages each) and a book review of an academic monograph. There will be a midterm and final exam.

The course will be a blend of lectures and discussions of primary sources readings. As readers of this blog know, I have a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward lectures. I enjoy giving lectures and the students enjoy the experience, but so much pedagogical research indicates that lectures – at least in a traditional sense – are an inferior way to engaged students. I keep working toward developing a hybrid form of lecture that both engages the students, but also remains true to some of the longstanding narrative traditions in the discipline. I’ve advertised this course as a traditional course poking gentle fun at some of the more inventive approaches to history. I also misspelled diorama just to keep the students on their toes. (First step of innovative pedagogy is allowing the students to understand that you are more like them then they might expect.)

ByzHistoryFlyer

Week 1
August 27 Tuesday: Introduction
August 29 Thursday: City, Empire, and Christianity
Readings: Gospel of St. John; Acts of the Apostles

Week 2
September 3 Tuesday: Diocletian, Constantine, and Late Antiquity
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 1-3
September 5 Thursday: Eusebius and the Constantinean System
Reading: Eusebius, Life of Constantine

Week 3
September 10 Tuesday: Constantine and His Successors
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 4
September 12 Thursday: The Family of Theodosius
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 5

Week 4
September 17 Tuesday: Pagans and Christians
Readings: Pagan and Christian Tombstones of Attica; Mark the Deacon, The Life of St. Porphyry of Gaza; Marinos of Samaria, Life of Proclus; History of Byzantium, Box 4.3, 5.2
September 19 Thursday: Christology and Early Byzantine Spirituality
Readings: Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrinal Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History (selections); St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony; The Nicene Creed

Week 5
September 24 Tuesday: Justinian
Readings: History of Byzantium, Chapter 6; Procopius, The Buildings, Book 1
September 26 Thursday: Byzantine Spirituality: Liturgy and Saints
Readings: John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow; The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Week 6
October 1 Tuesday: Heraclius and the Loss of the East
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 7
October 3 Thusday: The Dynasty of Heraclius
Readings: Theophanes Confessor (selections), Chronicle; The Life of St. John the Almsgiver

Week 7
October 8 Tuesday: Icons and Iconoclasm
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 8-9
October 10 Thursday: Iconoclasm and the Sources
Theophanes, Chronicle (selections), Various Icondule Saints.

Week 8 
October 15 Tuesday: Catch-up Day
October 17 Thursday: Midterm

Week 9
October 22 Tuesday: The Macedonian Dynasty
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 10-11
October 24 Thursday: Byzantine Values and Literature
Reading: Digenes Akritas

Week 10
October 29 Tuesday: Macedonian Renaissance
October 31 Thursday: The Height of Byzantine Power
Reading: Michael Psellos (Books 1-6)

Week 11
November 5 Tuesday: Middle Byzantine Spirituality
November 7 Thursday: Monasticism
Reading: Byzantine Monastic Documents (selections)

Week 12
November 12 Tuesday: The Byzantium in Age of the Komnenians
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 12
November 14 Thursday: The First Crusade
Reading: Anna Komnena, Alexiad (selections)

Week 13
November 19 Tuesday: The Fourth Crusade
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 13
November 21 Thursday: Byzantium and the West
Reading: Niketas Choniates (selections)

Week 14
November 26 Tuesday: The Late Byzantine Revival
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 14-15
November 28 Thursday: Thanksgiving

Week 15
December 3 Tuesday: The Intellectual Life of Late Byzantium
Gregory Palamas, Triads (selections)
December 5 Thursday: The Fall of Constantinople
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 16

Week 16
December 10 Tuesday: The Last Romans
December 12 Thursday: The Byzantine Legacy
Reading: History of Byzantium, Introduction

As a final note, my colleague Scott Moore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and I are teaching this course at the same time. This summer we toyed with some ideas of how both students and the content from the two courses could interact in a way that expands the perspectives of students in both classes. Since our content management systems are “walled gardens”, it seems like we’ll have to experiment with a blog or similar where students from the two classes can interact in a public forum. As we develop these ideas, I’ll post more here. 

Public History Comprehensive Exam Questions

One of the great pleasures of working at a school with a smaller Ph.D. program is that we get stretched to fill roles a bit outside our core area of expertise. This past week, for example, I was asked to be the third reader on a comprehensive exams for a student in the joint University of North Dakota – North Dakota State Ph.D. program in history. My area of expertise was … public history. Whereas I have take one graduate class (audited actually) in archaeology (so I feel qualified to opine widely in that field), I have never actually taken a course in public history and read only sporadically in this field. 

In any event, sometimes an outsider to a field can provide some new insights, and maybe these questions reflect that:

Select one question for each category. Write as much as necessary to explore the issue thoroughly. Take 4 or 5 hours to do this or whatever is customary. 

I. Archaeology as Public History

1. Recently, archaeology and public history have experienced a bit of convergence as both fields have sought to make their research more accessible to an interested (and often funding) public and accept more responsibilities to the communities in which they work. Discuss the main similarities and differences in the how these two fields have approached engaging the public.

2. Both archaeology and public history have seen the museum as one of the key tools for engaging the public and disseminating information. The museum, of course, as an institution has changed through time as have the fields of archaeology and history. Some have argued that archaeology’s “object-based epistemology” resonates more with earlier models of the museum whereas history’s approach to the past has more in common with the contemporary museum that understood networks or contexts as the main way in which objects produced knowledge. As both an archaeologist and a public historian, how do the different approaches to how objects produce meaning inform the organization, presentation, and function of museum exhibits?

3. Both archaeology and public history have embraced (or, perhaps better, recognized) what some scholars have called “the spatial turn”. What this means is that space, landscapes, streetscapes, geography, and architecture, have played a key role in defining historical social relationships (think Delores Hayden, H. Lefebvre, or M. de Certeau here). How have the two fields sought to make past spatial realities visible to the public especially in dynamic circumstances where the social, architectural, and natural topography have changes significant? How have their approaches differed and how are they similar?

II. Public History
1. More and more history programs are offering courses, certificates, and degrees in public history at the graduate and undergraduate level. What are the key concepts that you’d introduce in an undergraduate course in public history? How would the concepts differ if the course was taught at the graduate level? How would you balance theoretical and methodological aspects of public history and the practical aspects of the field?

2. Over the last three decades digital methods have come increasingly to influence the practice of history. In scholarly practice, digital tools have increased the speed and scope of research. In the realm of public history, the internet, mobile devices, and the social media have the potential to expand the audience for historical research, empower new content creators, and combine content from a wide range of sources. Using specific examples, how has digital media transformed the practice and theory of public history? What does the future of a digital, public history look like?

3. Public historians have often positioned themselves as gate keepers between disciplinary knowledge and the general public. Indeed, the very term “public” history implies the there is a “private” history that the discipline has kept from the public view. How has public history worked to both expose the process of historical study to a wider public and occlude its own practices behind disciplinary barriers and claims of expertise and authority? How can the discipline break down these barriers without undermining its own authority? Be specific.

A Historian Getting Old

I turned 41 this weekend and it gave me reason to stop and think about this past semester and some of the little ways that I’ve come to feel my age. Our department has been reevaluating the history major and taking stock of current requirements. I ended up on the other side of some recent decisions and that’s fine. I figure you win some and lose some, but what was most interesting was the character of the changes and my reactions. This is has made me feel old both intellectually and personally.

1. World History versus Western Civilization. I’m a “Western Civilization” guy. I received my B.A. in Latin and History and my graduate work was mostly in this history of the ancient and Medieval West and Byzantium. So, the first thing that struck me is that I completed my graduate degree completely unqualified to teach a World History survey course, although I am sure I could imagine a way to teach it at the introductory level.

This is a bit shocking because the idea that our department would require World History for our majors as well as a introductory level survey makes sense. World History is increasingly taught in high schools and many graduate programs continue to see World History as a desirable teaching field. Moreover, we recognize that our students need to be comfortable negotiating the challenges of our globalized and international economy, politics, and culture.

What made me feel old was the consensus among my colleagues that Western Civilization could no longer provide a sufficiently cosmopolitan perspective for our students. When I reflect on my graduate training and my experiences as a historian, I’ve always found plenty in my Western experience that gives me a wider perspective on the world, and I feel relatively confident that the traditions of critique in the Western traditional ensure that these perspectives are critical. That being said, I was rather surprised by the attitude among my colleagues that we might easily replace Western Civilization with a World Civilization sequence without either recolonizing the world by projecting our Western perspectives onto a global stage, or by simply conceding the value of our own heritage (i.e. the West) to our students. Times have changed, and I am feeling old.

(At the end of the day, we decided to keep both Western Civilization and offer another introductory level sequence in World Civilization!)

2. Language. Over the same time, our department took some time to examine our language requirements. Right now we offer two different kinds of history degrees. One requires students to take four semesters of a foreign language; the other requires the students to take a minor. Every year our department returns briefly to the question of whether it is necessary to continue to require students to take a foreign language. The chief argument against this requirement is whether four semesters of a language does enough for our students to be worth the risk in enrollment numbers. Students it would seem are intimidated by learning a foreign language. About half of our students opt to take a minor which is actually more credit hours “to avoid” taking a language (or at least prefer to take a minor over taking a language). The fear is that we might be losing majors in this scenario, and as a result, we do an informal cost/benefit analysis on the utility of requiring a foreign language for out students.

I have always considered history to be a philological endeavor and knowing languages (both foreign and domestic!) is key to what we do. I can hardly imagine a history major without a rigorous language component, and here I follow Theodor Mommsen famous recommendation that aspiring historians focus their energies on languages and the law. I spent as much time taking languages in undergraduate and graduate school as I did taking history classes. The shift from a field grounded in languages to a field grounded in the more ecumenical perspectives offered by “method” has caught me off-guard even as I am the one responsible for teaching our undergraduate methods course. This severing of the discipline from its philological roots is more evidence that times have changed, and I am feeling old.

3. The Game versus the Discipline. I’ve always respected the need to play the game of academia as well as to defend the discipline intellectually. The Game for me has always involved “a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous” and managing things like enrollment in our major, attempting to retain faculty and even to expand our department, and tending our standing with the administration and our colleagues across campus (many of whom will not be particularly sympathetic or even interested in disciplinary concerns). The Discipline is grounded in patterns of thoughts, epistemology, and methods that validate the truth that history can produce.

As long as we exist in the real world, there is a balance between The Game and The Discipline. We can’t create a Discipline that no one finds relevant or offers classes in which no one enrolls. At the same time, it is difficult to stomach playing a Game that sacrifices the core values of the Discipline in the name of professional or academic development. These days, however, I wonder whether I am no longer sufficient engaged in my professional or disciplinary environment to locate the line between the Game and the Discipline. Times have changed, and I feel old.

Veterans Day Music and the Culture of Convenience

Today is the Veterans’ Day holiday in the U.S. For much of the Western world, yesterday marked Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. It was particularly moving to see the cricket match between Australia and South Africa stop at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to commemorate the end of the World War I and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In keeping with this theme, I thought I might offer a few songs appropriate for reflecting on the horrors of war. No list of anti-war songs is complete without reference to the Pogue’s version of Eric Bogle’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, which is perhaps the most depressing song ever written. New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” from their album Low Life is also pretty taxing. For something with a more upbeat sound, one could do far worse than Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam”. Almost any track on PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake album would work, but I really like “On Battleship Hill“. Finally, a list of anti-war songs should always include Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” which blends a depressing litany of American wars with a cynical view of the future. 

I have most of these stirring anti-war songs cued up on one of my various Spotify playlists (and a couple of them on good old-fashioned CD). Yesterday I read Mike Spies short article on how Spotify has changed the way that we listen to music. The convenience has not only made me forgiving of its somewhat degraded sound quality (which is evidence even when I listen to song saved in “offline” mode), but made me nearly addicted to the easy access to almost any song from any album. (In fact, I sometimes get frustrated when an album takes longer than a day to appear on Spotify). The days of special ordering an obscure blues album from the local record store or flipping through rack after rack of CDs to find an album or – even worse – a particular song are certainly over.

Reflecting on our culture of convenience is certainly striking on Remembrance Day when we look back over almost a century to the immense sacrifices made in war. Our culture today fixates on the smallest moments of time and the smallest sensations of pleasure or pain that most of us can barely imagine the experiences of soldiers today, much less a century ago. So maybe my bizarre and slightly irreverent juxtaposition between war and convenience can help us reflect on our priorities on a day when we think about people who sacrificed so much.

Modern and Ancient in Calabria

One of my favorite scholars of the ancient world and old graduate school crony, Mike Fronda, has a brilliant little piece in this fall’s McGill University’s Classical Studies Newsletter

Mike talks about his visit to the home town of his grandmother, Caulonia, in Calabria. This town fit into Mike’s recent research on the Italiote League as ancient Kaulonia was the capital of the league. Today, the site is mostly known for the foundations of a Doric Temple.

Mike’s short essay, however, focuses on the intersection of the ancient and the modern in the methods he used to search for his grandmother’s birth date. The essay deserves to be read in total here, but here’s a teaser:

Caulonia has a personal resonance for me: thousands of Cauloniesi emigrated to the US in the 1910s and 1920s, among them my grandmother Carmela Maiolo. I decided to visit the historic center to learn more about my origins. Around the central piazza, I found several placards memorializing the five days in 1945 when the townsfolk declared an independent, communist “Red Republic of Caulonia,” before allied forces suppressed the movement. At last I came to the civic registry office, where I was invited by the director to search  through the birth records, organized by decade, to find information on my ancestors.

Quickly we found entries for my great-grandparents and my grandmother’s seven siblings, but nothing on my grandmother, who was born (according to family lore) in 1902. I immediately began to develop theories: was my grandmother adopted? Did she lie about her name? Did she lie about her age? So I asked the director to look in the records for 1890-1899. She was skeptical and asked, “Does your grandmother have a grave?” “Yes,” I answered. “What is written on the stone?” “1902,” I answered. “So there,” she said. “But,” I explained, “when she died, no one in the family knew for sure when she was born.” The director looked dubious but relented, and within in minutes, we found the missing birth record in 1899!

As a scholar in ancient history, this experience struck me deeply. The director assumed that the tombstone inscription was an indisputable fact, and indeed ancient historians often put great faith in epigraphic evidence without considering that they are subject to the same distortions, inaccuracies and fabrications found in, for instance, literary sources.