Roman economic difficulties 

Here is an excellent, if problematic, article that purports to show how Roman central planners destroyed the Empire’s economy. He is absolutely dead-on regarding Diocletian’s reforms, so beloved of textbook authors. Students interested in the decline/transformation of the Roman world will find this fascinating.

My problems with the article. The author has interesting things to say about the economy of the Late Republic, then jumps too quickly to the third century. He ignores the huge boost that expansion – and the new human capital in the form of slaves – brought Rome. Once the frontiers stabilized, these injections of new wealth ended. He also misses the huge drain on the imperial treasury occasioned by the revolving door emperors of the third century. New emperors needed to make “donations” to the troops to buy their loyalty. More troops were needed to defend the frontiers against marauding tribes. What a mess! 

Problems aside, a nice, quick essay.

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A History of the World in Maps

Shocking really, what you can find on the Internet. I found this incredible video on one of the blogs that I follow. It charts world civilization, displaying political entities year-by-year. Utterly fascinating. (BTW, it displays much better on a laptop than on an iPhone.)

I am sure that plenty of historians will quibble. One criticism that I can imagine is that its focus on settled societies misses nomadic peoples. Well, as I argue in class, civilization is about order. Nomadic peoples possess cultures, but not civilizations. Another will be that it focuses on political/administrative at the expense of the race/class/gender trinity. As if those things could be so effectively mapped and as if any one learning object can address every concern.

I would love to see someone use this technology to chart the spread of genetic haplogroups across time and space. I have been doing some reading this past week on linguistics, the persistence of place names and migration patterns at the end of the Neolithic. In some cases, all that we have left of the language of submerged or eliminated peoples are the names that they gave places that were then taken over into the successor people’s place-names.

Posted in Digital History, HST 121, HST 122, HST197, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Books

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal reviewed two new books on evergreen topics that are sure to be of interest to students.

The first is a biography of the Duke of Monmouth, the bastard son of Charles II who put himself at the head of a rebellion against James II. The reviewer is critical of certain aspects of the biography, but overall suggests that it is well-done. I will have to read it myself, since I spend quite a bit of time in my Civ survey on the Stuarts and the Glorious Revolution.

The second book is a sure winner. Churchill has to be one of the most written-about statesmen of the 20th century and still there is more to say! Paul Bew, in his study on Churchill and the Irish Question, does every instructor of modern European history a huge favor with this book. Every time that I teach HST332, I have students who want to write on either Churchill or Ireland. After his character’s numerous cameos in Peaky Blinders, I expect that the next time I teach the course some eager history major will want to do a paper on “what did Churchill really do” regarding Ireland. Now I have someplace to direct them!

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In defense of the college lecture

Finally! I decided to become an academic historian because of a brilliant lecturer and Bede scholar, Roger Ray. My whole career, I have attempted to emulate Roger and taken every opportunity to improve content, delivery, engagement, etc.

Three relevant points here. Academics are not taught to be lecturers. (I particularly enjoyed the author’s discussion of the passing of the discipline of Rhetoric.) When Char started at BGSU and I was still ABD, I tagged along to hear a speaker they had brought in to teach “how to draft a lecture.” Simple, brilliant outlining. I used the method the first four years that I taught (at UT and OSU), keeping a careful page of notes for each lecture that included an “after-action report” of what I did well and poorly, what connected and what didn’t, etc. That’s it for my “training” as a lecturer. Now, Miami does run an excellent set of Learning Communities for the enhancement of teaching – I’ve participated in over a dozen – but I have never seen one offered for lecturing.

Next, we are definitely NOT promoted because we are effective classroom teachers. I can say from personal observation that I have seen a number of exemplary and beloved lecturers denied tenure, in my opinion because their colleagues were threatened by their ability and derided them as “popularizers”. In a similar fashion, those who receive poor student course evaluations always poo-poo the process and act as if students are incapable of judging “quality” instruction. Its always “men always get higher evaluations” or “its just  popularity contest” or some other line.

Last point: a well-crafted lecture is the most effective way of conveying and/or reinforcing knowledge. Every instructor at every institution can’t be Socrates and every student isn’t a Plato. We don’t have the time or in our modern, degenerated world, the capacity for the Socratic method. Nor is the best way always student self-discovery or whatever silver bullet the educrats are in love with this year.

In short, read the article.

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Israeli archeologists uncover a Philistine cemetery 

Haaretz reports that a team of archeologists working at Ashkelon have excavated Philistine cemetery, the culmination of 21 years of work by the Leon Levy expedition. The site has implications for both Biblical and Egytpian archeology. Students will find reference to the Sea People interesting.

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Our deadly species

While on vacation, I saw links to two article detailing our wonderful propensity to kill each other. Here in tabular form the deadliest conflicts in human history.

http://ai.mee.nu/historys_bloodiest_wars_and_who_to_blame

If cutsie Millennial websites are your thing, perhaps this article from American Scientist will pique your interest.

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Clash of Civilizations

In the post-1945 world, we continue to arrogantly assume that we (or at least the West) have transcended history, as if violence and the will-to-power has somehow gone away. The events in Germany in the past week – and now in Normandy – should disabuse of us this naive and ahistorical conceit. Whither Charles Martel? Jan Sobieski?

RIP

May eternal light shine upon him.

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