Apparently we will discover later today whether a skeleton excavated in a Leicester car park is that of Richard III. Whoop-de-doo. Apparently it has a curved spine and battle injuries (and obviously no one else in the middle ages ever suffered such things), but the crucial piece of the jigsaw will be the DNA test. Too much to hope that the margin of error on such things will be properly explained; I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see whether it’s one in a million or one in seventeen billion that it isn’t the man himself. Of course, even if there isn’t a plausible match (the level of hysteria this morning suggests that they must feel pretty confident), this has still been wonderful publicity for the Leicester Archaeology department, and maybe even for archaeology in general. Who can complain about that?
Well, I’m going to. (more…)
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I’m a participant in an online seminar in David Graeber’s Debt: the first 5,000 years, a book that I heartily recommend. I also heartily recommend the debate, at http://crookedtimber.org/, but since it is primarily focused on economics and politics I thought I would also reproduce my contribution – I assume I was asked primarily as an ancient historian to comment on the historical dimension of the book – here.
David Graeber’s Debt is, in the most positive sense, rather an old-fashioned book, in its conception and approach if not in its matey and approachable style. It ignores disciplinary boundaries within the human sciences, especially those between economics, history and social studies, in a manner that recalls polymaths like Max Weber or the free-wheeling early years of political economy with figures like Smith and Malthus. In its search for the connecting thread between an astonishing diversity of cultural practices and texts from across time and space, it resembles the early classics of speculative anthropology – not Malinowski but J.G. Frazer. In its ambition to offer an account of the trajectory of the whole of human history, it undoubtedly runs the risk of being confused with the likes of Jared Diamond or Niall Ferguson, but it strikes me rather as in the vein of Arnold Toynbee, not least in the weight of scholarship that underpins this work of imaginative reconstruction. I feel the need to stress again that I don’t offer these comparisons as a criticism… (more…)
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