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Approaches to Ancient History Week 2: Theories, Concepts and Models.

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Presentation on theme: "Approaches to Ancient History Week 2: Theories, Concepts and Models."— Presentation transcript:

1 Approaches to Ancient History Week 2: Theories, Concepts and Models

2 History and Theory Always controversial; tend to see theory as opposed to practice and to reality; alien, anachronistic, imposed. Rather, theory and practice can t be separated: theory refers to the ideas, assumptions, frames of reference and so forth that make knowledge possible.

3 The evidence suggests that Roman imperialism evolved from defensiveness to acquisition. What is the key term in that sentence? evidence suggests Roman imperialism evolved acquisition

4 Theory 1: Epistemology Definition: theory of knowledge Key issues: on what basis do we claim to know what the past was like? How do historians interpret their sources, and is it possible to show how it really was ? Subjective versus objective; induction versus deduction; role of imagination. Multiple interpretations always possible.

5 Theory 2: Concepts Even old-fashioned positivists make use of concepts with modern associations: state, trade, imperialism, family. Minimum requirement: be aware of gap between ancient and modern, hence possibility of confusion and distortion. Better: critical approach to concepts, aiming to refine them.

6 Theory 3: Processes Concepts generalise about nature of objects; processes generalise about how and why things change over time. Vague biological metaphors versus coherent theories versus contingency. Individual choice versus determinism by larger, impersonal forces.

7 Theory 4: Models Deliberate simplification of complex reality in order to highlight relationship between key variables. Problematic if you assume that reality is supposed to match it; e.g. neo-classical economic theory. Not how things must have been, but how they may have been.

8 Identifying Theory Vocabulary: use of key terms (jargon?), or of ordinary terms used technically. Generalisations, whether explicit or not. Comparisons, whether within a culture or across cultures. How evidence is interpreted and used to develop arguments.

9 More About Theory Barry, P. (2002) Beginning Theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory. 2 nd edn, Manchester. Burke, P., ed. (1991) New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Cambridge. Morley, N. (2004) Theories, Models and Concepts in Ancient History. London.

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