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