Scholarship of an empire
There are really two narratives of the Roman empire. The first one picks up where the Iliad ends, follows the story of Aeneas until the time of the early kings of Rome, observes with admiration the Roman republic, and illustrates the glories and flaws of the Roman emperors. This is the traditional story of ancient Rome.
The second type of narrative is the academic one, which often leaves chronology by the wayside and examines the Roman empire by topic, often sociologically. Greg Woolf’s new book, Rome: An Empire’s Story, seems to be written for the niche of people who are well familiar with the first, traditional, narrative of Rome but have no knowledge of (but a desire to learn) the second, scholarly, dialogue about the empire.
Although Woolf’s writing didn’t inspire an enormous amount of enthusiasm from this reader, the most interesting chapter for me was the second one: “Empires of the Mind.” Reading this chapter made me wonder why it was that Rome apart from all other ancient empires has such a lasting existence in our world. Woolf here also discusses sociological categorization of empires and describes Rome as a conquest state, an entity dependent on political expansion for its very survival. I think such a breakdown of terms like “empire” is useful because, without further reflection, one may assume erroneously that the Roman empire was more similar to, say, the American empire than was actually the case. The United States may arguably be an imperial power but it is not a conquest state. (more…)
With this post, I’m starting a new monthly article series called “Historical Proceedings” that reviews a sampling of the new historical articles published in mostly academic journals (but also some popular magazines). I’m a few months behind on these and also on my monthly posts about new history books, but I’m working to catch up.
As with the books, I’ll be choosing articles every month that I think are interesting, enlightening, and well written (all, admittedly, subjective criteria). I hope these posts inspire you to read new works of history and to share your comments with me below.
“The Repression of Soviet Koreans during the 1930s” by Alexander Kim in The Historian (Summer 2012).
Joseph Stalin killed so many people from so many different communities during his purges of the 1930s that it’s hard to deny the veracity of the quote that is often attributed to him: “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” To understand the human toll of the purges, it helps to take a closer look at one cross-section of the population that was affected by them.
Alexander Kim writes in The Historian, a publication of the Phi Alpha Theta Historical Honor Society, about Soviet Koreans who were forcibly relocated from their homes in the Far East to barren lands in Kazakhstan. That they were accused of trumped-up charges of spying for the enemies of the Soviet Union was not unique by Soviet standards of the 1930s. But Kim describes how the Soviet Koreans’ integrality to the local economy (they were adept vegetable farmers) and easy ability to escape Soviet authorities by crossing the border into China delayed their repression by Stalin’s agents. That was something most other groups were not able to do during the purges. (more…)