Department Colloquium: Greg Woolf (University of London) "Locating Resilience in Ancient Urban Networks"

Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 4:30pm

On Zoom, please register below

Title:  Locating Resilience in Ancient Urban Networks

Abstract:  One of the striking features of ancient Mediterranean urbanism is the capacity of individual cities to weather all kinds of shocks from earthquakes, floods, droughts and crop failures to calamities with a larger anthropogenic component such as sieges and shifts in political gravity. This is all the more remarkable given the environmental precarity that is now a standard feature of our accounts of ancient Mediterranean life, and also the mass of ancient testimony that suggests real anxiety about the fate of individual cities. I will be looking at these issues in relation to resilience theory of various kinds. Resilience theory was developed in the 1970s to investigate why some ecosystems were better able than others to withstand external pressures. It replaces a stress on equilibrium systems, increasingly recognised to be rare in nature. In the hands of sociologists, geographers and psychologists the concept has been made broader (and shallower) as a means of describing forms of sustainability that depend on adaptive capacity. Resilient systems "absorb shocks", "spring back", or simply "adapt" to new environments. Today not all kinds of cities are regarded as equally resilient and this idea is worth exploring for antiquity too. This paper will ask where resilience is to be located and which elements of ancient society were more able to withstand external shocks. In particular it will examine the role of urban networks and systems in promoting resilience in the ancient world.

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