Hyde Lecture John Ma (Columbia): "Only Connect: Practicing Joined-Up Ancient History. On a Few Lines of Tacitus's Histories"

Thursday, March 16, 2023 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

402 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th St.

*4:15-4:45 pm: Coffee and cookies in Cohen Hall 2nd Floor Lounge. All are welcome.

Every spring, the Graduate Group in Ancient History hosts a week-long visit by a distinguished ancient historian, made possible by a gift by Walter Woodburn Hyde (1870-1966, Professor of Greek and Ancient History at Penn 1910-1940). During their stay, the Hyde visitor teaches several graduate seminars, meets with graduate students individually and in smaller groups, and delivers the formal Hyde Lecture. 

Hyde Lecture 2023

John Ma (Columbia)

"Only Connect: Practicing Joined-Up Ancient History On a Few Lines of Tacitus's Histories"

A few paragraphs of Tacitus's Histories (1.67-9) offer the chance to write a multi-scalar exploration of a particular region (the actual Swiss Mittelland) in the first century CE. This is not my usual area of expertise, so that the traffic in such an exercise is two-way, in learning or teaching how to see new things. The exercise, if done reflexively, also offers the chance to think about how to do ancient history across regions and periods; the very problems (theoretical and practical) are themselves occasions to think about the practice of ancient history.

John Ma is an ancient historian, teaching in the Classics Department at Columbia, having moved there in 2015 from a position in the sub-faculty of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at Oxford University. His main interests lie in the Hellenistic period. He has looked at the interaction between city and ruler, in a particular geographical context, Western Asia Minor, that can serve as a test case (Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor, 1999). One particular interest is civic culture, notably as expression of democratic possibility and social bargaining, which he explores in his monograph on Statues and Cities (2013) and his forthcoming synthesis on POLIS: Biography of a Political and Social Form which argues for a "long Hellenistic" period (300 BCE-300 CE). He also recently co-edited the multi-volume work Aršāma and his World, 2021 (together with Christopher Tuplin), which uses letters of the Achaimenid satrap of Egypt, Arshama, to explore questions of identity and culture as a way of shaping power.