Imperial Cities symposium December 3, 2004

The final Center program of Fall 2004 was a symposium entitled “Imperial Cities,” held before an engaged capacity crowd of more than 100 people on December 3. We were privileged to welcome two major scholars: Susan Alcock (Classics, University of Michigan) and Michael Herzfeld (Anthropology, Harvard).

Professor Alcock presented a paper entitled “Making Sure You Know Whom to Kill: Spatial Strategies in Roman Imperial Cities,” in which she offered a new interpretation of the aftermath of a large massacre of Roman settlers in Asia Minor in 88 B.C.E. Using a wealth of material and visual evidence, Alcock argued that in the decades following the massacre a significant social realignment occurred in the cities of this part of the empire. This realignment was visible in practices of elite bonding, crowd control, and a sense of cultural caution manifesting itself in subtle separations between Greeks and Romans, notably around the dinner table. Ultimately, therefore, Alcock’s account offered a reinterpretation of “the transition from murder to consensus in the Greek East,” an examination of efforts “to live with, through, and by a traumatic massacre” in an imperial setting.

Michael Herzfeld discussed a work in progress under the title “Fabricating Cultural Authority: Eccentric Angles on Urbanity and Western Identity,” which juxtaposes Athens, Rome, and Bangkok. He argued that all three, and the countries they represent, have been engaged in the civilizational project of “giving a country a culture,” and that each in its own way has had to contend with an “eccentric” relationship with the West. Particularly interesting for the Center’s audience was the way in which parts of Professor Herzfeld’s talk resonated in this respect with the presentations at the Center’s April 2004 “Colonial Cities” symposium, in particular historian Paula Sanders’ talk on nineteenth-century Cairo. Herzfeld’s talk also, however, touched on themes similar to Alcock’s, for example the struggle between “variety and unity,” or imperial efforts to eradicate disorder and maintain control, and to forge cultural identity, through the manipulation of space.

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Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

    Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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  Last updated 6/23/06 by RvD&NW