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CRASIS guest lecture - GREG WOOLF (UCLA): 'De-Energized Cluttering. Placing Roman cities in a dynamic objectscape'

When:We 28-02-2024 15:30 - 16:30
Where:Court Room, Faculty of Religion Culture and Society (OBS 38)


Human focused histories of cities commonly represent them as dynamic place, engines of economic change and creativity. Countryside’s are often represented, by contrast as sluggish and backward, inertial dampers on the urban energies of premodern societies. This paper begins with an object-centred approach and argues a difference case. Cites may be thought of as nodes in objectscapes, as sticky points where objects in motion often slowed down and become entangled in complex relationships with humans. Cities were places where objects accumulated, were stored, lost, reused, transformed, and eventually discarded. Artefacts sometimes originated in cites, although there were many non-urban sites of production, but their cultural biographies most often ended there. The paper’s title alludes to Michael E. Smith’s new book* about the human dimensions of ancient urbanism, and also to the entropic path that led from an investment of time and energy in making artefacts, to their eventual loss of social momentum, most often in urban settings. The flows of objects, and their deceleration, also gives us new ways to think about the human mobility with which they were entangled.

*Smith, Michael E. 2023. Urban Life in the Distant Past. The Prehistory of Energized Crowding. New York: Cambridge University Press.

About the speaker

Greg Woolf is Ronald J Mellor Professor of Ancient History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has broad interests in the culture of the Roman world, especially its relation to the various power dynamics that formed the empire. His first book Becoming Roman in Gaul examined the formation and transformation of provincial cultures through archaeological evidence. He has also written on literacy, on ancient knowledge cultures and libraries, on ethnography, on the Roman economy, on ancient cities and on the emergence of religions. His latest book is Gendering Roman Imperialism, co-edited with Hannah Cornwell. Currently he is working on books on migration and mobility in antiquity, on seasonality and society at Rome (based on his 2022 Sather Lectures) and on a study of how cultural change was managed in Rome in the very long term. Greg is the Editor of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.