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PACE: Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement

"A perennial set of problems in human society concerns group understanding (in ethnic, racial, religious, familial, and voluntary-association terms), cultural identity, and issues of interaction. How do we understand ourselves in relationship to the various groups in which we have a stake? What happens to our identity as multiple affiliations encroach upon one another? How do we understand others—groups and their individual representatives? On the political level: how does one nation or state-like group respond most appropriately to the rise of another to greater economic and/or military power? How to preserve the national dignity while optimally (without needless conflict) caring for one's own population? Such questions may profitably be treated from social-scientific perspectives (through anthropology, political science, sociology, social psychology); they may also be analyzes in historical, philosophical, and literary terms.For example, the current engagement of broadly Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures in the West has much to learn from the long past of their interaction and the texts produced by this past. Or again, the new political situation created by American ascendancy as 'hyperpower,' and the need for other nations (e.g., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia) to react to its policies—sometimes urgently—has, if not direct parallels, long precedents in the interactions of national groups from antiquity. Ordinarily, members of a national, ethnic, or religious group 'know' its past only through its own traditions. What history brings to the table is a set of critical tools for penetrating the tradition, with publicly posed questions, answered in publicly accessible language—i.e., not based in the criteria and values of the tradition itself— and this process of public reasoning promises to enhance (along with other critical approaches) informed dialogue across traditional lines. Such dialogue must be beneficial for a peaceable and enlightened society such as Canada's. The massive popular interest in these questions is evidenced by the success of the History and Learning channels on television, and by the large and eager attendance at public lectures on some of these issues. In amongst all the sensationalist claims about aspects of ancient history, however, universities are uniquely positioned to meet and stimulate the public interest, by offering not only traditional courses but also other accessible resources arising from the responsible research of their faculty and graduate students.The PACE contributes to both public and academic discussion of these issues in a coherent and focused way. Our approach is to select a few important authors from the ancient world who stand conspicuously at the confluence of cultures, and to build resources around them. For example, Polybius of Megalopolis (second cent. BCE) was a Greek statesman whose life became thoroughly entangled in the problems posed above. While recognizing the inevitability of Roman power, he tried to preserve the freedom of the Greek cities in a rationally cooperative spirit, but the difficulty of his position landed him as a hostage in Rome (as an alleged resister) for some sixteen years, where he developed close ties with leading Roman families. There he wrote a universal history, featuring Rome's rise to power as something wondrous, while yet illustrating amply the range of problems faced by Greek cities and their elites as they struggled to cope, with responses ranging from obsequious submission to direct confrontation. Or again Flavius Josephus (first cent. CE), a member of the Jerusalem aristocracy, found himself trying to manage popular resentment against Rome, then leading one theatre in the war against Rome, but finally (after capture) living the balance of his life in the world capital as Roman citizen. In Rome he wrote thirty volumes in which he tried to articulate and defend—in Greek-language historical narratives—the antiquity and nobility of his people, while also charting the twists and turns of history that brought them into such lethal conflict with Rome. "

Author(s):  Mason, Steve
Format:  Website