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In a new development for Reviews in History, Daniel Snowman talks to Miranda Seymour about her new book, Noble Endeavours: Stories from England; Stories from Germany, her career as a historian, historical novelist and biographer, and the issues surrounding collective biography and prosopography.
Historians can only feel ambivalent about bureaucracy. ‘Admin’ tends to get in the way of those two core activities that define a university, research and teaching. Some of it might be necessary and benign: seminars require registers, after all.
No one would deny that Pompeii, the city destroyed by the forces of nature – as when, in the words of the poet Leopardi, ‘an overripe tomato falls on an anthill’ – has attained the status of an archetype, outpacing even Atlantis (whose story must now be explained to the unfamiliar in terms of the fate of Pompeii).
One of the most difficult, and under-rated, jobs undertaken by the historian is that of the synthesis. Text books covering long periods of historical time demand the exclusion of vast quantities of material.