As even the most casual observer of the British historical scene must know, the 'agricultural revolution' has proved both elusive and highly contentious. French 'immobilism', on the other hand, has become something of a commonplace, although explanations for this supposed failure are less consensual. Philip Hoffman's very welcome new book has two overriding merits.
Reports of the death of the Mediterranean – on some accounts from pollution, on others from conceptual redundancy – have proved exaggerated. Conceptually, at least, ‘The Mediterranean’ flourishes as never before: an idea more than a sea. It seems ubiquitous on web sites and in book and journal titles as well as on conference posters, not to mention political action plans.
Hitherto, the historiography of ‘city-states’ has in general not been comparative, preferring to focus on one city, or one region, rather than taking a European perspective.
Some monographs feel as if they have slotted themselves – like a puzzle-piece – snugly into the picture presented by our extant historiography. And just like single parts of a complex jig-saw, these works often add brilliantly to the overall image.
It is acceptable to like bishops again. Perhaps this change in the historiographical weather (would it be too much to label it an ‘episcopal turn’?) is not so much a result of the opening up of new sources, but a reflection of academics’ own positions in the wider world. The 1970s and 1980s fixed us with a standard of bishops as intolerant heresy hunters and seekers-out of deviancy.