A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Britainization of Justin, pt. 2

Oxford_2008029 If Oxford University has a main drag, this is it:  Cornmarket Street.  I live about a block from this intersection.  You can see in the distance Christ Church; its campus is gargantuan.  A significant number of the stores on this street and its side-streets are pretty posh–so for instance, I found some shoe stores selling selling dress shoes for the meager sum of 360 pounds; watches for 1200 pounds, etc.  Nice stuff (!!) though–my favorite was the Whiskey Shop on Turl st.  There are only 2 disappointing things about this street:  First, there are 2 Starbucks, a Mickey D’s, Burger King, and KFC.  The first in that list is particularly detestable since I’m firmly convinced that the spread of Starbucks in the US has single handedly kept Americans from appreciating good espresso drinks (yes I’m disgruntled).  So I’ve had this nascent fear that the arrival of Starbucks might signal the decline in “taste” (ridiculous, I know, but that’s the fear it conjured).  But still all 4 are pretty tasteless, and as an American it makes me pretty embarrassed, guilty.  Second, Cornmarket is suprisingly more crowded than Time Square during the week days; having come from NYC this isn’t so bad, though I was hoping for a bit of a break from the urban grind.  It can also be quite noisy at night.  All that said, I have to say I really like the neighborhood.  I like it even more when I visit my colleagues north of the university in Jericho though–things are cheaper, it’s a bit homier, kinda reminds me of West Philly actually. 

Having a great time.  My research this week took an unexpected turn.  I’ve actually been focusing my work on landholding distribution and relative size of various districts of the Hermopolite nome in Egypt, which are really demography issues more than agriculture ones.  There is a large set of debates about how many people lived in Egypt, what the population density was, how much agricultural produce could it yield and (therefore) what as the aggregate wealth of the province and the wealth distribution among its inhabitants.  The reason so many of us are interested in this debate is that above any other region of the Graeco-Roman world, Egypt has plentiful data to really give us a flavor for what “life” was like.  

This has basically meant I’ve been following through many calculations of important articles to understand the math and assumptions scholars make, and consequently where improvement needs to be made.  It’s basically meant that I’ve had to start learning stats and macroeconomics in a much more serious way than I ever have and trying to give serious consideration to what are most reliable data is and why.  It’s been quite fruitful in many ways.  What’s been particularly illuminating to me has been how fragile our calculations are of so many figures, even our best estimates.   I’ve encountered few estimates for which one couldn’t fairly argue +/- 20%, which is a lot.  That’s pretty dissatisfying.  Previously I’ve thought that for better or for worse our best socio-economic models would have to be built from the ground up rather than the top down–that is, from the data itself rather than theoretical concepts about ancient demography and economics–; though given the size of this margin of error, I’m starting to look for top-down ideas that might give us better ground to stand on. 


July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Britainization of Justin

Oxford_2008008 The title of this post is borrowed from the blog of Mark Goodacre’s wife Emily; it was started when Mark acquired his NT position at Duke, having left the University of Birmingham.  My situation only resembles theirs:  I, being a Classical Studies graduate student at Columbia University in NY, have begun a long-term project based at Oxford University.  But mine is only a research affiliation that is likely to last the next several years; it’s not a “job.”  In any event, as such I’m here staying at Braesenose College (or, it’s annex actually, Frewin Court) for this month of July. 

In any event, I’ve decided to chronicle my time here via this ill-updated blog.  I intend to drop a few lines from time to time on my reactions to this new environment, as well as my research.  Incidentally, I count this as my first real “trip” to Europe.  I’ve visited the airports of Milan and Madrid, and even spent several days on the European side of Istanbul, but (obviously) they don’t exactly count. 

As a first note, I suppose, a little about my research:  The Oxford Roman Economy Project (or OXREP as we call it) intends to do a semi-comprehensive analysis of the Roman economy of the whole Roman empire in the span of six years, with a different topic each year.  This year is year two and the topic is agriculture; last year it was demography.  As for me, my own work, generally speaking, has started with the desire to mathematically quantify and model agricultural trade within Egypt.  I’ve been researching a new branch of modern economics called New Economic Geography, hoping that it might offer some insight on related questions.  We’ll see what we learn. 

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments