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


  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

    Comment by Tom Humes | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’ll be convinced that you are “Britainized” when you start spelling it with an “s”: “Britainisation”

    Comment by Jared | July 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. Hah! I did actually get lip from one prof about the American perversion of the word “harbour.” And believe it or not, one of my friends here has claimed that she’s already detected some changes in my American accent. Scary. Then again, she is Swiss….

    Comment by JD | July 20, 2008 | Reply

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