I was intrigued by Alex’s questioning of comparative history today and wanted to see what everyone else thought on the issue and build on it a bit. The archaeologist in me is very concerned with looking into the ‘individual’, which is something I am very passionate about. Do people feel there is a risk of losing sight of the individual with the generalization needed simply to undertake comparative history? A comment was made when I questioned whether all rich people were the same in the way they thought about their finances that “Did I not know any rich people?” – my answer is no I don’t, so I wouldn’t know. I do feel it is important though to ask this sort of question. Building on this I do question whether slaves owned by poorer Roman families would have the same lifestyle / opportunities as those owned by wealthier? Obviously opportunities for your regular Roman citizen would vary depending on the financial situation they were born into, so surely we must consider that to have been the same for slaves as well? Personally I can imagine a poor Roman struggling to get by treating their slaves a bit more brutally than those chilling out in a villa. Also the poorest Roman citizens are completely invisible to us. There is nothing that can be done about that, and I have read a couple of papers on this topic. I question to what extent we can say ‘most’ citizens would have had slaves when many citizens are simply invisible to us. This may well be covered later in the course but today made me start thinking about it now.
It would be very interesting to see if people can suggest a way in which we can try and consider the ‘individual’. Generalizations are not necessarily a bad thing, and will undoubtedly allow us to discover many interesting things, its just the archaeologist in me is screaming out that the fact that these are generalizations needs to be at least stated in a comparative paper. I also want to say that I thought there was some pretty good discussion today. Lots of interesting points were raised so am looking forward to next week.