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Recent Dissertations (since 2021)

 

2021

 

Bryn Ford

Unstable Territory: Roman-Era Elites and the Production of the Italian Countryside 

The Italian peninsula has always been a complex and divided environment, broken by mountains and rivers into compact regions possessing a range of ecologies and productive models. After Rome united these varied regions into a single polity for the first time, however, a new cultural narrative began to emerge that stressed the geographic consistency of the Italian rural landscape, grounding the political unity of the peninsula in an imagined ecological unity. This dissertation explores how this idea was produced at the level of the Italian regions, where literary images of uniform agrarianism and productivity ran up against the realities of ecological and economic difference. It argues that the elites of individual regions, as they integrated themselves into the emerging pan-Italian aristocracy at the end of the republic and the beginning of the principate, found new ways of looking upon their distinct home landscapes that emphasized generically Italian features and overlooked elements that could highlight geographic and historic difference. After an introduction setting out a theoretical approach to ‘selective attention’ in historic landscapes, this process is illustrated through case studies of the central Apennines, the Cisalpine plains, and northern Campania. In each case study, a detailed reconstruction of the ancient physical landscape serves as a backdrop to a literary study that considers how particular environmental features were emphasized or overlooked in elite portrayals of the region, examining authors including Ovid, Virgil, Livy, and Catullus. It is concluded that the elites of each region developed different, and sometimes even mutually contradictory, ways of valuing and gazing upon their landscapes, in response to the particular threats that their geographic and historic circumstances posed to their participation in the pan-Italian cosmos. The dissertation contributes to our understanding of local agency in the Roman era unification of Italy, highlighting in particular the cultural and imaginative side of this process. More broadly, it demonstrates how new landscape images are generated from the raw material of the physical environment in periods of historic transition.

 

Jordan Rogers

Vicinitas in Urbe: Neighborliness and Urban Community in Midrepublican Rome

Vicinitas in Urbe: Neighborliness and Urban Community in Mid-Republican Rome is an analysis of the social and cultural strategies of urban neighboring at Rome during the mid-Republic, from approximately the end of the fourth century BCE to the end of the second century BCE. It adopts a dialectic framework of agency and structure in analyzing and interpreting the literary, archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic sources for the creation and maintenance of urban neighborhood communities—vici— during the period in question and, in doing so, proposes novel ways of analyzing the interaction between Rome’s urban spaces and those dwelling within them. The dissertation argues that the social history of the mid-Republic must begin with the smallest communal unit of urban society, the vicus, to understand the norms that governed everyday life within the city of Rome. Further, it contends that a focus on these norms, and the strategies individuals employed to comply with, resist, or manipulate them, is fundamental for understanding major political events and upheavals in the middle and late Republic. In chapter one, I discuss the various ways in which the spaces of Rome, including its neighborhoods, were conceptually divided. Chapter two then treats how the formation, maintenance, and performance of collective memories through commemorative rituals was fundamental to local identities and social life. The dissertation then pivots towards a consideration of the social aspects of neighboring, first through an examination of neighborliness, vicinitas, in chapter three, in which I argue that claiming another as a neighbor (vicinus/a) was a claim designed to place an individual into a relationship of mutual obligation with oneself. Chapter four then treats how the exchange of information within the neighborhood, in the form of gossip, rumor, and reputation, underpinned every facet of urban life. The last chapter then sketches the various practices of public shaming designed to exert a communal control over individual behavior within neighborhoods. As a social history of urban community, Vicinitas in Urbe reasserts the role of Rome’s urban inhabitants in shaping both cultural discourse and the seminal events that have long defined Roman history in the middle Republic.