History

The Financial Crisis, Then and Now: Ancient Rome and 2008 CE

Amid the outpouring of ten-year retrospectives on the economic crisis of 2008, historian Charles Bartlett asks what a crisis that occurred almost 2000 years ago can tell us about the enduring relationships between legislative agendas, financial crises, and policy responses.

Drawing of Tiberius

By Charles Bartlett

In 33 CE, the Roman empire experienced a severe economic crisis. The crisis occurred when a law requiring creditors to invest a proportion of their capital in Italian lands was revived after observance and enforcement of it had lapsed.
One of the purposes of this law was to mark Italy as a unique area within the empire, by appealing to the notion—widespread among Rome’s elite—that Italian agriculture had been foundational to the Roman state and was still integral to Roman mores.
 
The rush by creditors to buy land sparked a credit crunch. After some turmoil and ineffectual action on the part of the senate, the Roman emperor Tiberius eventually made vast sums of money available for interest-free loans, thereby halting the crisis. 

These three elements of the crisis—namely the efficacy of a guarantee from the central monetary authority, the ad-hoc nature of response spread across numerous governmental entities, and the political program of the underlying legislation—are perennially important considerations that should enter any account of a large-scale economic crisis.

Ancient Rome 
 

By 33 CE, Rome had expanded over the course of centuries from a city-state on the banks of the Tiber River to an empire stretching across the Mediterranean basin and radiating outward to envelop Spain, France, and much of Germany in the northwest, and a large swath of Egypt and Libya in the southeast. At the beginning of this long expansion, Rome had been a republic in which, to varying degrees, the senate directed politics, the army, and the administration. 

In the first century BCE, Rome went through a series of civil wars, when powerful individuals challenged the control of the senate and related republican institutions. As a result of these conflicts, Rome became an empire by 27 BCE, where the emperor, despite presenting himself as princeps, or “first citizen,” was a monarch in all but name. The senate and other trappings of republicanism remained during the empire, but only with a diminished role.... Read more about The Financial Crisis, Then and Now: Ancient Rome and 2008 CE

Absences in the “Archive of Dominicanidad”

Harvard Professor Lorgia García-Peña returns to her roots to investigate the narratives that shaped a divide.

Map of Haiti and Dominican Republic

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic forces a conspicuous dividing line between black and non-black, respectively. How the island of Hispaniola came to be so racially divided, and the impact it has had on the formation of the Dominican identity is a central focus of Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction by Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Lorgia García-Peña, Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

The Dominican identity is highly complex, melding various ancestries from Spanish colonials, Indigenous peoples, emancipated slaves from the seventeenth century, and Haitian blacks, who are themselves descendents of the slaves of French colonizers. Above all racial affiliations, blackness has been historically the most reviled and disputed element of Dominican diversity, where many shades of “brown” have been somehow easier to embrace. García-Peña delves into the archives and oral histories to document historic, cultural, and literary efforts to erase blackness from the national identity. As a contributor to the growing discipline of Afro-Latin American studies, her research moves beyond slavery and persecution to identify the many ways in which Dominicans are embracing their multifaceted ancestries and to document the growing awareness of social inequities for ethnic Haitians and Afro-Dominicans.

Dominicans should never forget the inherent ferocity of those monsters that penetrated our homes…and even the innocence of our candid virgins destroyed. 

—Translated from the song “Canción dominicana” by Felix Maria del Monte, 1844.

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From Rome to Rwanda: The Centuries-Long Effort to Define Civil War

A new book by Harvard historian David Armitage unearths two millennia of thinking about a most ignoble type of war.

Image of Romulus and Remus on a coin

If you live in a developed country, you are among those enjoying the “Long Peace,” a period marked by the absence of large scale interstate war since the end of 1945. It is the longest period of such calm in modern history. During this same time period, however, the world’s pockets of conflict have moved away from the frontiers and turned, instead, inward. 

“The Long Peace stands under a dark shadow—the shadow of civil war,” writes Harvard historian and Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate David Armitage, whose new book, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas tracks the evolution of human understanding of civil war over two millennia.

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The Power of Restraint in the “Golden Age” of Arms Control: A Tribute to Thomas C. Schelling

Image of Thomas Schelling teaching at Harvard

Thomas Schelling’s passing last month represents a great loss to many in this community and beyond. He leaves a remarkably rich intellectual legacy. Among his many achievements, Schelling’s influence on the theory and practice of arms control cannot be overstated. He produced his seminal works on the subject—Strategy and Arms Control, published with Morton Halperin in 1961, and Arms and Influence, published in 1966—during his twelve years in residence at the Center for International Affairs (1959–1971). I had the pleasure of spending time with Professor Schelling at his home in Bethesda while researching my book on the history of the Center in 2005. Two things stood out from that conversation then, and perhaps even more so now in retrospect. First, Schelling was deeply committed to policy-relevant research, and his long life of work reflects that fact. Secondly—and relatedly—his work on the efficacy and control of nuclear weapons remains a singular benchmark for research in the field and a profoundly erudite and intelligent guide for today’s policy makers, just as it was for their predecessors some sixty years ago.

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The Lines We Draw Between Us

Harvard historian Charles Maier explores the boundaries that separate and bind societies throughout modern history.

Image of Charles Maier

To read Charles Maier’s latest book, Once Within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging Since 1500, is to take a bird’s-eye-view journey through five centuries of geopolitical history, to witness how societies have regarded and apportioned space on our planet.

As concepts of boundaries and territories are being reconceptualized in the twenty-first century, the notion of what it means to be part of a particular society takes on new dimensions. For most of us, traditional concepts of nation, state, and territory remain deeply ingrained in our sense of self and belonging. In his book, Maier takes readers on a meditative journey through the “fitful evolution of territorial organization,” and reflects on how science and technology have expanded our conceptualization of space, authority, and sovereignty. Once Within Borders invites us to step back and consider the many ways in which human societies have claimed borders and territories to consolidate power, wealth, and group affiliation—and how those borders have shaped our consciousness through time. The Weatherhead Center engaged Charles Maier, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University, in a discussion about the value of borders in today’s networked world.

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