An interview with Molly Greene, author of The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, 1453 to 1768: The Ottoman Empire

Last but not least in our series of interviews with shortlisted authors is Molly Greene, previous winner of the Runciman Award and author of The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, 1453 to 1768: The Ottoman Empire. We hope you have enjoyed these interviews, which have allowed us to probe a little and shed light on … Read more

An interview with Tim Whitmarsh, author of Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

Tim Whitmarsh, author of shortlisted work Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, kindly agreed to an interview.

The title of your book conveys less than it might. You say a lot about belief as well as disbelief: the nature of the ancient Greeks’ belief in their gods, and about their practice of religion, and about “putting the gods in their place”. Could you expand on the title for us in a few lines to convey this wider range?

Yes, it’s a book about both continuity and difference. That’s to say, there are aspects of ancient Greek atheism that are certainly very recognisable now: the centrality of the argument from evil, for example (how could a benevolent, omnipotent deity permit suffering?) But as you imply, the ancient Greco-Roman religious context was very different to anything we find in the modern world, and that does affect the forms in which atheism was expressed. Ancient religions were polytheistic, largely local, based in communal ritual rather than scripture; and priests had less of a hold over personal morality.

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An audio interview in Greek with Dimitris Papadimitriou, co-author of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power

Last week I met Dimitris Papadimitriou in Manchester, and much enjoyed a brief chat (along with a slice of lemon drizzle cake). My intention was to record a brief interview on my laptop, but we didn’t have time. Instead, we Skyped yesterday and I recorded the call. I’m afraid the result is technically imperfect, but … Read more

An interview with Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power

Many thanks to Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of shortlisted book Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power, who kindly agreed to this interview.

It was difficult not to get carried away with all the questions I wanted to ask them. In fact, some of my questions were impossible to answer in just one paragraph, and would have required… a whole book!

You were both involved in an ad hoc advisory committee to George Papandreou some years ago. Can you tell us more about it? What impact did the advisory committee have? Were any changes made as a result?

We interviewed George Papandreou, before he became PM, about his father, Andreas.  It was a good and wide-ranging discussion.  Kevin had written in ‘Kathimerini’ about the contrast between the formal powers of the Greek PM and the practical reality of a constrained and under-resourced position.  Later, after George’s election victory he invited Kevin to join an ad hoc advisory committee on how to ‘modernise’ the government structure and operation.  The Committee was to be composed of foreigners; Dimitris made his own bilateral input.  George announced in 2010 that he would be adopting the Committee’s Report and he started to implement some of its action-points.  But, of course, wider political events took over and George resigned as PM.  Yet, the impact continued: the governments that followed took action to reform the government at the centre and the Troika itself pressed this same agenda.  So, a focus had been defined and an agenda set.

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An interview with Sharon Gerstel, author of Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium

Sharon Gerstel, author of Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium, kindly agreed to answer a few questions. The answers are so interesting and so evocative of village life in Greece that even a second interview wouldn’t do justice to everything there is to say.

Sharon, you have made a very comprehensive study of life in villages in the Late Byzantine period. You distinguish your approach from that of some earlier studies. How would you characterise your own approach?

As a specialist in art history, archaeology, and ritual studies, my interest was to look across traditional disciplinary boundaries at Byzantine villages. Having lived for many years in Greece and having spent twenty years walking the landscape and discussing life stories with the older residents of small villages, it was also important for me to layer their stories onto the histories of their villages. While I’m very aware of the scholarly hazards of crossing between the medieval and modern periods, the fact that the villages and buildings have been in continuous habitation and use from the Late Byzantine to the modern period argued in favor of including personal testimonies within my research. Here, I was inspired by the work of a number of ethnographers, including that of Juliet du Boulay, who was a Runciman Award winner in 2010!

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