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McDonald Annual Lecture 2015

Norman Yoffee (University of Michigan, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University) - Counternarratives of Early States in Mesopotamia (and Elsewhere)
When Nov 18, 2015
from 05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Large Lecture Theatre, Plant Sciences, Downing Site, CB2 3EA
Contact Name
Attendees All welcome
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The lecture will be followed by a reception in the McDonald Institute Courtyard Building, Ground Floor.



A master narrative tends to regard the Crown in Mesopotamia as all-powerful, led by kings (and their bureaucracies) who controlled the flow of goods, services, and information. The most successful kings brought together fractious cities, disparate trouble-making groups - “ethnic” or “tribal” groups - and the unruly countryside. The mightiest of these kings constructed a territorial state and expanded this to an empire. In recent years, however, scholars are asking new questions about this narrative: In what ways were people subjects of the Crown? Why were cities fractious? How were ethnic groups in the countryside able to make trouble? Why did these states collapse?

Dispatches about research in a variety of other early states show similar patterns of unhappiness with received narratives. Also, modern archaeologists are turning from certain disco-age preoccupations of defining an essentialized ancient state and identifying it in the archaeological record to concerns about what the state does. Even newer research is concerned with what the state does not do.

This lecture considers whether an emergent counternarrative about ancient cities and states is setting the agenda for new research on ancient states globally.

Annual Lecture 2015_2



Annual Lecture 2015Norman Yoffee (PhD, Yale, 1973) studies early states in Mesopotamia and also the rise and collapse of ancient cities and states as world history. He has published books on legal and economic affairs in Mesopotamia (The Economic Role of the Crown in the Old Babylonian Period, 1977; Old Babylonian Texts from Kish in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, with Veysel Donbaz, 1986; Old Babylonian Texts in the Ashmolean Museum, with Stephanie Dalley, 1992) and a variety of books on archaeological theory, e.g., Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations, 2005. Two recent edited volumes are Questioning Collapse, with Patricia McAnany, 2010, and Early Cities in Comparative Perspective (volume 3 in the new Cambridge World History), 2015. He is also the editor of the series of regional archaeological syntheses, Cambridge World Archaeology, which includes 30+ volumes and counting.

An Oral History of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research