September 10, 2003

AAUUGGHH! I Want My Nanotechnology Now!

Well, not nanotechnology but microtechnology. I want to find my copy of Donald Kagan's The Archidamnian War so I can sound smart in a long-distance email conversation I am having with my brother. I want to quote the part where Donald Kagan says that Thucydides is completely, completely wrong in his overall assessment of the causes of the Peloponnesian War.

If my entire sources on the Peloponnesian War consisted of (a) Thucydides, (b) dubious material from the historical moralist Plutarch, and (c) other scraps of evidence, I would be extremely, extremely wary of contradicting Thucydides on anything. Thucydides was a very smart guy. Thucydides saw and learned lots of stuff that he did not put down in his book. To argue--as Kagan does--that Thucydides's evidence as presented in the book is not strong enough to support his conclusions is not to argue that Thucydides's conclusions are incorrect. Yet Kagan is bold, bold in his declarations that they are.

As Chris says:

...the knowledge is so damn spotty that there is a sense in which Kagan's work can be nothing other than a thin gloss on Thucydides. I wonder how much our view of Ancient Greece would be different had the Library of Alexandria not burned. Imagine if we had to reconstruct the history of the American Civil War with nothing to go on but Longstreet's memoirs...

But I cannot find my copy of The Archidamnian War. So I can't quote.

I need not nanotechnology but microtechnology. I need every single one of the 2,600 books in this office to have a small radio-frequency ID tag stuck to its spine, and a little hand-held gizmo that I can enter a title into and that will tell me "warmer" or "colder". I need it now. It's here somewhere.

Posted by DeLong at September 10, 2003 02:55 PM | TrackBack


2,600 books?! What you need is the academic version of a personal trainer: ie, a personal librarian/archivist.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on September 10, 2003 05:17 PM

I wonder if a two thousand years from now some academic on terraformed mars will say, d** if only the sack of baghdad had not been destroyed or scattered what little we knew about Mesopotamia then we could properly address this author's new take on the begginning of civilization....

Posted by: CalDem on September 10, 2003 05:39 PM

Can you find your copy of Ste Croix's Origins of the Peloponnesian War instead?

Posted by: Kieran Healy on September 10, 2003 06:27 PM

Hard to argue in the absence of evidence, but I doubt we would know much more about the Peloponnesian War if the Library of Alexandria were still with us. The other historians who covered the fifth century seem not to have been very good (rhetorical or dramatic rather than analytical), and the ones like Xenophon that had some ability made a point of not duplicating what Thucydides covered.

The reason, though, that we have evidence that enables to critique what Thucydides wrote is the incredible amount of contemporary epigraphic epigraphic evidence that has emerged from Greece (principally Attica) in the last 125 years, and the exacting labors of the scholars that have worked on it. A fair amount of this evidence is available in English for those who lack the knowledge of the Greek language (or the Greek numerical system, which is a hundred times harder).

Gene O'Grady

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on September 10, 2003 07:14 PM

Neurotechnology is what you really want, not nanotechnology...

Cogniceuticals, emoticeuticals....

Hmmm...will these new tools help us forecast happiness?

Posted by: Zack Lynch on September 10, 2003 09:08 PM

Can I just say, as an ex-chemist, that too many nanotechnology-enthusiasts still don't realise that "nanotechnology" is really just a new name for parts of what has become an uncool discipline, namely chemistry? (At least, those parts of nanotechnology that have any chance of becoming reality.)

Thanks. Glad to get that off my chest.

Posted by: Tom Slee on September 11, 2003 05:51 AM

Actually, as you have pointed, out disk storage is pretty cheap and getting cheaper. If you scanned the books into PDF format it might be about 200 pages a megabyte. If your average book is conservatively 5 megs, the 2600 would be about 13 gig, which would fit well within the current standard 40 gig drive. A simple database using ISBN would give you catalog information and if you just added the page range of the index, you would be able to access it quickly to look at it. This might be a good summer job for the 13-year-old.

Of course since most of the recent books started out in machine readable format this shows that there is an opportunity for some marketplace efficiency which the e-book market has missed completely, but that is another story.

Posted by: marc sobel on September 11, 2003 07:27 AM

Three words: The. Melian. Dialog.
I'm less interested in Thucidydes's historical accuracy, I believe it contributes less to mankind.

Posted by: John Isbell on September 11, 2003 08:16 AM

Why nano? The TI Tag-Its are small enough for documents smaller than books -

have already been rolled into a library system -

if you roll-your-own, you probably want a CueCat or something like it to get biblio data out of ISBNs-

and if you're going to scan your books, which personally I'd like to do for my own Memex, the Minolta Overhead scanner preferred by the Million Books project

is ever so *not* nano.

Posted by: clew on September 11, 2003 11:51 AM
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