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Postmodern Herodotus

April 27, 2008

I’ve always had a soft spot for Herodotus. This might possibly owe to his apparent ADD or to his cameo in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Regardless, Daniel Mendelson reviews The Landmark Herodotus (ed. by Robert Strassler) and several other recent titles on the “father of history” in the latest New Yorker. Strangely and wonderfully, Mendelson goes a long way to show the importance of Herodotus to what might be referred to as postmodern history.

The following quote gave me all sorts of postmodern, web 2.0 pedagogical ideas:

He [Herodotus] pauses to give you information, however remotely related, about everything he mentions, and that information can take the form of a three-thousand-word narrative or a one-line summary. It only looks confusing or “digressive” because Herodotus, far from being an old fuddy-duddy, not nearly as sophisticated as (say) Thucydides, was two and a half millennia ahead of the technology that would have ideally suited his mentality and style. It occurs to you, as you read “The Landmark Herodotus”—with its very Herodotean footnotes, maps, charts, and illustrations—that a truly adventurous new edition of the Histories would take the digressive bits and turn them into what Herodotus would have done if only they’d existed: hyperlinks.

With the technologies afforded to us as educators through software packages like Blackboard, it would be possible to create a customized wiki-Herodotus wherein all of his zany tangents and digressions were relegated to hyperlinks. I, for one, would find the work worse for the effort; but it might provide an interesting pedagogical experiment if only to show students that all of Herodotus’ digressions are what make the work so much fun to read.

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