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Polis Histories and Local Identities: Historiographical and Philosophical Innovations in the Age of Glocalization, c. 400-200 BCE

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier


This project investigates and re-evaluates ancient Greek local history, aiming to explain how the concept of localism was applied to historiography and to what extent this type of writing was grounded in the wider intellectual framework of Classical and Hellenistic thought. By placing this practice in the context of the historiographical and philosophical innovations of the fourth and third century BCE, the project will show how local history emerged organically from its historical and intellectual context. The project is based on the hypothesis that local historians constructed a local identity within the framework of the city state constantly blending objectives of preservation and (re)invention of the past.


While research into the city state as an institution has been carried out (e.g. The Copenhagen Polis Centre), scant attention has been paid to those narratives examining the history of individual city states. The project addresses this lack by offering an innovative research program that carries out a comprehensive and much-needed reinterpretation of the most important historiographical genre of the Hellenistic age. The project makes two important contributions that will profoundly change how the genre is perceived: 1) it applies a modern theoretical approach to interpret the ancient fragmentary material and 2) it advances the field of Greek historiography by connecting localism to the innovations of Aristotle, antiquarians, and chronographers.


By drawing on the interdisciplinary theoretical concept of Intentionale Geschichte - i.e. the idea that every generation form a concept of their own history that supports their understanding of their own identity in the present - the aim is to examine how collective identity was constructed through the interpretation of decisive historical periods, events and individuals. The project is part of a new wave of memory studies focusing on how historical texts constructed a local community, how a group related its inner coherence to other entities, and what a society thought was important to pass on to the next generation. This approach will significantly improve our understanding of the numerous ways historians reassessed the past to construct an identity centered around the city state.


This project contributes strongly to an interdisciplinary research agenda with a theoretical basis in Memory Studies. The aim is to study collective identities across geographical and chronological borders, since understanding an era so fundamentally characterized and shaped by globalization is impossible without a transnational perspective. This further connects the project to the modern themes of globalism, nationalism and glocalization - i.e. the presence of particularizing and universalizing tendencies occurring at the same time - in the way it investigates how local identity is constructed within a global framework and how local history becomes global in the framework of the modern metropolis, i.e. the city state. By incorporating such diverse concepts into the study of ancient Greek historiography, this project will create a model for future studies of memory and identity in past societies.