Citation, Authority, and Narrative: Livy and the Implications of Strategic Source Presentation

By Ricky Shear, HI Graduate Research Assistant

Dr. Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor of Classics, led discussion at the February 14th meeting of the Humanities Institute’s Faculty Fellows Seminar by presenting her research on Titus Livius (also known as Livy), a Roman historian writing from about 31 B.C. to 14 A.D., and his poetic and strategically political citations in his 142-book history of Rome (of which only 35 books survive), Ab Urbe Condita (meaning “from the foundation of the city,”). Haimson Lushkov’s current project (which continues some of the themes of her recent book, Magistracy and the Historiography of the Roman Republic: Politics in Prose) explores how Livy’s narrative style “uses complex literary mechanism[s] in order to give shape to” the story it “tells about the Roman past,” and analyzes how the Roman historian “presents his sources” to tell certain kinds of historical stories.

Haimson Lushkov indicated that her project contributes to a transition in the discipline of Classics from seeing Livy as an “unthinking moralistic historian” to seeing him as a politically savvy narrative craftsman. In both her presentation and her 2013 essay, “Citation and the Dynamics of Tradition in Livy’s AUC” (Histos, vol. 7), Haimson Lushkov pointed out that Livy cites other Roman historians to “construct a literary tradition and historiographical background” and “positio[n]…himself and his sources relative to a collective tradition” in a way that lends his work authority within that tradition. This analysis of Livy’s citation practices foregrounds that the production of authority is an important function of citation, and Haimson Lushkov encouraged the seminar to reflect on how authority created through controlled and strategic presentation of sources influences our understanding of narratives.

Haimson Lushkov observed that Livy’s citation reveals how he sees his own work’s position within a literary and historical tradition. She related this use of citations to the use of citations by present-day academics, suggesting that how and what we cite reveal the “stories of our academic selves and our commitments.” Haimson Lushkov also drew connections between Livy’s citation and our contemporary information environment, suggesting that just as the information and narratives in Ab Urbe Condita are curated based on Livy’s interests and agenda despite his implied objectivity and authority, so too are the information and narratives curated by social media and tech corporations to appeal to us and/or further various interests and agendas despite the fact that we are told we can find objective and authoritative information on just about anything online.

Faculty Fellows responded to Haimson Lushkov’s project by discussing their own approaches to citation and noting how those approaches are influenced by their beliefs, commitments, and the expectations of their field. The seminar’s discussion moved from addressing the rigorous citation required in the medical field and the high stakes of making a flawed study authoritative through widespread citation to discussing citations as a product of Western civilization in contrast, for example, to the Afrocentric tradition. Haimson Lushkov responded to the latter point by mentioning that the field of Classics is now wrestling with its Eurocentric traditions, and especially with their appropriation by extreme right-wing positions, despite what we know about the rich cultural and racial diversity of the ancient world and its later students and scholars. Faculty Fellows’ responses suggested that examining Livy’s approach to citation within the Roman historical tradition caused them to reflect on the relationship between citation and authority in academia, in particular, how features of academic publishing and writing such as the peer review system and citation indexes influence which sources get labelled as authoritative. From there the seminar moved into a wide-ranging discussion of fact and fiction, truth and rumor, and appropriation and creativity. This broader discussion foreshadowed some of the topics that have been addressed in the first Distinguished Public Lecture organized by the seminar, Dr. Emily Greenwood’s March 13th lecture on “Philology and Reparation: Resisting Anti-Human Errors in ‘Great’ Books.”

See the Humanities Institute’s website for more information about the Faculty Fellows Seminar and the 2018-2020 class of Faculty Fellows.

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