The Sir Samuel Dill Memorial Lecture: 3rd November 2016 – Delivered by John Curran, Convener of CANI

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Queens University Belfast

The School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

The Sir Samuel Dill Memorial Lecture

Open to the public and delivered when an occasion presents, on a subject relating to the history, philosophy, language or literature of the classical or medieval worlds.



Guest Speaker



Former Warden of Keble College, Oxford, previously Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine History at King’s College London

Dame Averil Cameron was unfortunately unable to attend the event. Dr John Curran Senior Lecturer at QUB  and Convener of CANI was invited to read her speech in lieu.

the-empty-stageVenue: The Canada Room and Council Chamber, Lanyon Building, QUB

           introduction      dr-brian-campbell

Dr James Davis (QUB) introduced the Dill Memorial Lecture, conveying an apology from Dame Averil Cameron.

Professor Brian Campbell (QUB) followed by presenting John Curran as the replacement speaker for the evening.

John is the founder of CANI and our current Convener. He returned from sabbatical leave abroad to read a speech provided in her absence by Dame Averil .


john-curran-3John prepares to read from Dame Averil’s paper. The lecture was illustrated.


Extracts from

The Dill Memorial Lecture

 as written by

Dame Averil Cameron


“The rise and fall of empires seems to be being played out in our own world. Is the American empire in decline, while the Russian empire is on the rise, with China there in waiting? What factors cause empires to decline and fall?”


“Rome is the favoured baseline – especially for comparisons with China. In the period of the Roman empire, China was also an empire, highly bureaucratized, able to organize itself as a state, extract a surplus and project its power. The dealings of Rome and China with their neighbours and rivals are especially illuminating: how did such empires work, and how did they deal with other peoples?”


“Some of those currently addressing the comparative history of Rome and China argue that history proceeds along quasi-biological, in a neo-Darwinian appeal to evolutionary biology. In contrast, it seems to me obvious that the kind of history we write is deeply influenced by our own subjectivity, that determines what questions we ask, what themes we emphasize, and which points of comparison we single out”


“One historian can see total urban collapse in the sixth century, while an archaeologist stresses continuity and observes clearly late antique features in the early eighth-century Umayyad city of ‘Anjar in Lebanon and other sites”


“Which means, finally, that the study and especially the writing of history needs to be recognized as an ethical endeavour. The historian has a responsibility, not just to reveal the past as it really was to the best of his or her knowledge, but also to approach history writing in a responsible way, since, like it or not, people are going to draw conclusions from it for the present and even for the future”


“Even if it cannot directly predict the future, history can help us to understand contemporary issues and problems and to avoid falling into the traps of, for example, economic determinism. To quote from a recent contribution, ‘history is a critical science for questioning short-term views, complicating simple stories about causes and consequences, and discovering roads not taken”


“We have all too many such simple stories today. Samuel Dill’s way of using history to work through the issues he thought most important is not one that would find much support now. But returning to Dill’s book on the last centuries of the western empire is an exercise in reflection on just why and in what ways history is still so crucially important”


The full [pdf] text of Dame Averil Cameron’s speech was made available online by the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast

~~ Recommended reading relating to Byzantium & the Sixth Century ~~


                      book                              late-empire

                   three-gods                    constantius


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