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The Betty Behrens Seminar on Classics of Historiography

Date: Thursday 4 May – Thursday 25 May 2023, 2pm
Location: Richard Eden Suite, Clare Hall, Herschel Road, Cambridge CB3 9AL
Booking: via Eventbrite

The Betty Behrens Seminar on Classics of Historiography offers a unique opportunity for students and scholars to reflect on some great historical works and engage in discussion with renowned experts.

4 May – Judith Mossman (Coventry University), Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (II c.)Download the text here

11 May – Jane Caplan (University of Oxford), Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (1934-1961)Download the text here. Download the second text here. Download the footnotes here.

18 May – John Robertson (University of Cambridge), Giambattista Vico’s The New Science (1725)Download the text here

25 May – Maurizio Viroli (Princeton University), Niccolò Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories (1532) — Download the text here


As we know, a classic is recognised as such insofar as it retains its value as an intellectual and cognitive tool, helping us to gain an understanding of the past as well as the present from a particular cultural viewpoint. Classics still have the capacity to resonate and speak to us about current problems. They produce perspectives that are implicitly comparative and dynamic, thanks to the historical dimension passing through both them and us. These considerations are even more relevant when we speak about the classics of historiography because the same historical dimension is present on several more levels. These classics challenge us to contemplate some historical problems, which are only fully understood when properly contextualised. In the same way, even the classic itself can fruitfully produce its own intellectually provocative value only when it is read through the eyes of the present but interpreted with a historicist approach. This seminar series will endeavour to underline the importance of the classics of historiography for their relevant intellectual function in creating critical political thought.

The seminar series will take place between 4 and 25 May and is composed of four weekly meetings. The charming and fresh atmosphere of the Richard Eden Suite at Clare Hall, West Court, Cambridge, will be the location for the discussions. Each meeting is two hours long: the guest speaker will introduce the classic by talking for half an hour; after that, each participant will briefly express their understanding of the work by addressing some questions to the other participants and the guest speaker. In order to be ready for the dialogue, everyone is asked to read about fifty pages (selected by the guest speaker) of the work under scrutiny, which will be published on this webpage.

Before each seminar meeting, the Clare Hall dining hall will be available for lunch. After each event, participants will enjoy a further informal exchange of viewpoints over a glass of juice or wine.

There are only twelve posts available to guarantee the close dynamics of the discussion and the full involvement of participants. Those interested can apply for even just one meeting. To attend the seminar either as a participant or as an auditor, please register via

For any queries, please contact Professor Davide Cadeddu, who is convening this seminar series, via