11:00 am – 1:00 pm
5th Floor Seminar Room, Italian Academy for Advanced Study, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY, 10027.
Amanda Podany, “Ea-naṣir, Microhistory, and Popular Interest in Ancient Mesopotamia”
To judge from Twitter, the most notable figure in ancient Mesopotamian history was Ea-nasir, an incompetent businessman from the 18th century BCE. People post about him every day on social media—normal people, not Assyriologists. He has captured their imagination. This popular fascination is nothing to scoff at; Ea-nasir provides a key to making our field more accessible to the public.
We don’t know much about Ea-nasir’s life, but the archive of his letters allows for a glimpse into his trading practices and how much he annoyed many of his customers. Many people recognize intriguing parallels to our modern interactions with sales representatives, but they are also struck by the completely alien culture in which Ea-nasir lived, thousands of years ago in southern Mesopotamia. His story lends itself to an intimate study—not a biography, which tends to take a broad approach to a person’s life, but a microhistory. Microhistory involves a detailed examination of a limited period of a person’s life, as reflected in a relatively small corpus of documents, in order to reveal more about the culture in which he or she lived.
Cuneiform records are perfectly suited to the approach of the microhistorian. We often have access to detailed records that were written over the course of only a few years, and that were not written for the future. But the scribes did, inadvertently, reveal a great deal about their own time. Several Assyriologists have written microhistories of individuals; their lead is worth following. In this lecture I will give some examples of ways in which a microhistorical approach can both expand our understanding of ancient Mesopotamia and also tap into the same kind of popular interest that has made Ea-nasir such an unlikely household name.