The Long Journey from Dissertation to Monograph


The challenge of transforming one’s dissertation into a readable, and perhaps even sellable monograph, is the bane of many a scholar. Once one has finally seen the “last” of their dreaded study after completion of their PhD, the last thing one wants to do is revisit something that they sweated over for years (in my case 5 1/2). We are probably our own harshest critics. Indeed, I know full well the shortcomings of my own work. The hard thing for many of us is to recognise what was and is good. Some distance is probably a good thing. Now just over two years after final approval I finally feel ready to create the book.

Certainly the window to publish these works is pretty short. In fact, when I first completed my dissertation I approached Penn Press about the possibility of a monograph. They sent a very encouraging  “rejection” . With their helpful comments in hand, I decided to work on the original work’s gaps, by publishing a few articles that addressed these issues. Moreover, I added some material that should have been in the original, but had to be left out due to space and time constraints.

With four articles under my belt, this week I approached another publisher . The initial response was encouraging, so I will begin an experiment by blogging some of the rewrites and new chapters. I am hoping to have a completed draft by the end of the year, so I plan on about one blog every two weeks. Feel free to comment, To finish the project I will need to basically create three new chapters from pretty much scratch out of the planned seven or eight. Here is an “enticing” preview, followed by  a rather Phd-like outline, with a comment on where the draft stands at the moment.

So let us begin with my trailer…..

In the early years of the fifth century, a Roman or non-Roman man spending any time in one of the many major or minor cities scattered throughout the Western and Eastern halves of the Empire, would have quite literally found himself surrounded by visual reminders of what one modern scholar calls Rome’s masculine imperium.[1] Across its vast expanse, a remarkable homogeneity of material culture bound the state’s disparate cities.[2] A zealous militarism certainly represented a common theme in any city’s expression of its Romanitas.[3] Strolling along the colonnaded streets, or wandering through any of the many public areas that helped to define these population centres, one would have been constantly confronted by the Romans’ adulation of their military legacy as well as their continuing admiration of their soldiers’ martial virtues. One sixth-century source tells us that the city of Rome alone had 3,785 bronze statues of emperors and famous military commanders.[4] If only on a subconscious level, the marble and bronze statuary of bellicose-looking Roman emperors and other famous military heroes—living and dead—that adorned the cities, would have spoken clearly to both literates and illiterates about the integral relationship between the well-being of the local community and the militarism of its central leadership.[5]

In the Empire’s larger population centres, this message took on even more blatant forms. Funded by the substantial wealth of the imperial family and the upper crust of the aristocracy, magnificent state monuments designed to express current ideologies decorated the Empire’s larger cities.[6] A variety of artistic mediums expressed the idea found in one sixth-century Eastern Roman historian that for Rome “to triumph forever over our enemies is our birthright and ancestral privilege.”[7] Intricately carved marble reliefs on exterior walls, columns, and other memorials spoke to this faith by providing the onlooker with a continuous pictorial narrative of Roman victories over “barbarian” enemies.[8]A visitor to Constantinople in the first two decades of the fifth century would have witnessed the construction of the magnificent column of the reigning Emperor Arcadius (ruled 395-408). Modelled on the column of the Emperor Trajan (ruled 98-117), in thirteen windings the monument depicted naval and terrestrial military scenes that showed the decidedly non-martial emperor “leading” his army to victory over the Goths at the opening of the fifth century (plate 8).[9]

Mosaics and paintings often complemented these sculpted forms, as the one in Milan described to us by the fifth-century Eastern Roman historian Priscus, showing Roman emperors “sitting upon golden thrones surrounded by dead barbarians at their feet.”[10] We see in fact from other ancient sources that commissioning these visual monuments for public consumption served as one of the first steps an emperor took after a military triumph.[11] Such visual displays of Rome’s martial prowess served a larger political purpose. In Constantinople, foreign embassies on their way to an audience with the Roman emperor were led purposefully along a rout dominated by such martial iconography; imagery that none too subtly highlighted to the envoys Rome’s martial and, indeed, masculine supremacy.[12]

Even the coins that one carried on their person to perform the simplest of transactions spoke to the Romans’ sense of superiority over their foes, and served as well as a means of demonstrating the integral link between the manly valour of the emperor and his soldiers in the establishment and maintenance of this dominion. On the obverse of a coin, for instance, a fearsome headshot of the emperor often in military garb served as a customary design, while on the reverse, a favourite motif in the Later Empire was the representation of the emperor or his soldiers armed to the hilt standing over cowering barbarian captives with captions like: “The glory of the Romans [Gloria Romano rum]”, or “The return of happy times [Fel Temp Reparatio].”[13] Behind all of this imagery, we can observe a long-held conviction held by many Greek and Roman intellectuals that history represented a process whereby the manly conquered the unmanly (plate 3 & 5).[14]

Such assertions represent more than the anachronistic whims of modern scholars interested in uncovering ancient masculinities. Another Eastern Roman historian, writing in the early years of the fifth century, informs us that imperial image-makers created these art forms with the express intent of impressing upon their visual audience the “manliness of the emperor and the might of his soldiers [ἀνδρεíαν μὲν γὰρ βασιλέως ἢ ῥώμην στρατιωτῶν].”[15]

In a centralised governmental system like that found in the Later Roman Empire, imperial propaganda provided the emperors and their backers with a powerful tool to publicise their authority and manipulate popular opinion across the expanse of Empire.[16] The classically educated elites, who represented an essential audience for these media campaigns, would have understood the social significance of the ideology, and in particular, the militaristic symbolism intrinsic to these art forms. Though living in increasingly independent halves of the Empire, these men, to borrow the words of Jacqueline Long, identified “with the name of Rome and Roman traditions completely.”[17] Raised in educational systems based on a steady diet of classical Latin authors, such as Sallust, Seneca the younger, and Vergil in the West and Greek authors like Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides in the East, the literate classes in both halves of the Empire remained intimately aware of the time-honoured idealisation of the military ethic as an essential aspect of both masculine ideology and Rome’s right to imperium.[18]

Hungry for more?


And the prospective outline…..

This project examines the numerous ways martial virtues and images of the soldier’s life shaped early Byzantine cultural ideals of masculinity. It contends that in many of the visual and literary sources from the fourth to the seventh centuries CE, conceptualisations of the soldier’s life and the ideal manly life were often the same. By taking this stance, the book challenges the view found in many recent studies on Late Roman and early Byzantine masculinity that suggest a Christian ideal of manliness based on extreme ascetic virtues and pacifism had superseded militarism and courage as the dominant component of hegemonic masculine ideology. Though the monograph does not reject the relevance of Christian constructions of masculinity for helping one understand early Byzantine society and its diverse representations of masculinity, it seeks to balance these modern studies’ often heavy emphasis on “rigorist” Christian sources with the more customary attitudes we find in the secular, and indeed some Christian texts, praising military virtues as an essential aspect of Byzantine manliness. The nexus between martial virtues and “true” manliness remained a powerful cultural force in the period covered in this study. Indeed, the reader of this work will find that the “manliness of war” is on display in much of the surviving early Byzantine literature, secular and Christian.

Prospective Chapter Outline

Chapter 1 investigates how modern historians formulate and use “masculinity” as a tool of historical inquiry. It provides a brief summary of the growth of gender studies in the past forty years, and explores some of the current debates surrounding “masculinity” as a legitimate means for understanding ancient cultures like Rome and Byzantium. It contends that if critics of scholarship examining ancient masculinities have been correct in pointing out the dangers of letting our modern obsession with sexuality “cloud” our view of the past, it is just as vital to point out the androcentric nature of Rome and Byzantium in comparison to many modern western cultures. While the past must always remain a “foreign country,” familiarising ourselves with these ancient masculinities can provide us not only with a better understanding of ancient Rome and Byzantium, but also offer us essential insights into our own era. (22 pages done)

Chapter 2 focuses on the continuing relevance of martial virtues in Late Roman conceptualisations and representations of heroic manliness. The chapter provides a discussion on the close link between the soldier’s life and codes of manliness from the Republic to the Early Empire. It then describes the supposed demilitarisation of the Roman upper classes and the changing ethnic makeup of the Roman army in the Later Empire. It closes by discussing how these shifts influenced representations of “true” manliness in both the ancient texts and in some modern works on Late Roman masculinity.(39 pages done, an article based on this “key” chapter is soon to be published)

Chapter 3 opens by tracing the evolution of Christian “heroes” in the fourth century. It seeks to explain some of the reasons for their growing popularity in later Christian sources from the fourth and the fifth centuries. It strives also to demonstrate why some modern studies have attributed shifts in hegemonic Roman masculine ideology to these social and political developments. The chapter examines the growing influence of holy men and bishops as a means of exploring continuity and change in early Byzantine gender ideology. It contends that while many of these influential modern studies have correctly uncovered how early Christian intellectuals both interacted and cleverly inverted dominant Greco-Roman masculinities, they have, at times, overstated the impact, as well as the innovative nature of Christian masculine ideology in this era. Moreover, despite the claims found in many of these same studies that martial virtues no longer played an essential role in shaping notions of heroic manliness in the fifth century, we will see once again, that the waging of war and the acts of masculine bravery best demonstrated by Roman soldiers in “real” battles, remained an essential aspect of hegemonic masculinity in the Theodosian age.

(35 pages done, though I will be tweeking the original)

Chapter 4 turns its focus to the seeming paradox, between the images of ideal martial manliness disseminated by the fifth-century Roman emperors and their supporters, and the reality of the increasing demilitarisation of a segment of the Roman leadership. It examines both idealised and negative views of various Eastern and Western emperors from Constantius II (ruled 337-361) to Valentinian III ruled (ruled 425-455). It seeks to understand how the declining military role of the emperor after the death of Theodosius I in 395 influenced literary representations of idealised leadership that had long depended on the intimate connections between an emperor’s courage, his manliness, and the well-being of the Empire. In particular, we look at how the fifth-century ecclesiastical and secular historians constructed images of these emperors that reflect traditional as well as “innovative” strategies of leadership and manliness. The chapter challenges the dominant modern view that supposes that these fifth-century regimes witnessed a major shift away from martial virtues as an essential component of imperial propaganda.( 30 pages.I need to rework this chapter from the original dissertation. That chapter focused heavily on the emperor Julian, this one will provide a more diachronic view of the later emperors.)

Chapter 5 moves further into the fifth century in order to consider the reigns of the fifth-century soldier-emperors Marcian, Leo, I, and Zeno. It seeks to place the militarized regimes within the context of Byzantine historiography. More precisely, the chapter concludes that these reigns serve as further evidence that the early Byzantine Empire continued to embrace martial virtues as key qualities of both imperial leaders, and men more generally. Certainly these military regimes provides important clues for historians hoping to uncover the nuanced ways martial virtues continued in the second half of the fifth century to shape ideals of leadership and manly Romanitas.(this is a new chapter. I have published an article on Leo I based on the draft).

Chapter 6 looks at the role that the traditional Roman military ethos played in the sixth century. Was the seeming increased interest in military matters and the deeds of “manly” soldiers  in much of  this literature the by-product of Justinian’s reconquests, or more a reflection of genre and/or the dearth of secular sources that come down to us from the fifth century?  In particular the chapter will show how the propaganda war between Theoderic’s Italy and the Eastern Empire was often based on traditional gendered and martial rhetoric. Indeed martial virtues represented a key aspect on any peoples claim to Romanitas. As recent scholarship has pointed out, mid-sixth century historians writing from an Eastern perspective like Jordanes and Procopius inverted Theoderican propaganda that touted the martial manliness of the Goths while belittling the Eastern Byzantines as unmanly Greeks. This chapter will show that the two sides in the battle for Italy sought to present the struggle as a contest of manliness between two peoples vying to be seen by the Italian populace as “true” martial and manly Romans. (a reworking of my original chapter five….the best chapter in my mind in the original thesis, indeed, it produced two well received articles, and served as the basis for my third on Narses)

Chapter 7 concludes the study by looking at how the increasing focus on religious ideology as an aspect of imperial propaganda during the reign of the Emperor Heraclius (ruled 610-641) influenced seventh-century ideals of masculinity. It explores the ways hegemonic masculine ideologies disseminated the views of an elite intent on justifying and protecting the existing political order. Of particular interest is Heraclius’ increasing use of Old Testament ideologies to promote his military campaigns. The chapter delves into these messages for hints of continuity and change in cultural codes of masculinity during this transformative era of Byzantine history. (This chapter ended up in my conclusion in the original thesis because I ran out of time. Therefore it will need a little work….my next blog perhaps?).


So there it is….

5 thoughts on “The Long Journey from Dissertation to Monograph

      1. mikeaztec Post author

        Jonathan is an skilled scholar and I am happy to say that we publish in some of the same journals and share some similar interests. I must admit that my blogs are primarily my unedited notes and not as polished as they perhaps should be, I found it a good place to put my “big” ideas. I also hope you pick up the blog again Curt, I enjoy it. Reading it I can see you are a natural historian with a deft skill for reading the source material with fresh eyes…then reading the secondary material…that is much the same method I use. Being a historian is a matter of passion and a fresh and sometimes sceptical vision, skills you have in spades. Have you ever thought of taking the big journey to Leeds…I am headed there this summer…will be meeting up with Jon Arnold who I see you are familiar with and Shaun Tougher. We are doing a panel on Byzantine and Chinese generalship….and drinking a bit of stout I suspect!

  1. Curt Emanuel

    I’d love to make Leeds. Unfortunately, when you work in Agronomy, taking a week off during that time of year is problematic. It’s problematic in Mid-May too but I’m about a 3.5 hour drive if I have to get back. This has happened – in 2009 I missed Friday at Kalamazoo because I had to get to Purdue to do a program. I’m hoping I can get there sooner but Leeds may end up being a post-retirement trip for me.


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