Feature: Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture volume 11 – Javier Martínez & Patricia González

The latest article from the Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture (JLARC), entitled “Knowledge and specialised trades in the late antique West: medicine vs engineering”, was published on 8th January. Its authors Javier Martínez and Patricia González compare and contrast the trades of medicine and engineering in the Roman world, and provide a theory as to why the Romans’ medical skills were mostly passed on to later generations while their engineering skills were soon lost.

Read the whole article at: https://jlarc.cardiffuniversitypress.org/articles/abstract/10.18573/j.2017.10451/

The high degree of technical and scientific development accomplished in the Roman world is quite staggering. The construction of concrete vaults still standing today, and unsurpassed until the Modern period, is proof of their engineering skills. Similarly, Roman medics were capable of practising eye surgery and embryotomies on patients who survived such interventions. However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West during the long fifth century and the emergence of Christianity, popular imagination sees these two sciences collapsing into the Dark Ages. While this is not absolutely true, it is not completely false either. In the Iberian and Gaulish examples we analyse in this paper, we want to put forward how engineering all but disappeared, while Roman medicine continued and was preserved through the Middle Ages and into modern times.
Complex techniques and specialised instruments, including vaulting and levelling, seem to have been lost in sixth- and seventh-century constructions. All new buildings are much simpler in design and techniques, even if built to large scale, because the problem was not the lack of skilled builders but the lack of trained engineers and architects who could do the necessary calculations. The specific example of aqueducts and their abandonment, and the way new churches were built, serve to illustrate this point. In medicine, however, there is a clear continuity of old Roman practices during late antiquity, partly promoted and protected by the Church. Only a few specific elements and tools seem to have been lost, while most generic and specialised sets of knowledge continued.
We propose that some of the reasons behind these diverting paths in the two sciences reside in the way these sets of specialised knowledge had been transmitted in the Roman world, underlining the weakness of Roman overspecialisation. Engineering was taught either through the army or through private apprenticeship systems, was limited almost entirely to men, and flourished during the periods of economic bonanza when large projects were carried out. The Roman elites would have a certain knowledge of construction and architecture basics as part of their cursus honorum, but this was never proper training – the engineer was not a socially privileged position. In this way, once the Empire collapsed, the army disbanded, and large building projects came to an end until the late sixth century. By then all chains of training in the West seem to have been terminally disrupted (as opposed to what happened in the Roman East). Medicine, on the other hand, was a very developed science, but it was not concentrated in a few hands. Army medics and surgeons existed, but they were not the only ones: municipal medics, trained slaves, herbalists, midwives, priests, even perfume makers, all shared fractions of the vast corpus of Roman medical science. It was accessible to men and women, and it was kept in high social esteem as well, so the transmission of medical knowledge was not as limited as engineering and not tied to the fate of the Empire.


Feature: Welsh Economic Review volume 25

This most recent volume contains six interesting and diverse papers. 

The first paper, by Holtham and Huggins, explores the factors which are associated with regional economic development and prosperity, using data on over 450 regional economies from around the world. One result in particular is highlighted – that education expenditures are strongly associated with regional success.  For regions with relatively low gross value-added and productivity, the most important factor was found to be expenditure on primary and secondary education, while for higher prosperity regions, spending on higher education was found to be more important.

The paper by Henley and Lang explores the rise in self-employment in Wales, and considers whether this is related to growth in the so called ‘gig-economy’. The authors recognise that the emergence of internet platform-based businesses, such as Uber and Deliveroo, have resulted in pressure on some to work on an insecure self-employed basis. However they conclude that the gig-economy is only one part of a more complex story, and that self-employed business owners continue to form the majority of the self-employed, both across the UK and in Wales.

The experiences of people who participated in training programmes supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) in Wales are investigated in the paper by Davies et al. The training programmes are considered to have possibly succeeded less well in supporting some of the most vulnerable groups within the labour market, such as relatively young participants, with low levels of educational attainment. However, generally the ESF programmes are considered to have helped address some of the essential skills issues within the Welsh economy. 

The paper by Henderson reports on the initial findings from an ongoing research project to examine the economic impacts associated with business adoption and use of superfast broadband and enabled digital technologies. The findings to date indicate that firms using superfast broadband and digital technologies reported greater labour productivity and innovation rates.

The scale and characteristics of tourism foreign direct investment (FDI) in Wales are examined in the paper by Xu. Tourism was estimated to account for around 3.4% of total direct Welsh GVA in 2013, with 86,500 full-time equivalent jobs estimated to be in tourism industries. UK and overseas-owned tourism businesses were found to supply just over half of all tourism services and products in Wales, with these tourism businesses also having levels of productivity compared with domestically-owned businesses.

The final article in this volume is by Daglish et al.  This paper examines election issues, political party performance and geography. The authors discuss three factors that were important in influencing voting behaviour, and in shaping the result of the 2015 general election: perceived relative importance of election issues, expected performance of parties on each election issue, and the trade-off between election issues. The authors suggest that the Liberal Democrats lost significant vote share because of voters’ perceptions of their performance on the contemporary election issues.

This volume is freely available online at https://wer.cardiffuniversitypress.org/14/volume/25/issue/0/