Peter Brown (historian)

Peter Brown (historian)

Peter Robert Lamont Brown (born 1935) was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a Protestant family. He was educated at Shrewsbury School and New College, Oxford. He was a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. There, he pursued his graduate studies under the direction of Arnaldo Momigliano.

He has taught at Oxford, the University of London, and UC Berkeley, as well as Princeton University, where he is currently the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History. In 1982, Brown was named a MacArthur Fellow. In 2001, he was awarded with the Distinguished Achievement Award for scholars in the humanities by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Brown has been instrumental in popularizing the historical period of Late Antiquity, the figure of the Holy Man, and study of the cult of saints.

Brown, who reads at least fifteen languages, established himself at the unusually young age of 32 with his authoritative biography of Augustine of Hippo. A steady stream of books and articles has since appeared, and currently, Brown is arguably the most prominent historian of Late Antiquity.

In his work "The World of Late Antiquity" (1971), he put forward a new interpretation of the period between the third and eighth centuries CE. The traditional interpretation of this period was centered around the idea of decadence from a 'golden age', classical civilization, after the famous work of Edward Gibbon "The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire" (1779). On the contrary, Brown proposed to look at this period in positive terms, arguing that Late Antiquity was a period of immense cultural innovation.

Brown was influenced in his early works by the French Annales School, and specifically the figure of Fernand Braudel. Following this school, Brown analyzed culture and religion as social phenomena and as part of a wider context of historical change and transformation. Annales' influence in Brown's work can also be seen in his reliance on Anthropology and Sociology as interpretative tools for historical analysis. Specifically, Brown received the influence of contemporary Anglo-Saxon anthropology. [See the collection of articles (including one by Brown himself) in "Symbolae Osloenses" 72 (1997).]

His views slightly shifted in the eighties. In articles and new editions Brown said that his earlier work, which had deconstructed many of the religious aspects of his field of study, needed to be reassessed. His later work shows a deeper appreciation for the specifically Christian layers of his subjects of study Fact|date=April 2007. His book "The Body and Society" (1988) offered an innovative approach to the study of early Christian practices, showing the influence of Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault's work on the history of sexuality.

elected bibliography

*"Augustine of Hippo: A Biography" (1967/2000) – ISBN 0-520-22757-3
*"The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150–750" (1971/1989) – ISBN 0-393-95803-5
*"The Making of Late Antiquity" (1978) – ISBN 0-674-54321-1
*"The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity" (1981) – ISBN 0-226-07622-9
*"Society & the Holy in Late Antiquity" (1982) – ISBN 978-0-520-06800-1
*"The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity" (1988) – ISBN 0-231-06101-3
*"Power and Persuasion: Towards a Christian Empire" (1992)
*"Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman world" (1995) – ISBN 0-521-49904-6
*"The Rise of Western Christendom" (1996/2003)– ISBN 0-631-22138-7
*Chapters 21 & 22 in "The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIII, The Late Empire, A.D. 337–425" (1998) – ISBN 0-521-30200-5
*"Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire" (2002)


* [ Stanford site] about Peter Brown.
* [ 'A life of Learning'] Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 2003, by Peter Brown
*"Bound to Please" by Michael Dirda, p. 22-25, W.W, Norton, 2005

External Links

* [ Faculty Page] at Princeton


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