Please see the Conference Program tab for specific panel and lecture times. Please see the Call for Papers tab to learn more about this year’s theme.
John M. Musser Professor of Classics, Yale University
“A Classical Primer for Anti-racism / An Anti-racist Primer for Classics”
Lorraine Abagatnan, University of Washington
“The Art of the “βάρβαροι”: An Approach to Deconstructing Orientalism in Classical Art and Archaeology”
A growing body of interdisciplinary research exists between ancient Near Eastern and ancient Mediterranean studies, but therein lies a quiet yet profound problem. Despite strong efforts to break away from the past of Classics as a discipline reliant on culture-history approaches, many scholars still form opinions and theories about the Ancient Near East through the lens of Orientalism. These harmful notions affect the way that scholars conduct research and make observations. To move forward into a newer study that breaks away from the history of Orientalism, Orientalist thinking must be identified in assumptions and interpretations made in research.
This paper focuses specifically on ways archaeologists can break away from Orientalist methodology and theoretical frameworks. Two examples of theoretical frameworks used to examine the phenomenon of culture contact will be analyzed. These examples are drawn from Dr. Rebecca Martin’s work on Greek and Phoenician art, as well as Dr. Janett Morgan’s studies on Greek perspectives of the Achaemenid Iranians. Martin and Morgan both showcase the use of legitimate, good theory that takes into consideration the βάρβαροι perspective and experience without falling into the trap of easy, Orientalist arguments. This paper also stresses the importance of recognizing the military normal, a concept developed by Dr. Catherine Lutz. The military normal captures a more nuanced, less physical form of violence that resides within American culture and society. Archaeologists study ancient people, but exist in the present. Therefore, there is an obligation for archaeologists to recognize the modern political atmosphere which pervades nearly all aspects of a person’s lived experience, including their role as archaeologists.
In a time of great upheaval and uprooting, I aim to continue the ongoing conversations between classicists, Near Eastern scholars, and archaeologists surrounding race, ethnicity, and power. This is one of many studies that can show the use of Classics as a discipline for good, a discipline that, unlike in its inception, must now become one that embraces equity, as well as one that rejects racism outright.
Camille Acosta, UCLA
“(In)visible Others: “Finding” Migrants in the Archaeology of Ancient Greece”
Although the mobility of objects, ideas and people in the ancient Mediterranean plays a pivotal role in the development of Greek culture (8th – 4th c. BCE), neither the process of migration nor the lived experiences of migrating persons has received sufficient attention in scholarship. This paper focuses on the archaeology of migrant burials, and problematizes two scholarly approaches that have rendered migrants as people without agency. In doing so, I offer an alternative mode for studying migrants in their own right, as people who have gone through a life-altering experience as individuals or communities.
In the study of the Geometric and Archaic periods, archaeologists often attempt to identify migrant burials by isolating distinctively “foreign” traits such as imports from the place of origin, or evidence for specific practices such as cremation. However, this approach assumes that migrants would always be able to—or choose to—behave according to the traditions of their homeland, making them convenient vectors for synthesis of cross-cultural exchange in scholarship. By contrast, discussions of graves in the Classical period focus on ideologies of citizenship as the primary motivation for burial, which obfuscates or excludes the hundreds of graves belonging to non-citizen migrants. The former approach stresses the visibility of migrants while the latter renders them invisible; yet both strip migrants of their agency, reinforcing narratives of the superiority of Greek (and particularly, Classical Athenian) culture.
I propose a new theoretical model that considers migrants as active agents who make different decisions depending on the particular circumstances of their migration: whether they are refugees displaced by warfare or merchants seeking better economic opportunities, whether they migrated by choice or by force, or whether they arrived in their new homes and children or adults, the diverse lived experiences of these individuals merits further attention.
Jessica Alexander, CUNY Queens College
“How Language is Weaponized in Order to Create Racist Views in Classics”
This paper focuses on how the field of raciolinguistics functions in today’s world and the Classical field. Raciolinguistics is defined as “viewing race through the lens of language, and vice versa- in order to gain a better understanding of language and the process of racalization” (Yalmin, 1-2). Through a raciolinguistics lens, I will analyze a mock slave auctions in secondary classical programs, and Ancient Greek textbooks are used to see how Classics is used to promote racists ideals. The overall questions this paper examines are: how are certain phrases used to describe the Classical world and the surrounding discourse? How has this translated in how we describe the Classical world today? How has language been used to create, promotes, and even justify racist views in our understanding of the Classical world? For instance, how are schools in the 21st century hiding behind tradition in order to conduct mock slave auctions of their students? I explore the racism and inequality within Classics to create discourse to combat the weaponization of the field.
Victoria Arroyo, Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of the University of São Paulo, Brazil
“The Study of the Non-elite in Ancient Egypt: An Overview”
The funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians have been highly focused on mummies, decorated tombs and an assemblage of artifacts associated with individual and costly burials. Therefore, aspects of elite tombs have served as a basis for the approach of beliefs and burial customs for the whole of ancient Egyptian society. The outcome has been the disregard of inequality and everything that derives from it – diversity, variety, adaptations and changes – of different social groups. This was mainly caused by the inherent prejudice in the field that did not pay attention to the abundance of data from the lower classes.
Some studies regarding daily life, urban context and gender issues have examined the life of the common people in ancient Egypt and recent research has gradually diminished the invisibility of funerary practices of the non-elite through archaeological data from different locations and historical contexts. However, there have been very few investigations of a theory-based definition of what constitutes this social group and who were those people.
In this paper I intend to provide an overview of the works that deal with the non-elite in ancient Egypt, the questions they raise and finally to present some remarks and examples about how the non-elite could be approached in a more suitable way. The goal is to try to put these people who were silenced for some long as agents of society who engaged with material culture in their own way producing changes and adaptations.
Lylaah L Bhalerao, University of Cambridge
“The Activist Classicist: Can You Be Both?: The Issues Holding Back UK Classics from Embracing the Anti-racist Movement and How We Move Forward”
What happens when an activist movement spills over into academia? The protests of 2020, on both sides of the Atlantic, saw the issue of reckoning with colonial and racist practices brought into academic debate more systematically than ever before. In the field of Classics in the U.K., these debates have become fraught, and it has fallen largely on the few students and scholars of colour to champion to cause. Are these individuals the anti-racist activist classicists, if so why does the role fall on their shoulders? What impact does this role have on people of colour in Classics, does it result in further marginalisation within the field?
Let us ask these questions, examining the role of the activist classicist in the anti-racism movement, and whether it is even possible to be an ‘activist classicist’ in British academia. This question lies at the heart of tensions between academia and activism in British Classics circles: how do non-white lived experiences and the issue of morality, which drive activism, compare to maintaining academic freedom and intellectualism, itself a colonial structure?
Let us also consider what solutions can lead us to address racism and work for an equal, diverse field. This involves a consideration of what Classics, an academic field, can learn from the policy and practice of the anti-racism movement. Ultimately, this paper will model the approach I hope to advance for activist classicists: engaging with critical theory; employing policy approaches; and centring discussion around lived experiences. I will draw on the recent experiences of Cambridge Classicists of Colour, myself and my peers, in addressing these issues.
Finally, let us ask ourselves: are we activist classicists?
Lydia Bremer-McCollum, Harvard University
“Imperial Evidence in and of Egypt”
My paper analyzes the material papyrological evidence found buried in the arid sands of Egypt at Oxyrhynchus/al-Bahnasā. I contextualize the imperialist context of exploration and extraction of the papyri fragments. I situate the financial and material circuitry of the labor projects at Oxyrhynchus, arguing that these material conditions of work and dust need to be understood as part of the materialization of the Oxyrhynchan (trash) papyri. The Oxyrhynchus papyri are made valuable through European oversight and re/formation and re/valuation. As evidence, it is extracted by imperialist explorers (but really by the hands of local Egyptians). Papyrus fragments are rehomed and catalogued as material traces of a biblical or classical past, re-circuited in terms of Europe. Another goal of my paper seeks to document and problematize the imperialist legacies of the academic disciplines we inhabit. I argue that these legacies are part of the material constitution of our evidence. The ancient past cannot and must not be interpreted without further contextualization of the imperialist rhetorics that infuse the scholarly narrative. Nor should we continue to gloss over the destructive force of extraction that robbed these fragments from their material contexts and, instead, re-homed them into historical critical palaces, like the Bodleian and Harvard University Libraries and National Museums like the Louvre and British Museums. Drawing from the work of Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, my work foregrounds the unstated objectives and the violent building of the archive. I seek to understand the archive as materially constituted as and of the orientalist and racializing fantasies, eugenic desires, and trashy provenances.
Taylor Carr-Howard, UCLA
“Decolonizing the Archaeological Photograph”
Photography is implicated in archaeology’s colonial history. Documenting archaeological material often went hand-in-hand with imperial expansion; as such, early archaeological photographs often assert possession and control over the archaeological material they represent. For example, photographs of Timgad taken by the Commission des Monuments Historiques de L’Algérie (CMHA) circa 1880-1910 claim Roman material in Algeria as French cultural heritage. In doing so, the archive erases local interpretations of classical material and the photographs visually present local interpreters as antithetical to French authority and expertise, or otherwise perpetuate racist and Orientalist ideas about the local population.
Archaeological photographs shape the way we see and study the classical past but too often we fail to consider the particular perspectives put forth by the images themselves.
This paper applies decolonial methods and a critical heritage framework to the study of the archaeological photograph. I argue that photographs create a mode of viewing the past that is specific to the time period and context in which they were produced. By creating a sort of “visual historiography” of a particular site, we can access contemporary colonial and patrimonial perspectives in order to better understand their lasting influence on archaeological interpretation and scholarship. This paper examines the specific narratives the CMHA photographic archive creates in order to justify French colonialism in Algeria. By examining the discursive space of the archive and situating the aesthetics of the photographs within the context of contemporary French visual culture, I consider how the archive engages heritage narratives and creates equivalences between French and Roman colonization of the region. Finally, I consider the way the archive frames the CMHA project and how this narrative operates alongside restorations to transform Roman monuments from archaeological material into historic sites.
Sophie Cushman, UC Berkeley
“The Wanax in the North? The Problems of Prehistoric Identity and the Contemporary Alt-Right”
The idea that archaeologically identifiable cultures can be equated with ethnic groups has been used to justify nationalism and promote ideas of cultural and racial continuity. The Mycenaean civilization of the Late Bronze Age is defined by a material cultural koine (e.g. pottery, script, burial customs). However, the use of the koine to identify sites and population groups as “Mycenaean” essentially amounts to a cultural-historical approach and overlooks the complexities of cultural and ethnic identities. The oversimplification of prehistoric identity based on anachronistic categories such as “Mycenaean” is related to the manipulation of Classics by alt-right groups and should be critically examined.
In this presentation, I will suggest that analyses of cultural and ethnic identity in Late Bronze Age northern Greece are often problematic. The presentation of Thessaly as part of a socially, politically, and ethnically homogeneous Mycenaean “empire” and the attempt to connect Thessalian sites to Homeric toponyms oversimplify and romanticize the ancient reality. In Macedonia, where there is a long history of contested claims to territory in the modern period, the language used by archaeologists can be read as an attempt to extend into prehistory the nationalist idea that Macedonia “belongs” to Greece.
The results of recent DNA analyses of Late Bronze Age populations which claim that contemporary Greeks are the direct descendants of Minoans and Mycenaeans reflect similar problems and have serious consequences. I will argue that the popularization of such studies by the media provided theoretical ammunition to the modern Greek alt-right group The Golden Dawn.
Ultimately, I will conclude that there is a direct and dangerous link between the language used by archaeologists, DNA research, and the alt-right agenda. Both Classical and prehistoric archaeologists have a responsibility to be more conscious in their language and claims and a more anthropological definition of identity should be adopted.
Mia Nicole Davies, Grace Volante, and Izzy Nendick, University of Edinburgh
“Whose History? Classics, Ancient History, and the Nomenclature of Antiquity”
The limitation of engagement with Classics to traditionally privileged demographics, as well as the implications of traditional or more narrow definitions and focuses in the field, are deservedly beginning to be discussed. Recent acknowledgement that Classics is lacking in state-educated students and racial minorities, as well as other marginalised identities, has led to inclusion efforts such as those by Literacy Through Latin and Classics for All to bring Classics to more students. However, examination of the curricula often reveals that the material being taught is not inclusive or accessible in nature, furthering a specific narrative. Outreach to marginalised students is not enough if the education being provided is itself marginalising. On this note, many scholars trying to push for a more inclusive Classical education have stressed the field’s definition as discussing the “ancient Mediterranean”, inclusive of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa for example, rather than more narrow views of the Greco-Roman world. While this is useful, this expansion still often studies these areas through a Western or Italocentric lens, reducing them to the periphery of the Classical world. Thus, this paper argues that beyond method and definition, the very term of “Classics” as a discipline needs to be examined and broken down. Relatedly, the divide of Greco-Roman history into “Ancient History” and other ancient pasts into “area studies” is arbitrary and pejorative. These terms and their implications will be investigated through a variety of sources such as interviews, studies and online sites for the public discussion of inclusive study of the ancient world and its interpretation. This range of sources itself reflects the need to move away from the current reliance on scholarship as the most important form of engagement with the ancient world and its study, this phenomenon further reinforcing the elitism of classics.
Hardeep Dhindsa, King’s College London
“What Can Triumph of the Thames (James Barry, 1777-1801) Tell Us About British Ideas of Western Civilisation and Empire?”
The Thames, posing as an ancient Roman river god, leans back in his seat and is surrounded by a flurry of movement. Nereids, modern navigators, and allegories of the four corners of the globe vie for our attention as Mercury, a Roman god of trade, flies overhead. The Triumph of the Thames formed part of a series called The Progress of Human Culture commissioned by the Royal Society of Arts in London, that traced a connection between Britain and the Greek world from Orpheus to the Society itself. This mix of the ancient and contemporary was not unusual for its time. Barry was only one of many artists in Western Europe using the classical world as a model to come to terms with a burgeoning sense of national identity in the eighteenth century.
In the decades preceding Barry’s series, Britain’s empire was changing rapidly: it had just come out of the Seven Year War victorious, its control of India was growing after the Battle of Plassey, James Cook had arrived in Australia, and the American Revolution was underway. These events coincided with a renewed interest in the classical world, thanks to the excavations happening at Pompei and Herculaneum and the newly opened British Museum, as well as influential publications that fostered this interest. Very quickly, the cultural achievements of the classical world were co-opted to promote British imperial interests as they became the ‘natural successors’ of Greco-Roman civilisation, and contemporary art promoted this idea wholeheartedly. This paper uses Barry’s painting to explore Britain’s imperial identity and its relationship to the classical world, while using modern theories of whiteness and orientalism to examine the impact that relationship has today.
Eduardo García-Molina, University of Chicago
“Nuestra Grecia: The Use of Classical Imagery on Cuban Cigar Boxes”
Cuban-American relations saw an intensification during the 19th and 20th centuries that ultimately culminated in Cuba’s violent liberation from the Spanish Empire in 1898. This burgeoning relationship between Cuba and the United States manifested itself clearly in the tobacco trade. While production would quickly move to the United States, the tobacco itself remained Cuban. This raised an interesting question: how does one market Cuban tobacco to a predominantly American clientele? For some, the answer was classical imagery. This presentation discusses the use of such imagery by producers of Cuban cigars to make their product more appealing to American consumers. More specifically, it examines the neoclassical personification of Cuba herself and the classical imagery that was employed to emphasize and symbolize the commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. I argue that the usage of classical images served to recontextualize Cuba within a Western and distinctly European context, a continuation of the implementation of neoclassical imagery by the Spanish to justify their imperial possession and the cultural superiority of European antiquity. This classical recontextualization served to give Cuba an ancient veneer centered around Mediterranean antiquity that was more palatable for an American audience in an effort to sell more tobacco. Ultimately, I end with a discussion on how this rebranding of Cuba is indicative of the complicated relationship that Classics continues to have in Latin America as the “New World” interacts with the “Old World.”
Grant Hussong, University of Kansas
“Croesus’s Deaf-mute Son: A Disability Studies Perspective”
In Histories 1, Herodotus introduces King Croesus’s two sons, one of whom is deaf-mute. The deaf-mute son in Herodotus’s account suddenly gains speech and, thus, saves Croesus’s life as his kingdom falls. I investigate Croesus’s deaf-mute son through a Disability Studies perspective, employing the ideas of Narrative Prosthesis, which claims that narratives employ disability’s deviance as a meaning-making device and to signify misalignment of subjectivity (Mitchell and Snyder 2000). To begin, I bring up the distinction between impairments (physiological limitations) and disability (the socially constructed meaning ascribed to impairments) to suggest that Croesus’s deaf-mute son is helpfully thought of as disabled because he is considered subhuman. I then argue that Herodotus uses his disability as a device within Croesus’s narrative and as a structuring element of the greater narrative in Histories 1. Within Croesus’s narrative, the disabled son functions to characterize Croesus, which I demonstrate through analyzing Croesus’s changing construction of the disability as his relationship to his son changes. At a thematic level, the son’s disability represents a nexus point for divine and mortal relationships, due to its connection to Croesus’s curse and the oracles he receives which mention deaf-muteness explicitly. Additionally, I argue that the disability is a metaphor for signification gone awry, as it mirrors Croesus’s own hubris and misunderstanding. The son’s disability is written out of the narrative only when Croesus confronts his fate, thus it also represents the misalignment between Croesus’s self-image as the happiest man and his fated downfall. I conclude by stating Herodotus is not interested in voicing a disabled subjectivity, but in using the son’s disability as a vehicle to represent Croesus’s misfortune in the Lydian logos. This deployment is not dissimilar to how modern narratives use disability to elicit an emotional response from the audience, rather than encourage disability activism.
Julia Juhasz, University of Arizona
“Built on Ruins: A Bottom-up Response to a Top-down Problem”
“Classics” as a field of study is rooted in racialized narratives of culture and history shaped by centuries of European imperialism. The marginalization and inequity in the existing framework stymie our attempts to diversify the voices and theoretical approaches within ancient Mediterranean studies. Since the dominant internal narrative depicts academia as apolitical, these fields are not in a position to develop and implement social justice-oriented methodologies. To effectively address the ways in which our fields profit from and perpetuate inequity we must approach Classics and Archaeology within the context of local, national, and international Cultural Heritage.
Applying rooted cosmopolitanism as a theoretical framework, this paper uses the Elgin Marbles controversy as a case study to examine how archaeological material and the mythologized narrative of the Classical past function in the modern world. This study presents a discourse analysis of the international legal mechanisms and heritage management guidelines which govern the treatment of material culture, and provides an archaeological perspective on the emerging social justice movement in the international heritage framework. Rejecting traditional paradigms, the recent turn the field of Cultural Heritage conceptualizes culturally significant places, objects, and practices as a human right, and highlights the need to understand the value of heritage through the communities invested in it. If we approach Classics as heritage, we have the opportunity to adapt established methods to our own work for social justice purposes. The Elgin Marbles controversy illustrates the relevance of material culture in modern communities and how the narrative of the classical past reaffirms racialized and elitist structures. Positioning ourselves as one of many voices, and academia as one of many invested communities, our research can work to undermine these structures by making archaeology and heritage work in the Mediterranean a community-led endeavor.
Lina Kapp, Christopher Londa, Elizabeth Raab, and Maddie Watson, Yale University
“A Commentary’s Costs: Anti-Racist Approaches to W. B. Stanford’s Odyssey Edition”
In April 2020, our undergraduate Greek class encountered a racial epithet, the N-word, in W. B. Stanford’s student commentary of Homer’s Odyssey (first published in 1947; reprinted as recently as 2003). This paper describes the efforts of students and instructor to transform a classroom encounter with racism into tangible anti-racist change. Our goal was to effect a revision of the passage: to have the racial epithet removed and a Note to the Reader added to future printings.
We offer our experience advocating for textbook revisions and curricular reform as a case study. We detail our initiatives to petition the publisher, to facilitate departmental conversations about racism in teaching materials, and to establish an anti-racism reading group. We also examine the misaligned incentive structures and impediments to reform that permit racism from an earlier era to move unchecked into classrooms of the future. The paper distills three insights from our story:
(1) Our efforts exposed rhetoric, whose impact—if not intent—hinders change. In particular, we examine what it means to call an instance of racism a “teaching moment” or an “artifact of its Era.”
(2) We encountered a tendency to frame potential solutions to Stanford’s racist comment as a tradeoff between practical considerations (costs, curricular consistency, lack of alternatives) and the ideal of total inclusivity. The paper interrogates this framing and asks what anti-racist work, in fact, costs.
(3) Racism within teaching materials places extraordinary demands on students and instructors.
We became acutely aware of the scarcity of institutional spaces, resources, and incentives essential to meeting these demands. This paper ultimately asks what concrete changes are necessary to make anti-racist efforts an integral part of academic institutions rather than a check on them.
Katy Knortz, Princeton University
“Aesthetics of Excess: Challenging the Theory of ‘Elite’ Imitation in Trimalchio’s Home”
Liberti stood out from freeborn Romans because they were legally marked; they were limited in who they could marry, what official positions they could hold, and even their ability to serve in the military. As a result of rising social tensions in the first century, it was not uncommon for freeborn Romans to criticise freedmen in their artistic dispositions, a source of social display among social classes. Modern scholarship has too frequently aligned with this sentiment, ultimately dismissing the homes of freedmen as mismanaged imitations of ‘elite’ villa culture. This paper attempts to discredit the theory that the art and architecture of Trimalchio’s domus in Petronius’ Cena Trimalchionis is representative of a generic ‘freedmen taste.’ In order to achieve this goal, I compare the imagined home of Trimalchio to extant homes identified as being owned by freedmen in Campania. I assess to what extent the architectural layout and artistic features within differed from those found in the homes of freeborn Romans. In doing so, I focus on the stationary pieces of the homes — the architectural plan, wall paintings, sculpture, and floor mosaic. I conclude that, as is well attested in archaeological evidence, many domus-style homes followed a similar procedure of plan and display regardless of owner. One cannot definitively distinguish the style of wealthy freedmen’s houses from those of more privileged classes. Is the Cena, then, merely a representation of Roman anxieties over this rising class of social competitors? Trimalchio appears to be overcompensating for his low status, but however rigid and cleanly stratified Roman hierarchies may seem at first glance, in reality they were complex, intertangled, and even fluid. What is clear is that freedmen were not exempt from the highly competitive sphere of Roman society and their contributions to it are worthy of evaluation in their own right.
Thomas Leibundgut, Stanford University
“Jettison the Language Requirements, Do Justice to Our Field(s)”
Whoever endeavours to study ancient Mediterranean societies in a US-American, British, and—to a somewhat lesser degree—continental European academic context will be faced with the twin requirement of mastering Ancient Greek and Latin. I argue that while philologists would be hard pressed to continue their study without a deep knowledge of these languages, the same is not true for most archaeologists and a good proportion of historians, philosophers, and other scholars. Nonetheless, students in all these fields are presented with the daunting task of devoting several years of their lives and a substantial portion of their high school and university education to mem orising an intricate grammar, drilling vocabulary, and producing yet another translation of Homer, Cicero, and Augustine. The hours and credits spent learning these two languages makes it exceed ingly difficult to pursue a career in our field unless one was already exposed to the languages in middle or high school and all but assures that most students will either have to forgo studying our subject or do so to the exclusion of practically everything else: statistics, economic theory, clima tology, gender and critical race studies, or, above all, jobs and care-responsibilities. Thus, the nar row focus on mastering the languages not only impoverishes our field through the exclusion of a wide range of non-literary approaches but systematically excludes the overwhelming majority of minority or working-class students, students with dependents, and many more. Jettisoning the current language requirements in favour of a more individual and wholistic approach to our subject would not only remove a major barrier to the study of ancient Mediterranean societies but also lift our narrow blinders and enrich out theoretical and methodological toolkits, thus deepening our understanding of ancient Mediterranean societies. To do so would be both a feat of social justice and academic rigour, simultaneously fostering equity and excellence.
Eleanor Newman, University of Oxford
“Ain’t I a Woman? The Exclusion of Black Women from the Feminist Movement within Classics”
The topic of gender studies and, more specifically, the female experience in the Greco-Roman world has been covered extensively and positively as a result of the Second-Wave Feminist movement of North America and Europe. A growing interest in treating women equally in the 20th and 21st centuries has led to a desire to give women of the ancient world fair treatment in scholarship, finally allowing them to have a voice. Classicists now generally understand more about a woman’s daily life and sexual experience, their position in politics and religion, and their treatment by men in literature and art. Second-Wave Feminism and its extension into Classics, however, has neglected to include Black women in this equal treatment.
bell hooks has covered the issue of Black exclusion from the Feminist movement extensively in her Ain’t I a Woman (2015). She highlights the importance of recognising differences in Black and white female experiences, both historic and modern, and discusses the accountability of white women in their exclusion of Black women from their calls for gender equality. As Classicists, it is crucial that we extend this critical thinking into our own field and expand our understanding of what it was to be a woman in the Greco-Roman world.
Focusing on images of Black women from the ancient Mediterranean, the aim of this paper will be to demonstrate the shortcomings of the Feminist movement within Classics and highlight where progress can be made in the future. I will use these images to show the limits of our scholarly understanding of the ancient female body and reveal the Eurocentric and even white-supremacist beauty standards which have dominated the field of Classical art research into the 21st century. A study of such images will also provide Classicists with a foundation from which to understand the experience of Black women in the Greco-Roman world.
Najee Olya, University of Virginia
“The Anthropological Eye of Frank M. Snowden, Jr.: Visualizing Black People in Antiquity”
The most influential scholar in the study of Black people in the ancient Mediterranean, the late Frank M. Snowden, Jr., was also one of the few prominent African-American classicists during the second half of the twentieth century. Described by the historian Maghan Keita as an academic in the tradition of earlier Black intellectuals “who came to do battle,” for five decades beginning in the 1940s Snowden approached his subject with two goals in mind. First, to collect literary and visual depictions of Black people in antiquity; and second, to show, based on analysis of the evidence that the entrenched, racist attitudes towards Black people in the United States had no analogous parallels in Greco-Roman civilization. To demonstrate this, however, Snowden relied on contemporary racial terminology and anthropological classification, ultimately eliding the disjuncture between antiquity and modernity. In addition to using racial terms including “black” and “white,” along with “negro,” “negroid,” and “mulatto,” Snowden even went so far as to juxtapose artifacts with photographs of Black people. Nor did Snowden ever alter his approach—in the 1990s his interpretations are couched in the same terms and framing as decades earlier. Snowden’s scholarship, nevertheless, remains foundational and criticisms have generally been superficial aside from a handful of notable exceptions. In this talk, I problematize Snowden’s continued reliance on mid-twentieth century racial terminology and anthropology, especially since, while that field was fast evolving and moving toward dismantling notions of biological race, Snowden never responded to these developments in a meaningful way. I also interrogate Snowden’s acceptance of ancient iconography as entirely realistic, when in reality, the verisimilitude of ancient art is often deceptive and illusory. By critically examining Snowden’s seminal research, classical scholars can take the first step toward creating a more nuanced approach to interpreting representations of Black people from Mediterranean antiquity.
Branwen Phillips, University of Oxford
“Fayum Mummy-Portraits: A History of Imperialism and Eugenics, but a Future for the Study of Disability”
The Fayum Mummy-Portraits are artefacts of Roman-Egyptian funerary art from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD which have, since their excavation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, been appropriated to support contemporary society’s narratives of art, eugenics and imperialism. In this paper I shall focus on the Mummy-Portraits excavated by the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie from Hawara, and trace how they were used and abused to perpetuate Petrie’s own eugenic beliefs and ideas of empire. Despite this problematic excavation and collection history, we have been handed down artefacts which can now, among other things, bring new light to the study of disability in antiquity.
Some of these contemporary values are reflected in the manner in which the objects were conserved and presented, with the ‘Greek’ painted panels in most cases being physically torn from their ‘Egyptian’ mummy wrappings and human remains in order to correspond to western notions of portraiture. This, together with Petrie’s systematic collection of the skulls of the Mummy-Portraits to prove their superior Greek and Roman identity over that of Egyptians, has shaped how scholarship and audiences have interacted with these objects. Attempts at ethnographic identification of the Mummy-Portraits is an important part of their reception and research history, and is a reminder of the danger of making assumptions based on preconceived ideas concerning identity and race. These are ultimately silent objects which are easily susceptible to being made to serve other agendas. The Fayum Mummy-Portraits are well known for their artistic hybridity, but their significance in the history of imperialism and eugenics is little acknowledged. I wish to address this, and in particular, to discuss the potential these incredible artefacts have to illuminate the study of disability in antiquity.
Rebecca Rolfe, University of Oxford
“EUR and il Foro Mussolini: The Use and Abuse of Classical Archaeology in Mussolini’s Italy”
The Fascist dictatorships of the early 20th Century had a close connection with the ancient past, and an idealised vision of Ancient Rome was appropriated by Mussolini, in order to justify his regime. This paper will consider the reception of Greco-Roman art and architecture within Fascist Italy, and the ways in which these forms were coopted in both the EUR district, and il Foro Mussolini. These sites represent a perversion of ancient structures, used to strengthen Mussolini’s ideology.
Rome’s EUR district was originally constructed to host the World’s Fair in 1942, and enabled Mussolini to build a suburb that advertised Fascist ideology to an international audience. Mussolini based this architectural project on ancient models: the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana references the Colosseum, while il Arco Monumentale was a Fascist translation of Roman triumphal arches. These modernised forms of ancient architecture portrayed Mussolini’s Italy as the direct descendant of the Roman Empire, while also representing a technologically advanced, Fascist future. Furthermore, Mussolini utilised Classical Greek sculpture, with il Stadio dei Marmi, in il Foro Mussolini, decorated with Classically inspired figures of athletes. These statues were intended to be role models for Italian youths, with their display of ancient athleticism acting as inspiration for a new generation of virile warriors. Moreover, the sculpture perpetuated white supremacy. While Greek statues would have been brightly painted, since polychromy was an essential part of ancient art, the figures surrounding the stadium were starkly white and represented an ‘Aryan Utopia’.
Mussolini’s use of ancient art and architecture is deeply disturbing for modern Classicists. We cannot however, ignore that the reception of our discipline has frequently upheld racist narratives. It is important to reflect on the damaging legacy of this reception, and use it to create a more inclusive study of antiquity, which recognises past injustices.