Category Archives: diversity

Hold My Mead: A Bibliography For Historians Hitting Back At White Supremacy

On September 6, 2017, medieval historian David Perry published an article in the Pacific Standard remarking on how medievalists can counter the use of medieval history by White Supremacists. As Prof. Perry noted in his post, “…mostly we’re just a collection of predominantly white scholars who are surprised and disturbed to discover our classes and books might be well-received by white supremacists.” The piece hit home for many classicists as well; a field which has also grappled with the appropriation of antiquity by white supremacists. What follows is a bit of an outline of the articles written in the past year which explain the state of the problem and provide some steps towards countering this abuse of the historical record. I have never seen the medieval and ancient worlds as two different realms. Thus this short bibliography melds the two together in hopes that we can see each field’s efforts to combat this problem.

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Bishop Petros with Saint Peter (974– 997 CE) by Unknown and from Faras. Now at The National Museum in Warsaw.

Ancient History: 

Beard, Mary, “Roman Britain in Black and White,” A Don’s Life: Times Literary Supplement (August 3, 2017).

Bond, Sarah E, “A Short History Of Torches And Intimidation,” Forbes (August 15, 2017).
_____”Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color,” Hyperallergic (June 7, 2017).

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “We Condone It by Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eidolon (May 11, 2017).
_____”The Ancient Mediterranean Was Diverse. Why Do Some People Get So Upset When We Talk About It?” Classics at the Intersections (August 8, 2017).
_____”How is the Ancient Mediterranean Diverse If Everyone There Is “White”?” Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Blood and Soil from Antiquity to Charlottesville: A Short Primer,Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Using Genetics to Prove Ancient Greeks Were “White”?”Classics at the Intersections (August 26, 2017).

McCoskey, Denise Eileen, “What Would James Baldwin Do? Classics and the Dream of White Europe,” Eidolon (August 24, 2017). Please note that this is essential reading by a leading scholar in the field of race in antiquity.

Morley, Neville, “Diversitas et Multiculturalismus,” The Sphinx Blog (August 2, 2017).

Robey, Tracy E. “The Long History of Damnatio Memoriae and the Destruction of Monuments,” Jezebel (August 16, 2017).

Umachandran, Mathura, “Fragile, Handle With Care: On White Classicists,” Eidolon (June 5, 2017).

Withun, David, “African Americans and the Classics: An Introduction,” Black Perspectives (AAIHS) (September 7, 2017).

Wenger, Ayelet, “‘Our’ ‘Classics’: Problems of Difference in Western Civilization,” Eidolon (August, 28, 2017): A great question to begin with: “The Greeks and Romans of yore are dead. The Europeans of now speak tongues only distantly related to theirs. So, the question: whose Classics are they, anyway?”

Zuckerberg, Donna, [Just Read Everything]. Dr. Zuckerberg is the editor of Eidolon. She frequently writes on this topic, and thus I would suggest just reading everything she has to say on the topic. Particularly her piece on “How to be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor” November 21, 2016.

Medieval History: 

Gabriele, Matthew, “Islamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all,” Washington Post (June 6, 2017).

Dark Age, Dr. @drdarkage [Added by Prof. Dorothy Kim]

Harland, James M.,”‘Race’ in the Trenches: Anglo-Saxons, Ethnicity, and the Misuse of the Medieval Past,The Public Medievalist (February 17, 2017).

Kim, Dorothy, “Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy,” In the Middle: Peace, Love & the Middle Ages (August 28, 2017).

Livingstone, Josephine, “Racism, Medievalism, and the White Supremacists of Charlottesville,” New Republic (August 15, 2017).

The Public Medievalist,Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages,” (Blog Sub-Heading).

Washington Post Staff, “Deconstructing the symbols and slogans spotted in Charlottesville,” Washington Post (August 18, 2017).

Vikings: 

Hartsuyker, Linnea, “We shouldn’t let the racists own the Vikings,” RawStory.com (August 24, 2017).

Khazan, Olga, “How White Supremacists Use Victimhood to Recruit,” The Atlantic (August 15, 2017).

Perry, David, “White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong,” Washington Post (May 31, 2017).

Truitt, E.R., “Fantasy North: The top of the globe has always meant fantasy, myth, adventure. What explains the icy northern grip on our imagination?” Aeon (February 15, 2016). [Article submitted by Prof. E.R. Truitt]

Varghese, Sanjana, “White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren’t always that keen on the results,” New Statesman (August 18, 2017).

Official Statements from Academic Societies:

Medieval Academy: On August 18, 2017, the Medieval Academy condemned “the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.”

Society for Classical Studies: In a statement from the SCS Board of Directors, the organization noted: “…the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.”

#Syllabi: 

Classics and Social Justice: The mission of this group is stated thusly: “Outreach that brings classics out of the academy and returns it to the least privileged in our society.” A section heading of their blog brings together a number of syllabi addressing social justice topics in the study of antiquity. 

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “Bibliography for Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World,Classics at the Intersections (August 14, 2017).

Eidolon: A new feature area for the online Classics journal is #syllabi, which reacts to the use of various classical authors and issues within the zeitgeist with sets of reading on the issue. The first one is on Thucydides and is written by ancient historian Neville Morley.

  1. Morley, Neville, “Thucydides and Contemporary Politics: A Syllabus,” Eidolon (September 1, 2017).
    a.  Mendelsohn, Daniel, “Theatres of War: Why the battles over ancient Athens still rage,” The New Yorker (January 12, 2004).

Hsy, Jonathan and Julie Orlemanski, “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography” [Crowd-Sourced and by far the very best resource for the issues dealt with this summer in respect to diversity, race, and inclusion in medieval studies.]

Medieval People of Color Tumblr: My suggestion is to include a number of posts in your next Western Civilization or history course. This is also a fantastic image resource.

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August 2017 archive screenshot from the “People of Color in European Art History” Tumblr. 

As per usual with all of my previous bibliography, if you have something to add, please do so in the comments section. You will be credited for your contribution.

The History Of Torches, Intimidation & Symbols of Violence

You may have noticed that I have been blogging less on my personal site. This certainly is a product of a busy summer with much travel and other publications to address, but I am afraid that–in part–I must admit that it was a reaction to receiving messages and tweets suggesting that certain white supremacist groups and individuals who objected to the statues pieces were “keeping an eye” on me here in Iowa and online.

However, the events in Charlottesville this past weekend pushed me to say something. Apathy is a choice and it is also an ideological position that can speak volumes. The University of Virginia is my alma mater and for many years, Charlottesville was my home. It is a place I still hold dear. Well beyond that, I wanted to make a statement condemning the actions of the white nationalist groups that gathered in Charlottesville. My Forbes column this week thus explored the history of using torches as symbols of intimidation and racial superiority. I hear duplicate it in full:

“In Charlottesville, Virginia this week, a number of white nationalist action groups came together at a “Unite The Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Marching on the campus of the University of Virginia on the night before the planned rally, protesters carried tiki-torches and chanted “You will not replace us.”

The carrying of torches to suggest power and project intimidation has a long and sordid history.

Fire was a constant hazard in the ancient world. Property owners, apartment dwellers, city magistrates, and emperors lived in fear of the potential damage caused by unchecked fires in urban areas in particular. Torches could be used to light weddings (as they frequently were), but could also be used by soldiers as weapons particularly during siege warfare. They were also carried by rioters wishing to brandish a dangerous weapon which, in Latin, was called a ‘fax .’

Following the assassination of Caesar in 44 BCE, the citizens in Rome who gathered in the Forum to hear Antony’s eulogy grabbed pieces of wood and furniture in the area in order to make an ad hoc pyre upon which to burn the dictator’s body. Many present at the cremation then grabbed pieces of flaming wood as torches from the pyre. As the historian Plutarch noted, “people rushed up from all sides, snatched up half-burnt brands, and ran round to the houses of Caesar’s slayers to set them on fire.”

Fire provided light in a world without electricity, but torches were never devoid of the potential to cause harm. They also signaled at least the potential for violence to break out. In the gospels, we see the threatening use of the torch as well. When Judas finds Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the book of John (18:3), it notes: “So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons.” Romans regularly used small ceramic oil lamps to light their way in houses and while walking at night, but here the aggressive detachment sent to arrest Jesus is emphatically described by John as brandishing “torches, lanterns, and weapons” (‘φανῶν καὶ λαμπάδων καὶ ὅπλων’).”

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A 3rd c. CE relief depicting a Mithraic scene where a bull is being slaughtered shows a torch bearer providing light during the ritual. The relief with polychromy is now at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.

If we look to modern history to understand how torches became a symbol of not only intimidation but specifically racial intimidation, we must look both to America in the aftermath of the Civil War and to Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 40s. In response to the rights given to African-Americans following the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan formed in Pulaski, Tennessee in the late 1860s. The group took their nomenclature from the Greek word κύκλος, which means “circle”; a word often used in antiquity to refer to how hunters encircled their game. Torches became a consistently described part of the Klan’s early parades and use of visual intimidation. They would continue to be a terrifying feature of the organization when it reemerged in the early 20th century.

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The torchlight procession in honor of the new Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler moves through the Wilhelmstraße in Berlin on the evening of 30 January 1933.

Torches used as statements of power and racial superiority were even more prominent in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. On August 1, 1936, a new tradition was introduced to the modern Olympic Games: the use of a torch relay wherein individual runners brought the Olympic flame from Greece to Berlin–connecting the ancient world to Germany. The ancient Greeks had indeed used torches in athletics, but the Nazis appropriated the torch as a symbol of both athletic and racial supremacy.

For more insight on the use of the torch in Nazi Germany, I spoke with Professor Waitman Beorn, a Holocaust historian who currently teaches in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and serves as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “For the Nazis, the torches were meant to evoke avolkisch (racial) connection between a pseudo-historical German race and modern Germans. In addition, it enhanced the pageantry and spectacle of Nazi events, made famous at the Nuremberg rallies and in Leni Riefenstahl’s powerful film, Triumph of the Will.” Beorn notes Hitler’s attachment to the torch as a symbol: “In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to another Nazi symbol, the swastika, as having ‘an effect like that of a flaming torch.’ He also described racial purity as ‘the fuel for the torch of human culture.'”

Beorn was there this weekend as white supremacists and Nazis descended on the town of Charlottesville. Many of them had gone to the local Wal-Mart the night before in order to buy tiki-torches, as they had for another rally there earlier in the summer. Beorn’s reaction to this weekend’s outbreak of violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups that came together to “Unite the Right” in this southern college town underscores the potency of their adopting such symbols: “For the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who descended on my town this weekend, the torch likely is an imitation of the Nazi rallies just as American racists imitate much [Nazi] regalia. However, in the context of modern white supremacy, the torch also likely echoes the burning crosses and torches of the Klan.” The use of cheap tiki-torches put up at pool parties and stored in suburban garages may at first seem laughable, but the visual message of hate and intimidation advertised by these torch-wielding individuals has a long and terrible history of violence.”

A special thanks in particular to Professor Waitman Beorn, a history colleague from UNC-Chapel Hill who is also a native Virginian that now teaches at the University of Virginia. To read more from him on this issue, please see his work on the Nazi chants recited in Lee Park in Charlottesvile back in May. 

 

Digital Palmyra: Resources for Researching the Ancient City

Yesterday on the Forbes blog, I discussed recent attempts to reconstruct the ancient busts of Palmyra damaged by ISIS and repatriate them back to Syria. As I suggested in the post, such efforts highlight the import of digital methodologies such as 3D printing and photogrammetry, but also underscore art as an umbilical cord that allows us to create an emotional connection. Much like Delphi, art is often an ὀμφαλός (Greek for ‘navel’).

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Limestone relief of a woman and two children from Pamyra, dated to c.150 CE. Now at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, MA. The inscription at the top reads: ‘Ba’altega, daughter of Hairan. Alas! Sim’on here son; Hairan, her son.’  (1908.3)

Palmyrene funerary busts in particular are an evocative medium that forces the viewer to make direct eye contact with the Syrians of antiquity. When I was at the Vatican Museums recently, I was amazed to see both children and their parents actually pausing on their way to the Sistine Chapel in order to gaze at the Vatican’s small collection of Palmyrene busts (a selection of which are below).

Here are a few projects and resources for investigating ancient Palmyra (and a few other sites) online, although this is by no means a comprehensive list.

Memory Matrix (MIT): An aesthetic project using digital technologies to recreate lost structures from the Middle East. As they note: “The Memory Matrix is a monument that explores the possibilities for future heritage creation, employing new fabrication techniques and transcultural workshops. The Matrix is made of border fences carrying over 20,000 small fluorescent Plexiglas elements. These elements are laser cut with holes outlining vanished heritage from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.” This video is amazing.

Memory Matrix at MIT from Azra Aksamija on Vimeo.

The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra (Getty Research Institute): As per usual, the Getty Research Institute has used its massive digital archives and powers of good curation for good. Check out the Palmyra site map, the large collection of travel photos, and the resources for research on Palmyra. In the “modern” section, there is a helpful (if rather upsetting) explanation for why those portrait busts became collected by museums in Europe and the U.S. following the expansion of travel tourism in the 19th century: “As tourist photographs of the site began to circulate more widely, so did Palmyra’s artifacts, especially the famous funerary portrait busts (some of which are featured in this exhibition). Today, one can see thousands of Palmyrene antiquities outside the region: in American, Western European, Russian, and Turkish museums that had been secured during the late Ottoman rule (1876–1922) and subsequently during the French Mandate (1923–46).

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Temple of Bel, cella entrance , Jean-Baptiste Réville and Pierre Gabriel Berthault after Louis-François Cassas. Etching. Platemark: 18 x 11.4 in. (46 x 29 cm). From Picturesque travels of Syria, Phenicia, Palestine, and Lower Egypt (Paris, ca. 1799), vol. 1, pl. 46. ​​Image via The Getty Research Institute’s ‘The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra.’ 

Monuments of Syria (Dr. Ross Burns): A list of the historical sites in Syria. There is an area of the website just for Palmyra. There are lots of historical images and primary sources that can easily be put into a syllabus for educators. It also explores the destruction of monuments that has thus far occurred during the Syrian Civil War and the encroachment by ISIS.

On the Polychromy of Ancient Palmyra” (Alex Nagel, Smithsonian Institution): A post on the polychromy added to Palmyrene portrait busts. The Smithsonian has indeed been engaging in analysis of the polychrome remnants left on at least one bust in their collection. As Nagel remarks about a particular limestone relief with remnants of red on the jewelry: “Microscope images would make painted details much more visible and a red colorant on the statue has recently been identified by scientific analysis. Qualitative elemental analysis of a small sample taken shows the presence of Al, Si, Ca and Fe with a strong presence of iron.”

On a side note: You can often see the red left on inscriptions from antiquity. Red paint was applied to make them stand out to readers; a common use of color for textual emphasis. In the middle ages, manuscript assistants called rubricators added red to certain letters to make them stand out. There is even a famous monk known for his ability to apply red, who was given the nickname Rubricius.

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Funerary relief bust; Syria, 231 CE; Limestone; Freer Gallery of Art; F1908.236 (Freer Gallery).

Sketchfab and Palmyra: As I pointed out in the Forbes article, there are a number of 3D models popping up online which are either made on-site from a museum bust or from a composite of photos that produce photogrammetric data that can be used to create a 3D model. As I have written about before, there are indeed ethics that must be applied to 3D printing cultural heritage and there is indeed the danger of “digital colonialism”–particularly if the object is not contextualized or you are making a profit from its display. Right now my favorite model is a 2nd-3rd c. bust from the Louvre.

 

These are just a few of the interesting digital projects focused on Palmyra right now. My hope is that the creation of both digital and museum-based relationships to the Syrian past will not only make us reflect on current cultural heritage issues, but also serve to create a connection to the present. Syria’s civil war continues to take the lives of thousands of civilians and the death toll now stands at close to 500,000. Consequently, these digital projects are fantastic, but we must keep in mind that accepting the art of Syria but rejecting its people is not an option. 

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A Palmyrene bust of a woman with polychrome jewelry now at the Musée de Grenoble (Photo taken by David Meadows and used with permission).

To The Black Sea And Back: The Late Antique Dura-Europos ‘Shield’ Map

 

Dura-Europos as visualized on the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map.

Dura-Europos is an ancient site on the Euphrates river in modern-day Syria. The objects excavated at the site by Yale University (later famously led by Mikhail Rostovtzeff), and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters during the 1920s and 1930s provide some of the most vivid wall paintings, mosaics, and material culture from the ancient world that we have today. One of the most stunning finds is a parchment shield cover that dates to around 260 CE, which has a map of the Black Sea on it. There is debate over whether it was on the inside of a shield used by a soldier or was a dedicatory object; however, the map provides a rare glimpse into how geography was visualized.

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Surviving parchment fragment of the Black Sea ‘Shield Map’ from Dura Europos dated to before 260 CE. It depicts staging posts along the Black Sea (Bibliotheque Nationale Gr. Suppl. 1354, no. 5). Images via Cumont (see citation below) with added scale and color enhancement. 

Hand drawing of the map via Wikimedia (D. Herdemerten Hannibal21, CC BY-SA 3.0).

The parchment contains a number of place names in Greek, but is interestingly mixed with the distances in Roman miles. Here is the transcription as provided by Papyri.info:

[Π]αν[υσὸς ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Ὀδεσ[σὸς μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Βυβόνα [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Κάλ[λ]ατις μί(λια)   ̣  ̣
5Τομέα μί(λια) λγ
Ἴ[σ]τρος ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια) μ
Δάνουβις ποτ(αμὸς) [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Τύρα μί(λια) πδ
Βορ[υ]σ[θέν]ης [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
10Χερ[σ]όν[ησος -ca.?- ]
Τραπε[ζοῦς -ca.?- ]
Ἀρτα[ξάτα μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]

The map is oriented west-southwest and thus is a reminder that most maps did not consistently orient north until the early modern period. The stations on the shield maps are listed in Greek with vivid white, while the ships are manned by small sailors. It is a two-dimensional visualization of a Euxine route that shows the mix of languages and peoples in the late antique Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, it visualizes the Roman relationship with places in modern Armenia. An interesting mention of Ἀρτα[ξάτα] (Artaxata=Artashat) hints at the Roman connection to this busy commercial center. 

Although the map was likely on a round shield, the only surviving scutum from antiquity is from Dura-Europos. It too dates to the 3rd c. CE. It is now at the Yale Art Gallery. Image is in the Public Domain.

As historian Dragoş Hălmagi puts it, “The surviving sequence runs clockwise along the shores of Black Sea, from Odessos in Thrace to the Cimmerian Bosporus, and indicates a symmetric original design, consisting of a circular coast surrounding the Black Sea and perhaps parts of the Mediterranean, as well.” About a century earlier, the historian and governor Arrian had written a work in the form of a letter to the emperor Hadrian (131/2 CE) called Περίπλους τοῦ Εὐξείνου Πόντου (The Periplus of the Euxine Sea) while in Cappadocia. Arrian demonstrates the beginnings of the late antique fascination with the geography of this area that would continue into the third and fourth centuries CE when the rise of the Sassanids would be a point of major contention.   

The circumnavigation of the Black Sea as recounted by Arrian, Periplus Maris Euxini, in a firsthand report (1–11) and a secondhand description (12–25). Adapted by Erenow from A. Liddle, ed. and trans., Arrian, Periplus Ponti Euxini (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), 136–39, maps 1–2.

As we know from the Antonine Itinerary and many other itinerary inscriptions, the listing of locations and the miles between was quite common for itineraria, but this is our earliest surviving example of a route map from antiquity. Today this rather small piece of parchment lives in Paris, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. Suppl. gr. 1354 V, nr. 5), but seeing as I had never viewed a color version of it before, I thought it might be nice to get a glimpse at that technicolor world of the Romans I am always talking so much about. 

Attempted restoration of the entirety of the shield as drawn in Figure 1 in Arnaud (1989).

Bibliography:

Monsieur Pascal Arnaud, ‘Une deuxième lecture du “bouclier” de Doura-Europos,’ Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 133e année, N. 2, (1989): 373- 389.

Franz Cumont, ‘Fragment de bouclier portant une liste d’étapes,’ Année 6.1 (1925 ): 1-15. 

Leif Isaksen, “The application of network analysis to ancient transport geography: A case study of Roman Baetica,” Digital Medievalist. 4. DOI:http://doi.org/10.16995/dm.20.

Dragoş Hălmagi, “Notes on the Dura Europos map,”  CICSA Journal, New Series 1 (2015): 41-51.

 

The Argument Made By The Absence: On Whiteness, Polychromy, And Diversity In Classics

It has been a few days since I published a piece on my Forbes blog regarding the perception of whiteness and statues in antiquity. I knew when I started taking notes on the subject of polychromy many months ago that this column would likely cause a stir within the field, among colleagues, and online. I had thought that I was prepared for the internet trolls. After all, I have crossed many proverbial bridges on Twitter––where they usually lurk. However, the hatred and invective I received from this post was more than anything I have ever received to date. As a result, I wanted to write a post on my personal blog in order to:

1) to provide a context for my argument through a broader bibliography on the subject of polychromy 2) to encourage the incorporation of the subject of race and art history into course syllabi and to provide an open discussion of racism in the 19th and 20th centuries to our students 3) to use these materials to recognize and then address the severe lack of diversity in the field of Classics.

My main thesis is that despite our knowledge of the prevalence of polychromy on ancient statuary, there is a predominantly neon white display of skin tone in respect to classical statues and sarcophagi. This assemblage of neon whiteness thus creates a false sense of homogeneity across the Mediterranean world. Moreover the idea that white marble is beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it was in part developed by influential art historians during the early modern period in Europe. This visual argument continues to be asserted and to shape what we in the West consider to be pulchritudinous.

As I pointed out in the column, a number of fantastic museum shows throughout Europe and the U.S. in recent years have addressed the issue of polychromy. Digital humanists and archaeologists played a large part in making these shows possible. Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann in particular has applied technologies such as ultraviolet light in order to analyze the minute vestiges of paint on ancient statues and then recreate polychromy versions of them.

If you have a moment, check out the 2003 “Gods of Color” exhibit that travelled the world after its initial display both at the Glyptothek in Munich and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Many of the photos in this post come from that exhibit––including the famed Caligula bust (Forbes column) and the Alexander Sarcophagus (above). One of my favorites is the archer from the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Also make sure to check out the open content and images on the Getty Portal from a show called “The Color of Life“, which was on display at the Getty Villa in 2008.

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Blank marble and polychromy version of the archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Reconstruction by Vinzenz Brinkmann.

Now that we have some background, the next question is: How can we address the problem of the lily white antiquity that exists in the public imagination? To be clear, I am not suggesting that we go back with a bucket in hand and repaint every marble statue across the country. However, I believe that better museum signage, the presentation of side-by-side 3D reconstructions, and the use of light (e.g. projections similar to the ones used on the Ara Pacis) can supplement and produce a contextual frame for understanding pieces. What a number of commenters have pointed out is that even when these statues are given color, they remain “white” and that, regardless of their color in antiquity, the restored color is simply too gauche. First, what do you even mean by “white”? I do not have the time to get into the cultural construction of whiteness and how it has changed to include Greeks and Italians in the 20th century, but please refer to historian Nell Irvin Painter‘s work on the subject and particularly to her piece in the New York Times, “What Is Whiteness?” White is not a category of analysis or identity used by those in antiquity.

 

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The 2008 light show at the Ara Pacis museum, which sought to use color mapping to restore the polychromy to the Ara Pacis of Augustus. The image is via La Repubblica.

In doing the research for this piece and then reading Painter’s book on the subject of whiteness, I had to confront the incredible amount of racism that has shaped the ideas of scholars we continue to cite today in the field of ancient history. Art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (d. 1768) is just one example. A more current racist that is often cited by Roman economic historians is Tenney Frank. Recently, I came across Frank’s disturbing article, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” (The American Historical Review, 21.4 [Jul., 1916]: 689-708) while looking through an edited volume. The article was then reprinted without comment in Greek historian Donald Kagan’s collection of articles on the “fall of Rome” (published in 1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse? I am not suggesting that Prof. Kagan is or is not a racist, but I am arguing here that the essay deserved to be contextualized in his introduction to the volume and highlighted as an example of the virulent racism in Classics in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Denise Eileen McCoskey points out in her excellent book, Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy, Frank’s attempt to count inscriptions in order to gauge whether “race mixing” contributed to the decline of Rome is not only untrue, it is dangerous. It also provides ammunition for white supremacists today. I am not telling you to avoid citing Frank altogether, but just like those museum placards, we must annotate, contextualize, and question the theories of these individuals closely before we use them.

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Tenney Frank, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” The American Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Jul., 1916): 689-708. This article was then reprinted without comment in Donald Kagan’s collection of essays on the “fall of Rome” (1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse.

The last thing I wish to argue for in this post is a moment of reflection that endures. When we ask ourselves, as classicists, why we are such a non-diverse field we must consider whether we make it easy for people of color to want to study the ancient world. Do they see themselves in the ancient landscape that we present to them? Because they should. Moreover, discussing the shifting idea of what whiteness is remains important. Notably, I am a pretty white-looking lady, though I became less so in the eyes of internet trolls who this week found a blog post I wrote earlier in my life, wherein I discussed the fact that my maternal grandmother was indeed Jewish. Thanks for the parentheses treatment, guys, but I am quite okay with my heritage.

The dearth of people of color in media depicting the ancient world is a pivotal issue. Until I played Ryse: Son of Rome with my friend and colleague Hannah Scates Kettler, I didn’t realize how extreme this was. Hannah is a digital librarian and an ancient art historian, but she is also a woman of color. As she remarked to me, she does not see herself when watching movies or playing video games set in antiquity. I am not suggesting that we can change this fact over night, but I am telling you that 70% of my students tell me that these very video games and the watching of movies like Gladiator (which has a man from New Zealand playing the Spaniard Maximus) and the 300 (which has xenophobic depictions of Persians and predominantly northern European people playing Spartans) led them to take my course. If we want to see more diversity in Classics, we have to work harder as public historians to change the narrative, to talk to filmmakers, to write pop articles, and to do more outreach that emphasizes the vast palette of skin tones in the ancient Mediterranean. We do have the power to return the technicolor to the ancient world, but it does start with us.