Tag Archives: white supremacy

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 8.27.29 AM

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).
_____”Why I Teach About Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World” Eidolon (September 11, 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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 9.28.24 AM.png

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’).”

IMG_6094-1200x900

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.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-02985A_Berlin_Fackelzug_zur_Machtergreifung_Hitlers

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.