About

This course for Fall 2020 will be run as a Feminist DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) with the outcome of a public-facing digital pedagogical resource for race and the premodern archive for Middle School through College. The class will work in groups to create critical antiracist pedagogical resources and exercises for Classics and also the Middle Ages. We are modeling off of projects like Zinn Education Project or the ORIAS site at UC Berkeley. We are currently confirming a list of guest speakers for different units. And will update the schedule accordingly. We invite classes to join us for different units or different sections of units.

We meet regularly Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8-9:30pm EST.

Please fill out the drop down request form and we will respond with information, materials, and digital Zoom links for different meetings.

For several decades, medieval scholars have argued over race’s definition and its use for geographies, contexts, and group dynamics in premodern Europe. In medieval history, this discussion has been based on a non-scholarly definition of race that never cited any work in critical race studies. Instead, medieval race has been defined with a eugenicist pre-WWII classification. Medieval history’s uncritical definition of race, which has ignored the last sixty years of scholarship, has stopped medieval studies from having a sustained, well-informed discussion. Medieval history has chosen not to move past the pre-Civil Rights methodologies of white supremacist history, even while other historical areas have changed their methodological view. Thus, medieval history has upheld a white supremacist historical methodology in discussing race and ethnicity that has misaligned them completely with current social science scholarship.

Classical studies faces a similar range of issues, and Classics itself has been implicated in colonialism and ethnonationalism. Neo-nazi and white supremacist organizations such as Identity Evropa have touted the Classical world as the ideal, misaligning pure white marble sculptures and monuments (which used to be brightly colored) with a similarly pure white race. Classical scholars have failed to stem the misuse of the ancient world by modern hate groups, and are only now addressing issues of racism in scholarly methodologies as well as the lack of diversity in the field on the whole.

This class will center the critical methodological praxis laid out in Margo Hendrick’s recent talk at Race Before Race 2: Race and Periodization at the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. In her talk, “Coloring the Past, Rewriting our Futures: RaceB4Race,” Hendricks (2019) separates what she calls “premodern race studies” (PRS) from “premodern critical race studies” (PCRS). She explains:

PRS is the practice of approaching race studies as “if you’ve just discovered the land.” Practitioners ignore the pre-existing inhabitants of the land, or if PRS scholars deign to acknowledge the land is inhabited, it’s viewed as uncultivated and must be done so properly.

Hendricks (2019) explains premodern critical race studies (PCRS) in the same talk in this way:

“As part of the larger critical race theory practice, PCRS actively pursues not only the study of race in the premodern but the way the outcome of that study can effect a transformation of the academy and its relationship to the world. PCRS is about being a public humanist, an activist. … What truly distinguishes PCRS from PRS, of course, is the bi-directional gaze: the one that looks inward even as it looks outward…PCRS is an intellectual, political, and public interrogation of capitalism’s capacious erasure of the sovereignty of indigenous peoples (whether in the Americas, the Pacific Islands, or the African continent)….PCRS recognizes and acknowledges its genealogies, it celebrates that lineage, and uses it “to dismantle the master’s house” since the master’s tools are ineffective.”

In this course, students will be challenged to consider how categories of race and ethnicity are presented in the literature and artistic works of the ancient and medieval past, and how ancient and medieval thinking affect current politics today. We will consider texts including epic, history, medical texts, romances, hagiography, ethnographies, cartography, legal material, dramas, and novels, as well as material evidence intended to represent ‘foreignness’. Our case studies pay particular attention to concepts including notions of racial formation and racial origins, ancient theories of ethnic superiority, and linguistic, religious and cultural differentiation as a basis for ethnic differentiation. We will discuss how premodern critical race studies defines race as both biopolitical and sociocultural. We will also examine ancient racism through the prism of a variety of social processes in antiquity and the Middle Ages, such as unfreedoms, trade and colonization, migrations, imperialism, colonization, assimilation, revolts, and genocide. By the end of the course, students will have gained a richer understanding of the intellectual and cultural history of the ancient and medieval worlds, and will have a framework within which to critically analyze and to engage in discussions of identity construction in a comparative manner.

This course will be offered in advance of the Race before Race symposium hosted by Brandeis in April of 2021. Students will be invited to attend the symposium, contribute to the discussion, and respond to what they learn from the event.