“Because the past is already in debt to the mismanaged present. And besides, contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets.” -Toni Morrison (Wellesley College Commencement Speech 2004)

This course provides an introduction to ancient and medieval attitudes towards race and ethnicity through the theoretical lens of premodern critical race studies.

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.


Content Warnings

How to use this site

Glossary of Terms



This is an on-going list of resources for our class that will be added onto throughout the semester. These programs have been suggested by our class and peers; we are not receiving any funding for listing the following programs:

Open Source Software:

The programs below are free to download and use, and their code is available for everyone to edit, contribute to, critique, fork, etc.!

Creating Digital Projects: Twine -- 'an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories' developed by Chris Klimas, Twine is often used for creating hypertext projects, but it is not limited to this form. The sky is the limit. Twine uses its own language that is similar to HTML; it also uses CSS. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows. Ren'Py -- This software is intended (per its original author) for the creation of visual novels, but like Twine, you do not need to use this format. Ren'Py will require knowledge of Python to use. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

Image Editing: GIMP --The GNU Image Manipulation Program, not the other gimp :) This program is often compared to Photoshop. GIMP works well with many popular digital drawing tablet brands as well. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

Word Processing, Reading: Calibre -- an open source, community projected begun by Kovid Goyal, Calibre is often used to help people organize their ebooks. Useful for your collection of .pdfs, .epubs, etc.; Calibre syncs to ereaders as well and there is a large, user-made selection of plugins as well as an active developer community. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

LibreOffice -- the open source alternative to the Microsoft Suite. May take some getting used to if you're accustomed to Word, but this is a great alternative. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

Productivity/Studying: Super Productivity -- A dynamic desktop to-do list that includes timers if you need them. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

Communication: Element -- Previously An open-source alternative to Slack and Discord, its aesthetic appearance and function is very similar to the two. Element is part of the Matrix open source framework. (click here to view more open source chat alternatives using the Matrix framework). Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows.

Programming: Homebrew -- if you really want to get into programming and are using the Mac OS, Homebrew is a must-have: it is a package manager that helps with the installation of other forms of software. Runs on: GNU/Linux, Mac

How to find more resources: Search GitHub. Often it is useful to type in keywords such as the program(s) you are using to see what people have made for the programs. For example, Cradle integrates Twine into Unity projects. Please read the notices carefully so you do not infringe on anyone's copyright when distributing content you made using someone else's creation.



Accessing the required texts:

Brandeis students: The required texts are available through the Brandeis library, physically and digitally. You can access the digital text by using your Brandeis log in credentials on Latte.



Fall 2020

Course Documents

Coalition Charter: Ethics Statement

Race before Race Class Accessible Syllabus


Part 1

Th. 9/3: Digital Literacy

On misogynoir: citation, erasure, and plagiarism by Moya Bailey & Trudy


T. 9/8: Introduction to Race and Premodern Critical Race Theory

Playing In the Dark by Toni Morrison

Venus in Two Acts by Saidiya Hartman

Be Not Afraid of the Dark: Critical Race Theory and Classical Studies by Shelley P. Haley


T. 9/15: Color and Material Culture

Racial Formation in the United States by Omi and Winant


Th. 9/17: Color and Material Culture

Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness: Teaching Race and Gender by Kim F. Hall


Part 2

T. 9/22: Early Theories of Foreignness, Origins, and Genealogies

Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy (Ancients & Moderns) by Denise Eileen McCoskey

Black Odysseus, White Caesar: When Did "White People" Become "White"? by James H. Dee



For all other readings at this time, please refer to the syllabus available on LATTE.


Bibliography: Ancient Texts

Appia, K. A. “There is no such thing as western civilisation” (The Guardian)

Bond, S. “Whitewashing Ancient Statues: Whiteness, Racism and Color in the Ancient World” (Forbes)

Bond, S. “Why we need to start seeing the ancient world in color” (Hyperallergic)

Coates, T.-N. “What we mean when we say ‘race is a social construct’” (The Atlantic)

Dee, J. “Black Odysseus, White Caesar: When Did ‘White People’ Become ‘White’?” Classical Journal 99 (2004): 157-67.

Gruen, E. “Jewish Perspectives on Greek Culture and Ethnicity.” In Malkin 2001: 345-373.

Haley, S. “Be Not Afraid of the Dark: Critical Race Theory and Classical Studies,” in Laura Nasrallah and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (eds.), Prejudice and Christian Beginnings: Investigating Race, Gender and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies, 4 Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2009: 27-50.

Hall, E. M. “Inventing Persia.” In Inventing the Barbarian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 56-100.

Kasimis, D. “The Tragedy of Blood-Based Membership: Secrecy and the Politics of Immigration in Euripides’s Ion.” Political Theory 41.2 (2013) 231-256.

Kennedy, R. F. “Blood and Soil from Antiquity to Charlottesville: A Short Primer”

Krebs, C. “A dangerous book: the reception of Tacitus’ Germania.” In The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus, edited by A. Woodman, 280-99. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Lape, S. Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Malkin, I., ed. Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

McCoskey, D. “Bad to the Bone: The Racist Application of DNA Science to Classical Antiquity” (Eidolon)

Patterson, C. “Other Sorts: Slaves, Foreigners, and Women in Periclean Athens,” In L. J.

Peralta, D. P. “Barbarians at the Gate, pts. 1 & 2” (Eidolon)

Samons II, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Pericles, Cambridge (2007): 153-178.

Toll, K. “Making Roman-ness and the Aeneid,” CA 16.1 (1997) 34-56.

Whitmarsh, T. “Black Achilles” (Aeon)


Bibliography: Medieval Texts

England and its Immigrants Project (

Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the Middle Ages

Folger Library, “Opening Lectures for Race Before Race: Periodization”

Bindman & Gates (Eds.). (2010). The Image of the Black in Western Art (New Edition; 2 vols).

Michael Hames-Garcia, “How Real is Race?” In S. Alaimo & S. Hekman (Eds.), Material Feminisms (308–39). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd edition (Routledge, 2015)

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd edition).

Special Issue of Literature Compass: Critical Race and the Middle Ages

Dorothy Kim, “Critical Race Studies and the Middle Ages: Introduction”

Nicole Lopez Jantzen, “Between Empires: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages”

Coral Lumley, “The ‘Dark Welsh’: Color, Race, and Alterity in the Matter of Medieval Wales”

Nahir Otaño Gracia, “Towards a Decentered Global North Atlantic: Blackness in Saga af Tristram ok Ísodd

Shyama Rajendran, “Undoing ‘The Vernacular’: Dismantling Structures of Racio-

Linguistic Supremacy”

Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh, “The Depoliticized Saracen and Muslim Erasure”

Adam Miyashiro, “Our Deeper Past: Race, Settler Colonialism, and Medieval Heritage Politics”



Student Work

Talk: Watters

Robot Teachers, Racist Algorithms, and Disaster Pedagogy Audrey Watters, on 03 Sep 2020

Above is a link to part of the talk Audrey Watters provided to our class on September 3rd, 2020.

We would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to Audrey Watters, the Cassandra of Education Technology, for generously providing us her time and thoughts with the class and answering our questions.