The Ancient Frat Bro and a History of Legal Disregard Women


It is one of those times again where the real world and the world of my scholarship are in horrifying sync. This happens when one works on issues of race/ethnicity and gender. For the last year, it has been the horrors of the current administration's immigration policies and the overt racist white supremacy of our justice system. Now, as I put the finishing touches on an article on strategies used in ancient Athenian court cases to steal inheritances from women and children, I find the strategies and even the language of the cases mirrored in the current supreme court confirmation hearing process.

In the ancient court cases I am working with, women are being taken to court by distant relatives of their dead fathers, brothers, or husbands over inheritances. The distant relatives, wanting the estates for themselves, will say ANYTHING to get their way. The women being attacking through the courts are citizen women, usually widows or the only child of a citizen man. But citizenship for women in Classical Athens was not secure or robust. While there were processes for verifying the status of male citizens that could clearly establish their legal rights, there was no equivalent of a birth certificate for women. You had to provide witnesses in the courts to the fact of a woman's citizen status. And in extreme cases (like Demosthenes 43), you had to provide witnesses that a woman even existed!

Beyond having to verify one's existence, there are other standard strategies. Strategies that will seem really familiar to anyone with any experience of sexual assault cases. The most common strategies (found in the legal speeches of Demosthenes and Isaeus) are:
  • Impugning the trustworthiness of any potential witnesses to a woman's status
  • Suggesting they or an ancestor were foreign--Athenian identity was structured on a racist belief in the purity of the citizen body--foreign women were one of the most feared ways that purity could be corrupted. 
  • Suggesting they or their mothers were prostitutes or otherwise women of questionable repute and untrustworthy to know who the father of their children were. Slut shaming 101. 
All of these tactics appear in the Athenian courts. All of those tactics are on display every day in media reports about our judicial system, especially when it comes to trying to hold white men (especially powerful white men) accountable for their actions. All of them have been on display in the past and now in supreme court confirmation hearings. Anita Hill withstood it. Christine Blasey Ford is dealing with it now. 

The current nominee for the supreme court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been credibly accused of sexual assault. Yesterday, the accuser Christine Blasey Ford gave testimony at the hearings. Dr. Ford's story resonated with everything I remember from my own high school experiences in the late 1980s and early 1990s--I quit drinking my junior year in high school and had to stop attending all the parties because being fully aware of what was surrounding me made me disgusted. The atmosphere Dr. Ford described resonated with my high school reality--even at a large public high school. Rich kids are rich kids regardless of what school they attend and our school in San Diego had plenty of them. The calendar of young Kavanaugh also fits this world--July 1, 1982 is a day everyone should be looking into more.

It also resonated with everything I have learned of college frat parties and rape culture on college campuses. Kavanaugh's demeanor and testimony hit me hard as it brought back two very specific cases I've read. Almost anyone with experience with college sexual assault situations can tell you: He was lying (about the drinking, about what he can and can't remember). He was trying to bully his way to deniability. He probably also had a serious alcohol problem, but can't admit it (he actually cried while talking about how much he liked beer in high school).

That he became a lawyer should not surprise anyone since almost every case we see is that privileged white men who are part of this alcohol fueled sexual assault system (and it is a system) love to try to use legal language and lawyers to protect their privileges. They pretty much always sue and are at the heart of why women don't report on college campuses--they will use the law courts to out their accusers and traumatize and terrorize them as much as they can. There is a lawyer in the town I live in whose entire job seems to be to represent male students who have been expelled for sexual assault. His tactics are no different than we see in the ancient texts. And its goal is to silence women.

Watching the hearings yesterday reminded me that when a woman speaks, whether it is to report or recount the assault or as a questioner, or as an expert witness, or as  judge--the most common tactics are still those used in antiquity.

I am confident that Kavanaugh will get confirmed--that's how power works and there are still too many people who allow it to continue because they imagine they have some access to that power. Or because they may talk about justice, but there is no justice for the non-white, non-men in our world. The identity politics of being a man, being white, being rich, were all on display yesterday. The right to be angry, the right to cry about beer while saying they never blacked out while drunk ("just vomited and fell asleep"). The privilege of having one's "life destroyed" if they don't get to sit on the supreme court. A Marist poll out today shows that 54% of Republicans think Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if he did commit sexual assault. Women aren't fully human to them.* And we continue to let the law be used to ensure it.


*This is a short post and so I've left a lot out that could be added. The issue of race and the ways non-whites in this country are brutalized by the legal system needs to be kept to the front of our minds. Anita Hill's treatment was and is still discounted by white women because of anti-blackness. There is some really good writing being done on that already. I will link them up later. 

Museums as "Trojan Horses"

Today, Katherine Blouin posted an article on Twitter with a pull-quote that made me smile:

Today's blog is about how museums, particularly university museums, not only can be Trojan Horses, but why we should. And it shouldn't be simply part of an "Uncomfortable Art Tour" but baked into every exhibition and every display we have. Its based on my own experiences as a decision maker for a university museum whose primary function is teaching and learning.


I am a museum director as part of my job. I wasn't trained in Museum Studies or in an Art History dept. Before becoming the director of my university museum, I had never held another position in a museum, but only worked in them as a scholar and taken students to them as a professor. So, maybe because I am not beholden to anyone in the museum world for my position, or because I don't have the same training in curation, I come at exhibitions from the position of a professor wanting to help other faculty and students at the university understand the topic of the exhibition from many angles. It's a university museum, after all. Which may be why, two years into my tenure as director, I was in a meeting with administrators when someone commented that they were concerned that the Board of Trustees or general public or whoever may start viewing the museum as the "activist wing of the college."

It took me a minute to realize what I had just heard. And then I looked at the list of past exhibitions since I'd become director and saw what they meant: I'd started with an exhibition called "The Human Condition" inspired by Hannah Arendt and pulled works from the collection that focused on issues of power, emotions, life, death, belief, beauty, and technology. One of the students working with us on the exhibition asked if she could write about colonialism and imperialism in the display of an imperial Chinese robe and of 'Big Mac', our Guna (Kuna) representation of General MacArthur. I said, "absolutely". That's why we put them under the heading of "power". We also had exhibitions on the Underground Railroad, abortion (guest curated by Melissa Madera, creator of The Abortion Diary Podcast),  the Guerilla Girls, the Black Panthers,  etc. And upcoming were exhibitions by LGBT artists and Af-Am artists.

My response was, "Ok. I can see your point, but we create exhibits based on faculty requests and input and on course offerings." We tried to get some of the more conservative programs and faculty to come down one year by putting up the pre-1940s political cartoons and our World War I material, including drawings by graphic journalist Louis Forain. We even had a faculty member exhibit of his photography of local coal processing plants (and the plant workers came to the talk!). But, on the whole, those faculty who tend to work with objects and visual literacy in their teaching, tend to be more experimental with their pedagogy. And I say this with the knowledge that the biggest users for our museum are not Arts faculty, but anthropology/sociology, modern languages, history, and even our biology and geoscience faculty. So, its a wide range of departments (over 20 different ones) over 120+ courses with over 2000 students (on a staff of 2.5, with 8-10 students interns, mind you) because we put our exhibitions together with curricular needs in mind and work with faculty who want to work with us.

But, I took the statement seriously. I don't want protestors outside my building, I don't want donors to refuse to give to us or the college, and I don't want to make the college a target for right wing groups--though it would be a great irony to have "free speech" folks come after us for clear academic free speech. I said to the administrators, "Well, we have a lot of great late 19th, early 20th century drawings of children. We could have an exhibit on childhood in the US." They liked this idea. It seemed safe to them. Little did they understand, I think, that in order to make this exhibition one that would speak across the curriculum to students and faculty alike, idealized drawings from Winslow Homer and Maria Cassat would not be sufficient.

This fall's exhibition (opening next week) is the result of my attempts to not seem too "activisty", while also re-enforcing the principles that MUSEUMS ARE NOT NEUTRAL SPACES and should not be seen as neutral spaces. They are spaces of conversation, of learning, of teaching, of exploration, and, yes, of conflict. To pretend otherwise is to misunderstand fundamentally the history of museums and history itself. It is, so to speak, a Trojan Horse, in that is hides the truth inside of it, a truth that can be dangerous.

The exhibition is called "Defining Childhood: Growing Up in the US (1860-1960)" and examines various realities and fantasies about "childhood" prior to the civil rights era. We use from our permanent collection the idealizing works that show children at play, out with their families in Boston Common or picking berries, and then juxtapose those with photography from the National Archives by:

Gordon Parks, the activist artist, writer, and director whose images focused on life in black neighborhoods in Chicago and New York changed our understanding of poverty.

Lewis Hine, whose photos of child labor helped to reshape labor laws in the US (which some now want to roll back):

Francis Benjamin Johnson; one of the earliest US women photographer who pushed documentary photography to be considered art photography and who extensively documented alternative schools for non-whites and the deaf and blind at the turn of the century:

The reality is that childhood did not and does not mean the same thing for all people in America. For some, childhood has always been about comfort and safety and innocence. For others, it has always had elements of fear and harshness and disease. Even in these conditions, however, we see hope and play and even joy. But to put up an exhibition on childhood that only provides the idealized vision of an elite artist would be to make the title mismatch the content, it would be to erase history, to erase the art that represents a part of the topic we don't want to see. If people are uncomfortable with what they see in a museum, it isn't because they are uncomfortable with some lie we are foisting on them for a political agenda, it is because they are uncomfortable with truths they may be unwilling to accept or didn't know about to begin with.

But that's what makes museums so important and what makes the way we curate exhibits and our permanent collections so important. Because by pretending that museums are neutral, that the objects in our collections don't have baggage and that museums themselves don't have histories of complicity in hiding atrocities or promoting elite Eurocentric white male narratives of the past and present, we contribute to the continuing oppressions and lies that support them. We shouldn't need an "alternative tour" to subvert the regular display or labels that only those self selecting folks who want that story will see. Our exhibition of objects should themselves always open up these conversations, should show the different sides of the narrative surrounding what they display and should be ready and willing to have that conversation with their donors, their boards, and, most importantly, their primary audiences. This new Guerilla Girls poster makes some suggestions on how to start (at least with #metoo--but it can extend to issues of race, class, disability, and sexuality as well):

Museums were developed to tell a single story of the triumph of Euro-American, male, elite superiority. But, if our goal really is educational, museums should be Trojan Horses sneaking into the gates of this narrative and dismantling it from the inside with every exhibit and every label we show. Because there is more danger in letting the fantasy of neutrality and white male elite supremacy to stand than of tearing it down and building something new.

White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship on Race and Ethnicity

This post is the talk I gave at CAMWS 2018. In the talk, I examined why Classicists avoid using 'race' or reject that race existed in antiquity and why this position has led those outside academia to reject scholarship on ethnicity in antiquity as ideologically driven, emboldening white supremacists and, ceding the debates on race and genetics to those who believe race is a biological fact instead of a social, political, and economic fact. They don't reject all scholarship, however, but cling instead to pre-WWII scholarship that accepts race as a biological reality and affirms their beliefs in the superiority of whiteness, of ancient Greek and Roman alignment with whiteness, and in the idea of race purity. **Images are from the slides used at the presentation.**





I want to begin from a couple of comments on a post on Dimitri Nakassis’ blog Aegean History. The blog post was Dimitri’s response to the recent article published in Nature on some genetics testing done of Bronze Age bodies. I won’t get into any of the genetics issues here and defer to Denise’s paper on the matter (now an Eidolon article), but I want to focus instead on the implications of these comments for engagement between scholars and public in any discussion about race and ethnicity in antiquity and the implications in modern race discussions.

First comment:
The follow up comment by a user who goes by “Afterthought”, explicates what is only inferred by Double Helix:

I start from these comments because I believe they sum up what is the communis opinio among white nationalist groups--that after the Holocaust, academics were told that race was not "real" and that they should not talk about it. “Anything by Aryans, anything but human inequality.” The debates on how an uncritical genetics has begun to reify race science are just really starting to heat up (Dorothy Roberts’ book is a must read), as we just heard. My interest here, though, is in the way Classical scholarship gets used and filtered by white supremacists--much of which involves the wholesale rejection, ignoring, or attacking of scholarship that questions race and race hierarchies as a biological reality.

The first part of my paper therefore examines the rejection of classical scholarship by white supremacists and then look at what scholarship does get cited and read by them. I’ll then consider ways we can try to get ourselves out of the bind of complicity with these habits of scholarly rejection and citation.

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is something to what Double Helix and Afterthought say. As many of you in the audience may know UNESCO was formed after World War II in 1945, in part as a response to the horrors of the Holocaust and the scientific studies and experiments that were a natural outgrowth and progression of what was acceptable race science throughout the preceding century.  In 1949, UNESCO was asked by the UN to create a program “to make known the scientific facts about race and to combat racial prejudice.” The UNESCO “Statement on Race” was first published in 1950.

The 1950 statement was composed almost exclusively by anthropologists and sociologists. Concerns were raised almost immediately by physical anthropologists and biologists, particularly those in the developing science of genetics, that they were not represented on the initial drafting, although they DID participate in several revisions done before the statement was finally published in July of 1950. They therefore issued their own statement through UNESCO in 1951. Subsequent statements were issued again in 1964 and 1967 and again in 1978. What were those statements? Why so many? What were the differences? And how have they been received among groups whose attitude seems to be reflected in the comments of Afterthought and Double Helix?


The statement from 1950 focused on “refuting the misconceptions that race determines mental aptitude, temperament, or social habits.” (Keel 2018, 118). It gives a biological definition of race, states that this is not to be confused with cultural/social/geographic/linguistic/religious practices, organization, etc. It argues for a distinction between “the biological facts of race and the myth of ‘race’” stating that “for all practical purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth.”



The second statement from 1951 (SLIDE 6), published by a group of physical anthropologists, biologists and geneticists generally agreed with the 1950 statement, but provided a few caveats that left open the possibility that behaviors and aptitudes could, in fact, potentially be discerned through the study of genes.


They also wanted to retain the category of ‘race’ as a functional scientific category; and while large portions of the 1950 statement are retained word for word, gone is the statement that ‘race’ should be replaced with ‘ethnic groups’ and gone is the statement calling for a clear distinction between biological race and the myth of ‘race.’

And, while the conclusions are strongly stated and concur generally with the conclusions of the 1950 statement, wording throughout the statement--including references to ‘civilized’ groups and those of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ intelligence, of normalilty and, that race mixing leads to race extinction--provide cover for scientific studies conducted without reference to the possible social impacts that sociologists and anthropologists were so concerned with.


This debate still ongoing, if any of you have been following the Sam Harris/Ezra Kline discussions among others.

The 1964 and 1967 statements update the 1950 and 1951 statements in ways that mostly reflect what is still generally accepted today by sociologists/anthropologists and most geneticists. The 1978 statement comes more in the form of a list of articles of belief and includes a statement expecting scholars/scientists to make their data and information available and understandable to the public.



But what if the public isn’t interested?

These statements and the divisions between Sociology/Anthropology views and Physical Anth/Biology/Genetics views has left open a space for dismissal by white supremacist groups, particularly as they generally ignore the 1964 and 1967 updates. One place you can go look and see these views expressed (if you are really interested--I don’t recommend it) for how the white supremacists consider this issue is to Metapedia: The Alternative Encyclopedia. They have a page, of course, on the UNESCO statement. Let’s have a look.


The page then lists the authors of the statement, making a point to mark all the Jews involved) and gives a brief summary of the 1951 supplement and the 1978 revision (the page ignores the 1964 and 1967 revisions).



Note the language of this page compared to that of both the statements and the comments by Double Helix and Afterthought: The erasure of the word ‘race’ replaced with ‘ethnic groups’, the idea that these statements are ‘commands from on high’ or ‘marching orders’, the division between social science and natural science--that what social science tries to erase, natural sciences will restore.

Also, of course, the 1951 statement by physical anthropologists and geneticist’s states unequivocally (in the name of combating myths of biological purity) that race extinction or absorption is a result of race mixture--something you hear discussed repeatedly on white supremacist and race-realism forums--this statement supports the idea that inter-racial marriage = race genocide.



Which brings us, in fact, to the Classics. If UNESCO has issued marching orders, are we following them and what does that mean?

What I have found is that word on the street is to ignore or to treat as UNESCO propaganda pretty much everything written after WWII on the topic of race/ethnicity--not surprisingly. Why? Is there reason to believe that Classicists, ancient historians, archaeologists etc. are following the “marching orders” of UNESCO? If we can judge by our scholarhsip, it seems we are:

Over the course of the last 30 years, there has been something of an explosion of ‘ethnicity’ studies in Classics and ancient history. Jonathan Hall states that ‘ethnicity’ has been used since WWII as a substitute for ‘race’ as an attempt to distance such studies from the sins of pre-WWII anthropology.



He himself worked to move away from this ‘replacement’ approach and views ethnicity as more “the operation of socially dynamic relationships” instead of ‘ethnic groups’ that were just ‘races’ by another name, his concept of ethnicity is far more nuanced than how you will find ‘race’ discussed as by your average internet white supremacist or even, your PhD’d internet white supremacist--but it’s fairly easy to see this as admitting that the field has followed of the “marching orders” of UNESCO.

More subtle, and yet, also strongly mirroring the wording of the 1950 UNESCO statement is Jeremy McInerney’s introduction to the recently published A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean (Wiley 2014):



McInerney, in the end, adopts the term ethnicity for his entire volume, without ever explaining why he chooses not to use race --a reader who knows the UNESCO statement could see why, though--he has been given his ‘marching orders’ and is following them. He also, of course, codes the use of 'race' as political and activist, ignoring that the decision to use 'ethnicity' was itself a political act.

These are two prominent examples among the many that make up what has been a prolific last few decades of scholarship on ethnicity or ethnic groups in antiquity where rarely is the language of race present (and reactions to 'race' and 'racism' being associated with antiquity has been harsh). While this may make us feel safe in our scholarly bubbles to talk about group identities free of the baggage of race and racism and race science, it has left academics open to dismissal as merely following the party line of propagandists at the UN and afraid to say what we really mean--fortunately, to white supremacists, genetics is making us face the ‘truth.’ This refusal to engage the language of race has also, unfortunately, left us safe from any self-criticism as a field of our complicity in the perpetuation of racism, something the Anthropological Association of America itself has realized about its own position:
"In its focus on muting race and racialized explanations, U.S. anthropology has historically paid less attention to racism. Racism was viewed as primarily an illusion about race, overlooking that structured racism itself gives importance to race. While anthropology has therefore often been used to protest structured racism, its institutional position as an anti-race science has often also insulated it from a necessary self-critique of the discipline’s own silences, exclusions, and practices around race."
Editorial note, “Race, Racism, and Protesting Anthropology” Open Anthropology: A Public Journal of the American Anthropological Association 3 (3) 2015.
So, this is a quick look at reasons why contemporary scholarship might get rejected in favor of older scholarship. Now for what kind of scholarship gets cited.

Unlike the more modern scholarship on ‘ethnic identity,’ there is one article that is repeatedly cited, reproduced, and quoted by white supremacists--Tenney Frank’s “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” (1916). (SLIDE 17).


One may ask how such an old article continues to be so popular? Well, the repeated footnote is one method--we see this in scholarship all the time, where someone just cites a source directly from another author and footnotes that author’s footnote. But, with Frank, the perpetuation of his arguments and their move into standard discourse of white supremacism worldwide--here’s an Australian group--- has been more than a repeated footnote. Here, again, is Frank’s article as the subject of this blog post, which moves from Frank into British immigration debate.



There are dozens of these direct citations to Frank on WS webpages and blogs. There are also sites, such as the FAEM that provide ‘histories’ of the white race using Frank and which provide links to ancient sources that support the view that Romans shared their view of race--Juvenal and Aristotle are, of course, fan favorites.



Roger Pearson, a eugenics advocate and academic anthropologist in the UK and then US, republished Franks ideas in the 1960s in journal called “Western Destiny,” which has been reprinted in numerous WS webpages, blogs, etc.


And Frank’s essay itself was republished in 2005 in the Occidental Quarterly, a favorite journal of the the far right ‘intelligensia’--with 10 PhDs on its editorial board including psychologist Richard Lynn, whose work is foundational for Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve.




Another popular far right journal (and, like Occidental Quarterly, on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of white supremacist publications) is American Renaissance, whose special 2010 issue on race in antiquity has a series of articles, the first of which is focused on the hair color and “Nordic” decent of the ancient Greeks and Roman patricians--this time the rejection of post-1960s scholarship is explicit.




And lest we think that it is only far right journals that reproduce these ideas and this article and that it was not continuing to be mainstreamed in the post-UNESCO world, we have no further than to look than to Google Scholar with it list of citations (here are some recent samples)...



far too many of which are not critical, and to Donald Kagan and one of his textbooks, The End of the Roman Empire, published first in 1962 as Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why did it collapse? and then republished in 1978 and then again in 1992 under the new title.


This textbook, as part of the “Problems in European Civilization” series reproduces a whole series of pre-1960s scholarship, including Frank’s essay. The textbook, used in Western Civ courses into the 1990s did not, even in the 1990s, comment upon the clear racism of Frank’s approach. When such ideas--that race mixture destroyed the Roman Empire--are mainstreamed in courses on Western Civilization under the name of a prominent ancient historian, should we be surprised that the ideas continue to be read, cited, and perpetuated long after they should have been buried on the so-called fringes as well?


And this is where things get fuzzy--if we follow the thread of Frank’s essay, it takes us not only into the fringes of the internet and so-called race realism, but into the mainstream of the teaching of the history of the “West”. Frank’s essay has had such longevity because those who read the UNESCO Statement on race as propaganda are able to align themselves to more conservative scholars in our field, and find respectability in the continued use of clearly racist and clearly biased scholarship under the moniker of Western Civilization--Frank’s central thesis, that mass immigration and “multiculturalism” was a cause in Rome’s demise appears repeatedly in statements by public scholars; Niall Ferguson and company are only one of the latest in a long line--the entire Brexit debate is a case study.

So, how can we combat this? Well, we have already started--a self-critical, self-reflective Classics is beginning to develop, one that is willing to engage its own concomitant development with imperialism, colonialism, and race science. We need to understand why we use the language of ‘ethnicity’ instead of race. We must continue to critique the idea of “Western Civilization” as the way to ground the Classics in our college curricula. We must be open to engaging the language of race once again in scholarship, as the American Anthropological Association urges (and as scholars like Denise, Shelly Halley, and others have already been doing). Maybe we need to give up the name Classics, with its inherent valuation and become something slightly different--this debate is happening right now among dozens of departments (particularly in small Liberal Arts Colleges).

We need to work as well at removing disciplinary boundaries--while we in Classics see ourselves moving the needle on discussions of ethnicity and race in antiquity, our colleagues in Political Science, Philosophy, and many History depts. are still teaching the views of earlier scholarship--they are engaged in different disciplinary approaches and some simply may not be ready to face their demons. How can we change that? How can we engage those colleagues? By writing outside of our disciplinary boundaries, by cross-listing, by attending their events, by offering ourselves up to visit their classes, what else?

Outside of the campus, we need, I think, to stop ceding the discussion about race and classics in public fora to white supremacists, especially to those who have PhDs (almost never in classics, ancient history, or archaeology) who can give a veneer of intellectual rigor to their internet publications and musing such as I’ve highlighted above. We need to figure out ways to engage more directly with the public, to persuade those who are open to persuasion, to provide information and new interpretations of old data to broader audiences, to accept the mantel of REVISIONISM as a good and necessary thing. And we need to take it to the public in as many ways and as often as we can and encourage colleagues to do so as well by counting popular publications, podcasting, media appearances etc. as actual scholarship and not as a nuisance.

Problematic Scholar, Problematic Scholarship?

At two recent conferences (CAMWS and CAC), Prof. Thomas Hubbard gave nearly the same paper under two different titles. At CAMWS (presented in April), it went under the title "Addressing Campus Rape as a Classicist" while at CAC (presented in May) it was titled "Classical Rape and its Modern Relevance." The topic of the talk was a course he taught in 2016 called "Mythologies of Rape," which, according to the syllabus he handed out at each talk "attempts to inform modern legal and policy discussions concerning rape." He includes in the description of his course the comment "In Lord Matthew Hale's famous dictum from the 17th century, no crime is so easily alleged or more difficult to prove." This sentence sets the tone for the course and the talks. As the syllabus and talks make clear, it is not a “classics” course on ancient gender and sexuality, it is an advocacy course and should be evaluated as such.

In what follows, I attempt simply to lay out the facts and issues surrounding the talks, the course the talks discussed, and the history attaching to Hubbard's involvement in what has been considered attempts to use our field to promote what has been long established in US and other countries’ laws as illegal behavior by adult men with boys. This post is based on 1. the CAMWS talk, 2. publicly available copies of the abstracts for the talks, 3. the syllabus he handed out at the talks, 4. notes and comments provided to me by those present at one or other of the talks, 5. comments provided by students in the class in question, 6. notes and context provided by scholars rebutting some of Hubbard's published ideas, 7. public statements on Twitter about the talks, and 8. internet archives of previous controversies on ancient pederasty and concerns over its use to promote or justify modern practice concerning sexual activity between men and boys. With the exception of comments on Twitter, or on the internet generally, all comments contributed by others to this post are anonymized.

I recognize that by discussing this issue in a public forum, I run the risk of breaking the unspoken rules of academia about problematic scholarship and scholars and that there may be a reckoning in the future, but I do so now because the scholar himself has made this a public discussion by giving these talks and promoting this course and so, public discussion is, I believe, valuable and warranted. In academia generally, the problematic scholar can be open and transparent with their problematic views, while everyone else only whispers that it is a problem. We need to stop whispering, even when we know we still inhabit a world where those who speak out against problematic scholars suffer more consequences than the problems themselves.

I state here at the beginning that this is not personal. This is about the way even the most diligent and precise of scholars can manipulate or misrepresent our evidence to suit personal ends. It about how academic freedom and the teaching of difficult subjects can be used to promote not difficult, but dangerous ideas. It asks whether we can trust scholarship when the line between personal and professional become indistinguishable. It is a case study in why, even though true objectivity is never possible, we should be extra careful when we look to the past for guidance to the present. As I have said before, some aspects of antiquity should stay in antiquity.



The History


The recent talks engendered a great deal of controversy, especially because of Prof. Hubbard's senior status in the field and his high profile scholarship on ancient sexuality, specifically on pederasty. In the past, Prof. Hubbard has been directly associated with NAMBLA--North American Man-Boy Love Association--, an association that has promoted relationships between adult men and boys. He has published projects under their auspices (his pamphlet/book "Greek Love Reconsidered" and an article in a special issue of the journal Thymos, which he assigns in the course under discussion, a course which, in part, uses ancient texts to argue that statutory rape and age of consent laws are onerous regulatory impositions.

The seeds of this controversy go back to at least 2005, when Haworth Press refused to publish an article in the Journal of Homosexuality that they and others felt "promote[d] child sex abuse." An agreement was made to publish a revised version of the article later, but in 2009, the new owners of the journal, Taylor and Francis, refused again. Prof. Hubbard penned a letter to the then APA (now SCS) and commented on the issue, "The net effect is to discourage discussion or publication on certain topics deemed even potentially ‘controversial,'...This creeping marginalization of edgy topics cannot be healthy for the free development of scholarly inquiry in our field or any other.” When interviewed, the then co-chair of the Lambda Classical Caucus, Kristina Milnor (quoted in a THE article on the issue), said the caucus itself was divided on the matter, understandable given the potential academic freedom issues involved.

Around the same time, the infamous BMCR controversy broke out over James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love and brought to the fore a number of issues about the way one can use classical evidence and one's scholarship on it to promote one's personal views (the link provides access to all the relevant reviews and responses). This was the charge leveled against Davidson by both Hubbard and Verstraete, while Davidson shot back that this was precisely what Hubbard and Verstraete were doing. Hubbard, however, came out of the exchange relatively unscathed; he was asked to edit the Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities and his NAMBLA published book has even been cited by Andrew Lear in his chapter in the 2015 Sex in Antiquity volume edited by M. Masterson, Nancy Rabinowitz, and J. Robson.

Perhaps, they were unaware of the pamphlet's publisher? As I and others have discovered, pinning down NAMBLA as a publisher can be difficult as they use shell organizations and other names. But, it is a serious question whether we should cite scholarship, even by a serious scholar, that is published by an organization like NAMBLA. One scholar wrote to me of Hubbard's scholarship on pederasty as follows:
"Hubbard, I found, had a lot invested in the premise that they [boys] were present, etc. So I wanted to make sure he hadn’t turned up some evidence that contradicted my hypothesis. I didn’t find much, but did find a lot of special pleading of a morally repugnant kind. In particular, he is a Pindarist, and one of a specific training: he knows perfectly well that a naive literal interpretation of some poetic line from adult male to young boy like “you are the ruler of my soul” does not in fact mean that the boy exercises anything in the nature of what real people would call power over the adult. Hubbard knows this stuff is conventionalized love-talk without significant literal meaning (he at the very least knows that this is a very serious likelihood). He’s deliberately misinterpreting it for pernicious purposes—to advance a kind of incel line of “the underage boys are the ones with the power: they call the shots.” That one of his articles on the topic was published by NAMBLA (a detail he has tried to write-off in public controversy with James Davidson as an almost accidental happenstance—but try to find the publisher identified in the pamphlet itself: I did once; it turned up nothing; it seemed like a shell company) is apt."
Hubbard himself thus attributed his publishing under NAMBLA's auspices as "accidental happenstance;" this fact raises questions about the working of peer review, but that question clearly needs another blog post.

While the history of Prof. Hubbard's association with problematic topics has been around for a long time, his recent conference talks have given new life to those concerns and fits in with current debates more generally of the (mis)use of classical material to justify morally questionable or even repugnant ideas, laws, practices, and policies, and the use of conference peer review processes to give these views public platforms (as we see in discussions of white supremacism). There is a concern once again (as there was in 2005) that the classical past is being used to promote what amounts to child abuse and, in the case of Hubbard's focus on rape, to promote actively misogynist positions that more than one scholar who contacted me has found highly reflective of incel rhetoric.

The Conference Talks


The talks in question, as noted above, were nearly identical, based on what can be pieced together from attendees, the abstracts, the handout, etc. Whether this is a violation of the conference standards is up to CAC to decide. The abstract for CAMWS is fuller, while, due to word count limits, the CAC abstract is shorter. The CAMWS abstract contains what is clearly a statement of the bias of the author and not something that should have been overlooked in the review process (full disclosure: I am on the CAMWS program committee, but did not review that particular abstract; I do know who did and they seem to be genuinely surprised that the paper proved problematic). When I first read the abstract in the program, (linked above) I didn't really look at the entire thing. Now that I have, the first and final paragraphs are clearly questionable.)

The abstracts begin identically. What is missing from the CAC abstract, however, is of interest, particularly since the CAC abstract was submitted and presented for a panel sponsored by the Women's Network. In both talks, in the abstract for CAMWS, and in the Q/A periods, Prof. Hubbard expresses that he felt discriminated against by women (feminists, to be precise) in that his home Women's Studies program will not cross list his course and, as he makes clear in the abstract, women are not receptive to him teaching such a course:
"Ideally, a class about how men and women interrelate should have a rough balance of male and female students to share perspectives, but classes on gender seldom do; most faculty teaching such courses are female, and most male students regard gender-related classes as a systemically hostile environment. Engaging male students constructively and sympathetically is essential to changing the environment and attitudes that perpetuate rape, but if the males are not there, nothing will change. The mostly female students who choose to enroll in such a course, among the wide array of electives available to them, tend to come into the class with strong preconceived positions, based on negative personal experiences they or close friends have had with the issue. As a male teacher of a topic that has traditionally been gendered as a “female concern,” I faced some suspicion both from students and colleagues who should have been more cooperative. For a male to promote critical thinking about the wisdom of some activist-inspired legislative and administrative remedies can too easily be dismissed as denying the seriousness of the problem. A female teacher utilizing the same syllabus and readings might elicit a different reaction."
These words from the abstract were stated almost verbatim in the conference talks. It suggests, at the least, that Hubbard, who here suggests the female students were biased against him, was himself biased against the female students, whom he states could not be "objective" participants in his class because of their gender. He mentioned in the question and answer period of one of the talks that the male students were entirely receptive to the course material and assignments.

He left much of that last paragraph (bolded), which makes clearly problematic statements claiming his being discriminated against, out of the CAC abstract.

Also present in the CAMWS abstract, but absent from the CAC abstract:
"As the capstone experience of the course, I sponsored a conference bringing to my institution legal scholars, social scientists, activists, and humanists from multiple sides of the recent controversies to examine the relevant issues in an interdisciplinary fashion."
I am told by someone in the department and a student in the class that he arranged for Laura Kipnis to keynote a conference he organized on the subject. Again, removed from the CAC abstract, but in the CAMWS version:
"...as well as public debate over the wisdom of some recent measures, such as the requirements of the 2011 directive of the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights that universities adopt “preponderence [sic] of evidence” standards in adjudicating allegations against students, state legislation requiring “affirmative verbal consent” among students, and the evolution of administrative procedures for adjudicating rape claims that deny basic constitutional rights to the accused. Studies by the American Association of Universities and many individual university systems, including my own, have suggested that as many as “one in five” or “one in four” female undergraduates has experienced “unwanted sexual conduct.” However, some faculty caution that over-zealous Title IX surveillance by universities has resulted in regulations designating faculty as “mandatory reporters” of personal issues students communicate to them in confidence, as well as cases where expression of heterodox opinion on sexual matters may become subject to Title IX regulation."
The removal of this last section from the introductory paragraph makes sense in light of the fact that Canada has no similar structure, although a centerpiece of the talk is the issue of affirmative consent, something Canada has a law on and which he uses as an example of how unreasonable he thinks such laws are are. But, really, it is this paragraph, along with the last, which make clear the actual framework within which Prof. Hubbard's paper should be situated. It is within a framework of enforcement of Title IX on college campuses--not just for sexual assault cases, but also accusations against faculty for harassment and gender discrimination. The department of Classics at UT Austin has been listed at least 4-5 times on "A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in Academia" at "The Professor is In" blog. This is not an insignificant number or fact as there are other known (but whispered about) cases involving the program.

I received messages or saw comments on Twitter and through email in response to the talks. Here is a sampling:
"He was mainly arguing that affirmative consent laws were only focussed on female pleasure, not male pleasure, and weren't men allowed to get to determine some of what was pleasurable about sex? But also that it was essentialising to argue that *all* women liked consensual sex, and that some women liked the "strong silent type" and would take pleasure in being dominated, so it was unfair of affirmative action activists to assume all women were like them. After all, there are romance novels!"
"He suggested that there was no evidence that girls who were married off at 13 found that experience distressing or that they considered it rape; and that we should look to the ancient world for models to revisit our views about the age of consent for girls and boys."
"I went to this talk and was appalled at the bullshit he was boldly proclaiming, as though it were inconceivable that a thoughtful (male) scholar could disagree with him. As a grad student, and especially as one who was still considering graduate study at UT, I was very frustrated with his talk, but I wasn't exactly in a position to do anything about it."
"The message of his class and talk more or less seemed to be "statutory rape: is it really even rape?" with a side of "also, rape accusations are sorta overblown and stuff" (there's a week in his class about the Hippolytus and false rape allegations, for instance)."
"Much of the extra commentary offered by TH was especially revelatory and revealed that he is interested in neither the emotional consequences of this class nor in maintaining objectivity. In speaking of victims needing to be resilient, he asked "Do I wallow in it?" (i.e. victimhood after non-consensual sexual encounters). He referred to one of the scholars he has students read as a "professional victimologist". I believe it was Lisak, whose data he manipulated to make it seem as though a lower proportion of rape accusations are true. When asked by an audience member about this, he agreed that he was interpreting the data differently than Lisak presents it. When asked whether he believes "no means no", he paused (for quite a while) and answered that sometimes no means yes.  At no point did TH discuss any emotional consequences with students, or in fact how the class was received when it was taught."
 But, perhaps the most strongly worded response:
"Overall, the talk presented horribly problematic arguments about rape and gender, and Hubbard's class should not have been taught. Having spoken to numerous people about Hubbard after this talk, I now realise that he has a reputation. Everything he said in his talk seems to line up with that reputation, or go even further. I feel uncomfortable that he was allowed to give such a talk at CAMWS, I feel uncomfortable that he is still allowed to teach and interact with students, and I do not think an individual who so clearly implied that he does not have typical moral issues with rape or child molestation is a safe person to be around."
 This is not the first talk Prof. Hubbard has given on these issues. Here is a link to his 2011 SCS (formerly APA) "Greek Pederasty, the Construction of "Childhood" and Academic Freedom."

The Women's Network placed the talk on their meeting agenda directly afterwards at CAC. They issued a rather vague statement a few days later:


It continues:

"When relevant, this must be communicated in our research, teaching, and interactions with one another. There need be no conflict between academic freedom and sensitivity to the human experience. We applaud further exploration and promotion of research on topics of social relevance that recognize their real force and consequences."
This statement could be read as support for Prof. Hubbard's right to give a talk reflecting ideas they find repugnant. I was told by someone in the meeting that they wished to issue a quick statement that did not mention him directly.


The Class


Integral to the talk was the course he was referring to called "Mythologies of Rape." I will quote below from the syllabus and the give a summary based on notes provided me from students in the course, attendees at the talk, and from the recording of what was said about the course in the talk.

I was told by individuals with some knowledge that the course was not taught in the Dept. of Classics at UT, but in the School of Undergraduate Studies, which involves a separate review process. In the talk, Prof. Hubbard refers to it as an "honors course," which seems to be called "signature" courses on the webpage.

Here is a summary of his remarks about the course in the talk and his response to questions on the content of his course. This gives a general idea about what the course entailed.

What is the course about? From the syllabus:
"This course attempts to inform modern legal and policy discussions concerning rape by exploring its conceptual genealogy not only in English Common Law, but through art, literature, and legend dating back to classical times. In Lord Matthew Hale's famous dictum from the 17th century, no crime is so easily alleged or more difficult  to  prove. How can jurisprudential systems adequately protect the rights of the victim  while granting due process and presumption of innocence to the accused? Why are juries traditionally so sceptical of rape claims? What special challenges are 'presented in combatting organized rape of civilian population in situations of war? To what extent is underage sex legitimately defined as "statutory rape"? What are the conditions that perpetuate prison rape? Why do men rape women (and other men)?
In tracing this conceptual history, we shall examine rape as a literary and mythological topos from the Trojan War (a founding myth of Hellenic identity) to the rape of the Sabine Women and the rape of Lucretia (founding myths of Roman identity) to modern mythologies of race and gender vulnerability in films such as D. W. Griffiths' Birth of a Nation and the Nazi-produced Jud Suss. How have these  politicized invocations of rape conditioned popular and elite assumptions that complicate the process of finding justice? Do classical art and literature glorify rape, and if so, how has their centrality in Western education contributed to social attitudes and legal practice surrounding rape? How have contemporary feminism and global human rights agendas shaped our understanding and treatment of rape? The course aims to contextualize the legal issues surrounding rape in broader dimensions of social construction and gender performance."
It is clear from this introduction and the schedule of readings that this is not a classics course aimed at understanding ancient sexuality and practices. The only ancient texts assigned are Ovid (Amores and Metamorphoses selections), selections from Livy, on the rape of Persephone by Claudian, and Euripides' Hippolytus. The selection is curious. No ancient laws (which DO expect consent, especially the Gortyn law code), not the most well-known version of the Persephone story, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which clearly positions Persephone's kidnapping and marriage as traumatic (to the entire world, in fact), and a very, very selective choice from Ovid's Met, who represents numerous traumatic rapes.

The only scholarship on pederasty (the statutory rape component) is Hubbard's 2010 article "Sexual Consent and the Adolescent Male  or  What  Can We  Learn from the Greeks ?' (in Thymos--possibly a NAMBLA backed publication). The only other scholarship on ancient rape is, to his credit, is the  the best scholarship on the topic a rape in ancient warfare--but the issue of martial rape was an anomaly in the course as none of the ancient sources or modern US materials touch upon it. There is a very good book on teaching rape, pederasty, and other challenging subjects in ancient texts, but it does not appear on the syllabus.

Student comments on the course:
"The class was horrible and was an extended version of the comments he made in what you tweeted. The first time I think most of us in the class realized it would be a bad semester was our first essay where he asked us to evaluate our own sexual experiences or our friends experiences where we felt violated/assaulted to see if it was ACTUALLY rape under the Texas penal code or bad sex. He also had us write a paper over lowering the age of consent and lowering the punishment for sexually assaulting a child under the age of 6 (apparently 6 and under don't know assault is bad, they only think it is bad later on because they are told it is bad). We were also asked our sexual preferences in class and asked if we ever had a desire to be raped."
Interestingly, both of these assignments could be considered flagrant flouting of the mandatory reporter requirements of Title IX.
"I'm not too sure if he graded down if we didn't agree with him. I know I thought it was odd I received an A on a paper by just regurgitating his views (this was the one about changing the age of consent)."
Prof. Hubbard said in the talk that the course was  not run again because of bias against him by faculty in the Social Work program. But, as one student remarked:
"We filed complaints with the dean's office, which we are pretty sure is why the class isn't offered anymore. That was a lot of our motivation to stay."
The course was not renewed to be taught again under the signature course program. According to Prof. Hubbard's talk, it is because he is a man and not because of the content of the course.

Additional summary of the CAMWS/CAC talks


H. holds up the affirmative consent model as problematic because we should not assume that all women have the same sexual preferences and some women “are attracted to the strong silent type…the stereotypical romance model.” Uses 50 shades of gray as example. How do we “reconcile” this supposed affirmative consent preference with the “sociobiological reality” that women “who feel the most vulnerable” are also those who are most likely to prefer men with aggressive personalities and dominant physical attributes.

He asks: How can we use a standard that is only reasonable in the minds of women? Shouldn’t there be a standard that is reasonable from mens’ points of view as well? Ones that match with their ways of understanding verbal and non-verbal cues? What about men with men? If men can’t understand the word “yes” or “no” when women say it, how can they be expected to understand it when the law says it means something other than what men mean when they say it?

H. points to Canada’s affirmative consent law, but claims that police and prosecutors have been “reluctant to utilize it for a variety of reasons.” -- he fails to note that this reluctance involves cases where alcohol is involved, not affirmative consent generally. It is clear that Hubbard is using an article from the Globe as his language almost precisely mirrors the language of the article, which says: "A dozen legal experts in consent law, including six Crown attorneys, told the Globe that some police officers are reluctant to lay charges if they believe the case won’t succeed in court. The reasons vary, they say. Sometimes police want to spare the victim from a grueling trial process. Additionally, the unique stigma that comes with a sexual assault charge – which can stay with an accused even if a judge finds them innocent – can deter investigators from making an arrest in borderline cases."

Hubbard says: “Statutory rape is a question which I have long felt Classical evidence is relevant…” It is “criminalized in our society” and punished with “draconian” punishments. Statutory rape “would have been normative” in antiquity--cites marriages of young girls and pederasty. He states that “historical evidence suggests” that relationships between adults and children (age differential relationships) are not “intrinsically exploitative or abusive in a generally permissive environment.”

He refered to research that he says suggests that memories of child molestation (“which are often non traumatic”) are often more traumatic than the actual incident itself. He states that it is the therapist who makes the incident into a “life destroying incident.”

He stated that women who enroll in these courses tend to come in with strong opinions about the material already--based on negative personal experiences or those of friends (in abstract). He faced hostility, he suggests, because of he is a male teacher of traditionally female subjects--both from students and colleagues; a “female” using the same syllabus would have faced less suspicion.

Quotations from attendees about the CAMWS/CAC Question and Answer

"The next person asks if Hubbard will teach this class again and what his student papers were like. Hubbard’s response:
  • UT Austin will not let him teach this class again (so it was only taught once): Hubbard claims that if people have a lot of emotions about something, he’s not allowed by society/university administration to challenge students to think critically about it because it undermines their emotions
  • Hubbard says that he made students write about statutory rape laws: (when he talks about making students do this, his tone and phrasing makes me think that he really just wanted students to write about how statutory rape laws are bad—would Hubbard accept “critical thinking” that still supported such laws?)
  • Hubbard had backlash from the social work faculty at UT Austin: they didn’t like the class because it wasn’t from the perspective of a victim
  • Hubbard claims gender discrimination by the Gender and Women’s Studies department because they wouldn’t cross-list his course (he thinks the reason they wouldn’t cross-list the course is because he’s male, not because of the lengthy list of reasons why his course was horrible)
  • He says his class had 2 male and 10 female students: Hubbard makes sure to tell everyone that the boys were in frats and one was a Republican (Hubbard just volunteered this information about the males in his class—he was unprompted, and it seems very strange that he was so concerned with the demographics of just the males in his class)"
One student in the course commented on the two male students:

"One was fairly okay and the other gave an extended presentation over why women don't actually get raped often."

There were additional comments on the course by students on Twitter, but these comment have subsequently been made private or were deleted, which I do not blame the individuals for doing. I have been told by numerous individuals who have experience with Prof. Hubbard that by writing this, I am opening myself up to vicious verbal attacks from him. Fortunately, I do not work with him, so he will need to do it from afar or in print. Also, I have made every effort to only attribute to him here documentable statements.



This is what I have learned and can document from the talk, the course, and its back history. What others choose to do with this information is up to each individual. After my own further research into this topic, I have not changed my response:






On Nationalisms, Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity

Every once in awhile I receive email responses to my online writing. Those emails run the gamut from "you hate Europe" (clearly not true as I study it for a living and am in it many weeks, sometimes months each year) to "you are a race traitor" because I understand that whiteness and race are a constructs used to oppress some to maintain power in the hands of others. Sometimes I get emails that agree with me, though. At least, on the surface.

This morning I awakened to an email from a Polish individual who agrees that the so called Dorian invasion is a myth propagated by, in particular, German scholars in the 18th-20th centuries as a way for them to lay claim to Greek antiquity. The emailer agreed that there was no Nordic root to Mycenaean or Minoan cultures. Great. This seems to be well-trod ground and something that archaeology and what little we can pull from DNA agree upon. But, this is the extent to which this emailer and I can agree.

In place of Nordic, my correspondent chooses to place Polish. Taking from a recent (rather flawed) study the 9-17% DNA match between ancient bodies found both in Greece and the Ukraine and Eurasian Steppe area as evidence for ancient invasion/migration, the emailer suggests that the R1aDNA went from Poland, to India, to Persia, and then, I guess, to the Greek mainland (the majority of the aDNA match in the study was between bodies found in mainland Greece and Anatolia).

"The recent findings that ‘invaders’ from the north or in fact from the Steppes near the Ukraine clearly fits the idea that the ancestors of the Poles who domesticated the horse, founded the wheel and were a patriarchal led society rather than that of the matriarchal Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations."

It is, of course, interesting that the exact same study is being used by those same "Nordics" to claim the study supports them, because they view themselves and the original Caucasians, a claim that dates back to Blumenbach and is equally problematic. And yet, our correspondent doesn't see it that way:

"The Nordics had nothing to do with Ancient Greece. How bad must that feel for the Nordics and ‘Germans’ whoever they might be."

Instead, the emailer has substituted Polish antiquity for Germanic. But, is this because it has a factual or objective scientific basis? Or because the emailer himself has baises?

"In relation to this The Dorian Invasion and the misinterpretation and flagrant bias in the study of ethnicity in the past, mostly by the German and other Western Europeans..."

There is much I agree with in this sentence and the statement "The Nordics had nothing to do with Ancient Greece" and yet, the use of "Germans" in scare quotes and the history of Poland in relation to both Germany and the rest of western Europe suggests that this is not a bias free commentary or claim to Greek Antiquity.

Receiving this email, I felt the need to write about it. Particularly to write that I do not agree that DNA is the magic bullet that can prove anything. It can only help us get a fuller picture of human migrations and interactions. But it can't do so by comparing tiny fragments of aDNA to modern populations or by placing our DNA into arbitrarily defined categories based on a less than 1% of the human genome. Or, by reifying the idea that our identities are biologically determined by this tiny arbitrarily defined less than 1% of our genome. The rhetoric of white supremacy increasingly has become the norm once again in the US and Europe and is being used to justify inhumane treatment of others, even children. We need to seriously consider why these identities matter to us so much and the damage we do to our humanity and sanity by investing in trying to "prove" our superiority to others through any study of history.

"Surely this is revolutionary. The  myths and lies of the past can now be proven by DNA complemented by linguistics and archaeology."

Surely, the myths and lies of scientific racism should by now be shown by DNA and linguistics and archaeology to be false, but won't be so long as we continue to pretend that race and ethnicity are real biological categories and that substituting one nationalism for another will somehow make our future better and erase the horrors that humans continue to inflict upon one another in the name of national identity.

The Rewards Outweigh the Risks— Advocating for Public Scholarship in an Era of White Supremacy

This is the text from my recent talk on the Public Facing Scholarship in Canada panel at the 2018 Classical Association of Canada Annual Meeting. The rest of the panel papers, handouts, and participant information can be found by following the link to our panel page @ this blog. Thanks to Aven McMaster, Katherine Blouin, Jaclyn Neel, and Alison Innes for such an informative and inspiring panel. This version contains external links to events or other mentions.

“The Rewards Outweigh the Risks— Advocating for Public Scholarship in an Era of White Supremacy”


There are a lot of great reasons for someone in a field like Classics to engage in public scholarship--it increases visibility of the field, helps entice donors to archaeological digs, increases the number of students who want to study it and reduces the number of parents who don’t know what classics is. My own experiences and those of a number of my colleagues in Classics and ancient history (and our Medievalist colleagues), however, have shown the risks of such public engagement as well. A portion of the general public that tends to be interested in things classical is not necessarily the general public one hopes to attract. While there are good people who took a class or two in college or even majored in it who want to connect, an unusually large demographic of the public interested in classics are white men who view classics as “western,” “white” and “theirs” alone. Among these men are those who are openly white supremacist and neo-nazi. They appropriate antiquity in a myriad of ways to support their dreams of a “white nation”--whether in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, or elsewhere. This public – explicitly racist or just complicitly racist – forms a part of the public that we of necessity address, and who don’t hesitate to address us. Public engagement for us, as a result, comes with both risks and rewards. 

I’ll start with the risks: The public are not passive recipients of our scholarship.

We need first to admit an uncomfortable fact: a white supremacist is not necessarily crazy to see Classics as an ally. Classics has a long and complicated history with respect to modern race constructs and justifications for colonialism and imperialism. Over the course of the last 40 or so years, however, the field--at least a portion of the field--has been coming to grips with its biases and complicity and has sought to correct the historical record by engaging critically with past scholarship, with new archaeological and material artifacts, by widening the canon of authors and texts we teach and research on, and, more recently, by engaging in more public outreach to make all of this research accessible to a wider public. (e.g. the Everyday Orientalism blog) Many in the public, however, prefer the 19th and early 20th century writings about ancient Greece and Rome--writings that are in the public domain (which might explain part of their reliance) and that their ideologies depend upon. A scholar who wades into public conversations should not be surprised if the general public is unaware of the current communis opinio or recent scholarship.  In fact, such a public facing scholar might find herself facing a charge of being a so-called “Social Justice Warrior Revisionists” bent on indoctrinating the youth in colleges and set on destroying the “foundations of western civilization.”

There have, of course, been a few recent high-profile examples of what can happen when these white supremacists or there “bot” friends decide you are a threat to them. Aggressive threats toward Donna Zuckerburg and Sarah Bond are the most well-known cases. In each case, the scholar in question wrote a public facing work and was repaid with aggressive, threatening comments, articles written about them in right wing magazines and websites and, in Sarah’s case, posters hung on her campus and calls made to administration calling for her firing. In many ways, the excesses of the attacks on them are easier to dismiss as anomalous or unindicative of concerns we as a field need to have. And yet, the virulence and organized nature of the attacks should concern us.

Sarah Bond’s article was in a popular publication (Hyperallergic) and Donna’s was in Eidolon, an unapologetically liberal feminist magazine, but others are being targeted for their scholarship in academic journals and presses. Sarah’s case, though, is illustrative of how the targeting works--first, her article was picked up by an intern at the website Campus Reform, a group that considers itself a policer of liberal academics. [[Update: There is apparently a Canadian equivalent site now called “Woke Watch”]]. They look for scholarship on climate change, studies on “whiteness,” gender and sexuality studies, diversity in the classical world, etc. They write an article about it, typically one that misrepresents what the scholar actually writes. This then mobilizes an electronic army of trolls to attack the author in the comments sections to their article, in emails or, more frequently, on Twitter.  Sometimes, the scholar might receive a call from the schedulers on the Tucker Carlson Show. They sometimes contact university administrators, making threats or demanding the person be fired. If you are lucky, you both published in a forum that helps moderate the threats and work at a university that mobilizes behind you and provides you risk management and legal support, if needed. Sarah was fortunate on both counts, but others, like Donna, are not so lucky.

This pattern has been repeated dozens of times in the last 18 months. It has even targeted students writing for student newspapers (as happened to a student at my campus). The attacks are extreme, but are not consistent. Concerning and more persistent, however, are attacks on our public scholarship by fellow non-classics academics, such as Nassim Taleb’s barrage against Mary Beard, which started with her Roman Britain tweets but which continues at seemingly random intervals still. Whether one agrees with her or not on this or any issue, Taleb (and I classify Taleb as such because he is insistent that he is “white” and descended directly from ancient Greeks and he uses lots of inaccurate and troubling genetics to demonstrate it), with is tens of thousands of Twitter followers and blog on Medium has used his public platform to wage a continual assault on her. So relentless is it that legitimate criticisms of her posts are often lost and classified as “trolling.” One of the myriad dangers that the white supremacist barrages can lead to is that it can  obscure actual usefully critical conversations.

For myself, the risks have been different. I joined Twitter--one of the primary mechanisms white supremacists use to attack--only this last October, the result of a concussion that clearly clouded my mind. But I did so while simultaneously signing onto a shared block list with other academics (it’s a program called “Block Together” and I highly recommend it), something that has protected me from numerous unpleasantries. But my first foray into public scholarship was quite unpleasant.

I first considered venturing into public scholarship back in 2009. I wrote a couple of blog posts and had an opportunity to be a “talking head” in 3 episodes of a History Channel international series (sorry, no aliens). Filming was fun, the reactions of my friends and family when they saw me on TV was fun. Not fun were the sexually harassing and disgusting emails I received (and occasionally still receive) from men whose only response to women being experts in anything (and I was the only woman in 2 of the episodes) is to try to make them go away. And that’s what I did. I didn’t want to get those emails. So, I figured I should just lay low. But last year, meeting with Donna Zuckerberg a couple of months after her “How to be a good classicists under a bad emperor” article hit the internet, I changed my mind.

My conversation with her on public scholarship started with me asking Donna what the Women’s Classical Caucus, an organization I currently co-chair, could do to support her. She said “write”. I was, as you might imagine, a little apprehensive. I’m a specialist in ancient immigrants and race and ethnicity in antiquity and the reception of these ideas in modern race science. These are things that could get me attacked on the interwebs. But, the best thing I could do to support her and others who were already starting to engage the tough questions was to write about it for the public using my expertise. So, I have.

The audience for my public scholarship is both my colleagues in classics and anyone in the public at large who has interests in the ancient Mediterranean world. Frequently, my posts target or derive from the writings of others (almost always non-classicists, but not always) about classics in popular or contemporary culture. Whether it’s an anonymous person who hates Black Achilles or David Brooks and Mark Bauerlien lamenting that “western civ is dying” or some random lawyer on FB who doesn’t know the difference between rape law and adultery law in antiquity, I choose my topics based on whether or not I think I can persuade someone--usually someone in the field or an interested but not white supremacist non-classicist--that the ancient world is not a white monolithic space that belongs to elite white men alone. The difficult topics are the ones where it is our fellow academics (in classics and in other fields) who have an investment in a white male and “western” classics.

Public engagement isn’t just for a general public outside of academia nor is that the only place white supremacists or neo-nazis hide. Often it includes colleagues in other fields (and within our own) who are interested in antiquity for personal reasons. These colleagues may often be overtly or implicitly white supremacist or defenders and promoters of “western civilization” or, more frequently these days, are interested in genetics and see genetics as correcting decades of attempts by ancient historians and archaeologists to undermine biological determinations in human variation--i.e. the construct of race.[1] Numerous of the defenders of the “west” who look to maintain a status quo view of classics and classical antiquity as “white” and “western” sometimes run so called “race realism” journals like "American Renaissance” or “The Occidental Quarterly” or "The Dorchester Review" or go by names like Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, David Reich, and Charles Murray--there is a strong investment in maintaining the “Greek Miracle” if you are a white male neuroscientist, psychologist, or geneticist who believes that race and gender are biological realities that determines intelligence and behavior.

Many seem to be invested in the idea of a fully “white” antiquity, which suggests they may not want to hear what I and my colleagues have to say.  So, part of my public engagement goal is to try to sway those who can be swayed to love the classical world for reasons other than a false fantasy of it being a white wonderland and to get them to embrace a more accurate picture of the past--Classics is valuable for its complexities, not its perfections. I also try to demonstrate how modern misconceptions came into being--though it is challenging to get people to understand that pointing out past racism in classical scholarship isn’t an accusation of racism in all current admirers of antiquity. I’ve been accused of betraying my race, of trying to induce white guilt (and this by a religion colleague at another university just for using the word race in relation to antiquity), and even of hating classics. The toughest part of public engagement for me really is not replying to everyone who is wrong on the internet or at the bar.

These are the risks, clearly--harassment, dismissal, even threats. But, I don’t allow comments on the blog proper and my healthy 99,000+ person strong block list on Twitter has helped a LOT. And the rewards increase as those of us doing this work gain in strength and numbers--the more of us doing this work, the less impact the more extreme elements on the internet have and the more impact we can have on the more moderate forms of classical exceptionalism that pave the way for white supremacism.

So, what are the rewards?  The public are not passive recipients of our scholarship.

In terms of the profession--Prof Bond’s article and the response to it have engendered real conversations concerning the display and teaching of classical art--museums are changing, even if only slowly. Donna’s journal Eidolon, has a regular readership of around 10,000 now and celebrated its 2nd anniversary with an unabashedly feminist rebranding; it has been inspiring a more diverse classics and giving voice to many in our field who haven’t felt like they could speak before. A recent conference I participated in, Racing the Classics, included many scholars (young and older) who participate in reception studies and some in public scholarship and they are committed to trying to find ways to ethically promote a study of classics that includes race and racism--in antiquity, in the field, and in the use of classics to promote racism outside of the field. We actually held a panel at CAMWS this year on Classics and White Supremacy--lots of people came (standing, sitting, jammed into the room) and have continued to express appreciation for it happening.

There are also professional rewards.  Since that conversation with Donna in January of 2017, I have written 2 articles for Eidolon. My blog Classics at the Intersections has gained an audience. It’s focused mostly on the intersection of ancient views of race and modern one, of racist appropriations of the classical past, and sometimes, women and gender. I also house there an online bibliography and resource database for teaching race and ethnicity in antiquity where my own and colleagues’ syllabi are available to anyone who wants to adapt them. My blog has had around 79000 views since August 2017 as of last week, which is way more people than will likely ever read my scholarship in academic publications. Posts I’ve made are being assigned in classes around the world. My name recognition in the field has increased measurably, especially for someone who works at a small teaching college in the American midwest.

Creating public scholarship has also impacted my regular scholarship--a big question that is always asked about public scholarship is “but does it count?” It may not count in itself for tenure and promotion at this time, but it has led to opportunities that do: I’ve been invited to participate in a number of conference panels, podcasts, or workshops on classics and white supremacy. I’ve been invited to meet with departments to help them build inclusive syllabi and curricula, and to participate in an international workshop in Leiden on creating integrated approaches to studying histories of race and migration that includes historians, archaeologists, and geneticist. I was asked by Johns Hopkins to write a book for them on the topics I address in my public scholarship--in the voice I use in my public scholarship. More people are actually reading my academic publications as a result of my public facing work. These are material gains, scholarly gains that resulted from my willingness to venture into a hostile public sphere, where the work I do wouldn’t “count” for anything professionally like tenure or promotion. And, yet, these are real professional gains.

But there is also a personal reward that such work can engender. Whenever I feel like I can’t keep up the work because I’m tired and have too much else to do or think it’s not worth it because no one reads it or pays attention, I get an email or someone comes up to me at a conference and thanks me for being willing to discuss issues of racism and classics’ role in it publicly--thanked by graduate students, junior scholars, senior scholars--people I have never met, people I now count as friends, people who genuinely find some value in the work. There is a real need among many of our colleagues to be able to talk about our history of complicity, to talk about the systems of power and hierarchies that still dominate our field. In a field that is over 90% white and still dominated at the tenured ranks by white men, being public and reflective about our own history can make a big difference. We need to own our past and recognize how embedded racism (and sexism) are in our field.

Over the last two years, white supremacists’ love for the classics has manifested in distressing ways and the question of the risks vs. rewards for public scholarship has become all too real. But none of the women I know who are doing this work--and the people doing this work are overwhelmingly younger women in the field (though hat tip to Pharos/Curtis Dozier and Matthew Sears/Twitter Warrior™--are not backing down despite threats to tenure or even getting employed in the first place. And, far from intimidating me into hiding this time around, the attacks on my colleagues and friends, and the open references to things classical by white supremacists in their hateful manifestos and recruitment campaigns, have galvanized me to do more and to work with others to create support for any scholar in our field who chooses to use their expertise to inform public debate. I have tenure. And a platform. If I don’t use it in support of others and of my discipline, then what is the point?

We live, for better or for worse, in interesting times, and now more than ever, I’ve come to believe that those of us who can participate in public engagement should--even though the risks are real and the rewards are not necessarily always immediate or clear. And I hope that as more faculty decide to use their expertise to inform public debates, more institutions and our professional organizations will support them in doing so. And that can start with how we value public scholarship in our teaching and our own research--podcasts, blogs, databases, they are all valuable and worth assigning and citing. Public scholars are fighting on the front lines of public opinion for our field. The least we can do is to support them and acknowledge the hard work and expertise it requires. Thank you.



[1] I discussed this issue with respect to the UNESCO “Statement on Race” at CAMWS and will have a blog post forthcoming on the topic.