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.

Public Facing Scholarship in Classics in Canada

Coming May 8th at 8:30am (Calgary time!) at the Classical Association of Canada Annual Conference (Calgary May 8–10, 2018)

SESSION 1b, SB 142 (Panel Handout)

Live tweeting of this session is encouraged!  #cacscec2018 & #cacscec1b  Threads will be linked after the conference!

Below are public profiles for each speaker, abstracts for the talks, and links to handouts or presentation slides. NB. Full papers are linked where possible.

Public Facing Scholarship in Classics in Canada/ Le public face à l’érudition en études classiques au Canada

Featuring: Alison Innes, Jaclyn Neel, Aven McMaster, and Rebecca Futo Kennedy.

Chair/Président: Katherine Blouin
Email: katherine.blouin@utoronto.ca
Twitter: @isisnaucratis
Blog: Everyday Orientalism
ABSTRACT: This panel will address the topic of public-facing scholarship in Classics in Canada, with the intent of continuing and advancing the ongoing conversations on the subject. What is public-facing scholarship, and why is it important? What are the benefits of public scholarship in Canada today, both to society and to the academics who participate? What are the risks, to individual academics and to universities? What venues, platforms, and modes of public scholarship are available, and what considerations apply when choosing between them? And finally, how can the CAC and individual departments support people who are interested in engaging in public-facing scholarship?

1. "Using Social Media for Public Engagement" Alison Innes, Brock University (slides; Using Academic Twitter handout)
Email: ainnes@brocku.ca
Twitter: @InnesAlison / @BrockHumanities
Blog: alisoninnes.com--(links and additional documents for talk)
Podcast: MythTake  and fb.com/mythtake  

ABSTRACT: The rise of social media presents scholars with a great opportunity to share our research beyond the academy. Tapping into social media gives us access to broad audiences and allows us to go beyond public relations for our discipline and make our scholarship accessible and understandable to the public. By using social media to engage with the public, we can show the relevance and importance of what we do as academics.
     With so much opportunity and activity happening on social media platforms, how does one create community and space for conversation? This paper will explore ways in which academics can leverage the opportunities presented by social media to build networks beyond academia and engage the public.
     Developing an effective social media strategy requires a number of considerations, including time, budget, platform, content, audience, goals, and risk management. A carefully thought-out plan will improve one’s experience using social media for public engagement and therefore increase the dissemination of academic ideas.
     Academics from a variety of disciplines are already using social media for public-facing scholarship and this paper will examine how strategies such as hashtag ‘games’, AMAs (ask me anything), and live tweeting talks, books, and movies can be used to engage and educate the public. Ro-cur (rotating curator) Twitter accounts and Instagram takeovers are additional ways to expand one’s audience and network.
     Yet another increasingly popular social medium is podcasting, and it lends itself well to making academic research accessible to the public. Podcasting can be useful at several stages of the research life cycle and can take a variety of formats. This paper will conclude by discussing the possibilities podcasting presents for public-facing scholarship. Discussion of specific examples of podcasts will provide a reference point for those wishing to explore the use of podcasting for public engagement.

2. "Lifelong Learning in Cyberspace: Blogging as a Form of Instruction" Jaclyn Neel, Temple University (slides)
Email: jneel@temple.edu / libraryofantiquity@gmail.com
Twitter: @LibAntiquity
Facebook: Library of Antiquity
Blog: The Library of Antiquity 
ABSTRACT: "Public scholarship" is an elusive term, but one that is often highlighted as a desideratum for "out-of-touch" academics (recently: Shafak 2017; Greif 2015). In this paper, I discuss one way to introduce the public to the practice of conducting high-level academic research: by breaking down the process in a blog. This method has many similarities to teaching, but has the ability to reach much more broadly than the traditional classroom. My presentation will also address some of the difficulties involved in maintaining an active internet presence, including potential solutions that could be undertaken by the CAC or other interested parties: funding for the production of public scholarship, recognition of such activities in tenure and promotion reviews, and increasing incentives for activities beyond the academy. The potential payoff for such activities is great: increasing knowledge of and interest in classics among the general population can lead to increased student participation in classical activities. However, the most critical work of public scholarship is engagement with contemporary concerns, and such engagement comes at a price for academics in non-traditional contracts.

Shafak, E. (14/07/2017). "It is time we stopped denigrating the public intellectual." The Guardian.

Greif, M. (13/02/2015). "What's Wrong With Public Intellectuals?" The Chronicle of Higher Education.

3. "Scholarship Out Loud: Moving Beyond the Lone Academic" Aven McMaster, Thorneloe University at Laurentian (slides)
Email: amcmaster@laurentian.ca
Twitter: @AvenSarah
Podcast: The Endless Knot Podcast
YouTube: www.youtube.com/Alliterative
ABSTRACT: ‘Public-facing’ scholarship does not only mean making scholarship accessible to non-Classicists – it also means making the process of research and scholarship accessible to other academics, allowing for interaction and development before the publication stage, even before the conference paper stage perhaps. This can be scary, but also immensely helpful and valuable to all parties involved and to the field in general, while at the same time generating interest in the ancient world among the general public. There are many ways to use newer platforms and venues to do public-facing scholarship today. In this paper I will discuss two of these that I have personal experience with: Twitter and podcasting. My experience using Twitter for research is that it is an invaluable tool for making connections, finding resources, being inspired and generating ideas, collaborating, and receiving emotional support and encouragement through the writing process. Podcasting about Classical subjects has similarly allowed me to make connections with other academics, but it has also provided a platform for engaging non-Classicists with the ancient world and expanding my reach far beyond the students in my classes. There is also an ever-growing number of other Classics-related podcasts which present a range of formats for engaging people inside and outside of the field, presenting ongoing research, combatting misinformation and misappropriation of Classical material, and amplifying the voices of marginalized, non-traditional, and innovative researchers and teachers in ancient studies.

4. "The Rewards Outweigh the Risks— Advocating for Public Scholarship in an Era of White Supremacy" Rebecca Futo Kennedy, Denison University
Twitter: @kataplexis
Blog: Classics at the Intersections 
ABSTRACT: There are lots of great reasons from someone in a field like classics to engage in public outreach--it increases visibility of the field, helps entice donors to digs, increases the number of students who may 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 as well. The general public that tends to be interested in things Classical is not necessarily the general public that one hopes to attract. While there are good people who took a class or two in college or even did their undergrad in Classics who want to continue to feel connected to the field out of interest, a small subset of the general public interested in Classics is made up white people who view Classics as the core of a“Western Civilization” that is explicitly for and of “white” history or who are openly supremacists and neo-nazis. They appropriate antiquity in a myriad of ways to support their dreams of a “white nation” in the US, Canada, the UK, and other parts of Europe. Public engagement for some of us, as a result, comes with both risks and rewards.
     In this paper, I will discuss the implications of this landscape for doing public scholarship--both the good and the bad--and consider reasons why the rewards outweigh the risks and how we can support our fellow public scholars’ work when confronted by “trolls.” I will do so with reference to both my own experiences and those of academic colleagues both within and without Classics.