The Epilogue I Never Wrote: On Finally Coming to a Conclusion

I published Immigrant Women in Athens in 2014. Since then, it has been favorably reviewed more than half a dozen times in top journals in a variety of countries by scholars I respect. But one reviewer comment has always haunted me--there is no conclusion. Why did she not write a conclusion? The last chapter ends and then the book ends. No post-mortem, no summary and restatement of the main arguments, no further thoughts for future reflection. It just...ends. My only response has generally been that I had intended to write an Epilogue, but didn't. And I didn't write a conclusion because that final paragraph of that final chapter pretty much summed everything up. I had nothing more to say. But that isn't true. It was never true. And 6 years later, I think I finally know why and am finally ready to write the Epilogue That Should Have Been™.  

Content warning: It is probably worth noting that anyone with trauma related to partner abuse, pregnancy, divorce or any other such thing may want to skip this. Though, maybe you will find something in it of kinship and shared experience that helps. I do not know.

If anyone would like a PDF version of this Epilogue to insert into their own or their library's copy of Immigrant Women in Athens, I am happy to provide you with one. I will even sign and date it.


Where to start? Maybe with my grandmother. She was born in 1907 (and died just a few months shy of her 100th birthday) to an immigrant family from what was at the time the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Not sure when they arrived. It was sometime around 1905. They spoke Old Croat and identified as ethnic Croats. Grandma Yagitza was a twin. Yagitza (Agnes) and Mitza (Mary) Kenjavari. When they were 12, their father was murdered during a mugging. Apparently, his head had been bashed in and his body hidden behind a bush by robbers on payday. He worked at a local factory in Barberton, Ohio. Grandma and her sister quit school shortly after in order to work to support their mother and themselves. Not sure what order it was, but they worked at both a pickle factory (pickles were HUGE in Ohio at this time thanks to all the German immigrants) and at the Smuckers factory. I assume they worked the assembly lines putting lids on the jars. At some point, my grandmother met and married my grandfather. Her sister never married.

I do not know how my grandparents met. And I have never met my grandfather. He was one of 5 or 6 kids born to another immigrant family, also from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were ethnic Hungarians who came from a small village in a part of Transylvania that is now in Romania. And no, we aren't a family of vampires. Otherwise, my grandfather would not have died aged 40-something in 1951 of a heart attack at a stop light in the town my father grew up in. He would not have left behind his wife with 3 children and pregnant with a fourth. Or maybe he is a vampire and his death was staged so he could change lives and hide his immortality in which case, he is not just a vampire, but a bad person.

At this point, my grandmother needed to work and she got one of the only jobs that a poor single mother with a 7th grade education could get--she became what was called a barmaid. She was, in other words, a tavern keeper. She never remarried, but did have a series of boyfriends, some less pleasant than others. She was no stranger to welfare, food stamps, child protective services or the courts--I have been told that my father was on numerous occasions removed from her care at the instigation of an uncle and would only be returned to her care when whatever (whoever?) was causing the problems was gone. They lived in the apartment over whatever bar she worked for and moved a lot. My father doesn't ever talk about his childhood, but my own childhood memories of his anger at us having to use food stamps and the fights over my mother starting to work when I was 4 so that we wouldn't need to "be on welfare" suggests a deep trauma from his childhood poverty.

The point here is that my grandmother was a single mother, widow, tavern keeper, immigrant woman, who had a series of boyfriends, never remarried, and could out-curse any sailor in multiple languages, one of them apparently 'dead'. I never knew growing up that these were bad things to be or do--I only learned that it was bad when I got to graduate school. She was my grandmother and made really good hamentaschen-like cookies. The last time I saw her was in 2006, a few months before she died (quietly, in her sleep) when I took my daughter, aged 1 to visit her. At that point, grandma's dementia was not good. She couldn't really remember who I was or even my dad, though he visited her every week and had been helping take care of her for a decade. Even before this, though, she never told us kids stories about her life. What I know, I picked up in bits and pieces from other family members. Lives like my grandmother's don't get recorded often. Only fragments and memories are ever what remains of working class immigrant women. 


Change of scene. 1986. Me, aged 12. At the age that my grandmother lost her father and had to quit school to help support the family, I made a move of my own. When I was 10, my father and mother had divorced and my father subsequently took a job in San Diego, CA. He moved there and met someone, got remarried. My older brother moved with him shortly after. And then I migrated west the next year.

My new step-mother was a 25 year old mother of 2; my father was 40-ish. Her boys were, at the time aged 2 and 4. She was the daughter of a US citizen and a Japanese woman, who was 20 years younger than him and whom he'd met while stationed in Japan. My step-mom was born at the US naval base. They moved to the US after her younger brother was born a year later. She had married her first boyfriend, whom she had started dating in middle school. He left her for another woman while she was pregnant with their second kid. When my dad asked her to marry him after their second date, she asked him if he promised to always provide for her boys. He said he would. They got married, he bought them a house, and then my brother and I moved to join them. 

Our house in San Diego was in a part of town that was split down the middle--upper-middle class to upper class white people on one side, middle and lower-middle class people on the other. The majority of the people on our side were immigrants from the Philippines,Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Our neighborhood was almost entirely non-white--two multigenerational Filipino families, two African-American families, a family from India, two mixed families (ours and our other neighbors who were a mixed Mexican and white family). There was only one entirely white family. This was a pretty standard cul-de-sac in our part of town. 

Neither my father nor step-mom had gone to college beyond a few classes. My step-mom was a cosmetics rep for Chanel and Lancome and some other high end fragrance lines at a department store. My dad, though he never went to college, had gotten a job as what we would now call an engineer. He had been an apprentice draftsman in high school and always kept up with the new technologies. He got a good job in SD that had moved us into the middle class. We seemed like a happy family. My step-mom often joked about her agreement to marry my father. We all assumed it was really a joke. I never thought about the woman alone caring for 2 young children trying to survive and support them working retail and being fortunate enough to get free babysitting from her parents. She must have been scared and worried all the time. Just like my grandmother, alone with all those kids and the only way to support them doing work that wasn't very pleasant.


1997. I go to grad school. I managed to get through college by working at Red Lobster and taking out student loans. In my house, we had a rule: 18 and out, so out I went and even got into college despite my parents' complete lack of interest in or support for it. When I learned that graduate school was a thing and that someone might pay me to study more Greek and Latin, I thought that was great. When I got accepted (to the one school I had applied to) but without funding, I didn't know enough to know that I should have said no. Instead, I packed everything I owned and my cat into a Toyota truck and migrated back to Ohio. I transferred to a nearby Red Lobster and took out student loans. 

It was when I got to grad school that I realized that there were lots of things about my life that I had always thought were normal that others did not think were ok. Although I did learn this through the myriad small cuts that 1st gens often experience when they are in places they don't belong--it is, after all, like being a foreigner in a foreign land--it was in the reading of scholarship that I truly found my alienation. 

It wasn't, I should note, scholarship generally speaking. It was, rather, a specific type of scholarship. Over the course of my time in graduate school, what I now refer to as the "Ancient Prostitution Industry" was taking shape. Middle and upper class white (mostly) women feminist scholars had discovered The Prostitute ™ and, under the guidance of Judith Butler and others, they were going to Redeem Them. And by Redeem Them, I mean, they were going to make their careers by talking about this 'edgy subject', by treating them as a subject when such women had been ignored in the past. They would invent the hetaira as elite call girls and would assume that any type of employment a woman had--from tavern keeping to retail to wool working--was just a synonym for prostitution. Their goal was a noble one, but one, I discovered, that rested almost  entirely upon treating the stories told about these women by their entirely male (elite) authors, especially in oratory, as facts. 

At the hands of these scholars, foreign working class women--tavern keepers, sellers in the markets, freed formerly enslaved women, single mothers--all became "prostitutes" because the men who spoke of them deemed that any woman who wasn't someone's wife, and hidden from public view by staying inside or being veiled, or who was selling anything or working at anything must be a whore. That I didn't understand the brilliance of this scholarship was one of the things that made me appear disrespectful in my professor's eyes, I think. But didn't they understand? The women they were talking about were my people, my family. Would scholars 1000 or 2000 years from now take the fragments of my grandmother's life and decide that she was a prostitute when what they were really saying was that she was nothing more than a whore? 

And what of my step-mother? She remarried, but would she too have been seen by these scholars, whose lives were so removed from her reality, as a scheming prostitute? If they knew of her asking my father about taking care of her boys, would they mention her in their book titled "Whoring Under Contract"? Imagine my step-mom as the subject of an Isaeus speech--fallen woman with 2 children tricks citizen man into making her kids his heirs under the pretense that they are really his. Men of the Jury, do you not all know who she really is? Everyone knows her. She is nothing more than a whore. 

One of the results of the alienation I felt reading this scholarship was a vow that I would not write scholarship on women. Ever. I could not see how anything I would have to say about them would get past the peer review process since I could not bring myself to write about them as nothing other than wives or prostitutes. I turned to the concerns of men--to politics and imperialism.


I am pregnant. It is 2004. I never wanted to be pregnant. I married in my last year of graduate school. A marriage I regretted even before it had been made. But I felt like I was on a train that I could not get off of. At 25, my mother had said "You aren't ever going to get married, are you?". I got engaged the next year. At 29, she said, "You aren't ever going to have children, are you?" I was pregnant the next year. I was in the second year of my first job. It was not a good fit for me. Well, the school was, just not the department. It was a department full of people all at least 20 years older than me, all with their white middle class mullets--polite in the front and stabby-stabby in the back. I had never felt myself as out-classed and out of place as I did with those colleagues. The only friend I had was the admin--a young, single mother. The only friend I still have from there is a former student. 

When I discovered I was pregnant, I had just received my letter of non-reappointment. This was after being told by the dept. chair that my senior colleagues did not feel I was respectful enough of them because I did not go up to the offices and ask them for advice on how to teach my classes. None of them were Greek historians. None of them ever stopped by my office to say hello or invite me to coffee or anything. I was expected to go and pay homage and I had failed to do so. I had failed, in fact, to know that I was supposed to. My ass-kissing skills are pretty non-existent and always have been.

It was almost never a question that I would have the child that would result from the pregnancy I never wanted because it was far more difficult to go through the process of finding out how and then dealing with the culturally-enforced eternal guilt, shame, pain that I was always told would result from not doing so. So, out of a job, stuck in the marriage I regretted now for who knows how long. Because I had been making my plans to leave that marriage, I saved every penny of the money I had from my job. I had been stealth applying for new positions. And then...

How would I be able to support myself and a child? No career--10 years of my life evaporating. If I stayed married, I had a chance. My husband convinced me to take a year off and have the baby. He was sure I could get another job someday. I, however, was not a lawyer as he was and did not have the prestige degrees or letter writers that could get me back in the game. I wrote to another local college offering myself as an adjunct, though with the caveat that I would need a few weeks off at the beginning of October, in the middle of the semester. They suspected why and hired me anyway. We arranged for coverage for my classes while I was away. This step to salvage a career made, I commenced with being pregnant.

To say I did not enjoy pregnancy is an understatement. It was traumatic and I spent most of it either crying or sleeping to ward off despair. Married to a DC attorney meant I was alone for about 14-15 hours a day (a reprieve from someone becoming increasingly interested in policing my behavior and activities as my belly got larger). In the first trimester, I could not eat many of my favorite foods without vomiting. In my second trimester, I was singularly responsible for moving us across town from Adams Morgan to Capitol Hill so we would have enough space for the child. Because the husband was always at work and was too cheap to spring for movers, I did everything except for the one day my dad and brothers drove 7 hours one way to move all the big furniture in. In the third trimester, a latent dairy allergy reemerged. Or rather, a dairy allergy I had been born with but that disappeared reappeared in the parasite that was growing inside of me. It was almost as if I was allergic to being pregnant. A rash developed over my entire body and I spent every night soaking in Aveeno oatmeal milk baths. Because I managed to have my third trimester in July, August, and September in a city built on a swamp, I spent most of the day walking the three story Pentagon City mall and spending all the money I had saved for my divorce on anything to try to feel better.

One fine August day, my oldest friend (like, from kindergarten) happened to be in DC for work and suggested we meet up in Dupont Circle to go to this pizza place she was interested in. I hopped on the metro and headed over. I do not to this day know exactly what happened, but at some point during the metro ride, I blacked out. I do not know for how long. All I remember is waking up to an older black woman holding my hand asking me if I am ok with deep concern in her eyes. I had vomited on myself. Probably the yogurt I'd had for breakfast. I told her it was just the heat getting to me. I drank some water and got off at my stop after telling her that I was meeting a friend and so would not be alone if it happened again. I never told my husband. Or my doctor.

Classes started, I began teaching at a new school. The chair and two of my colleagues were amazing and the students too. For the first time, I had a department that didn't make me feel like I didn't belong. Probably because most of them were not Americans or had experience being adjuncts--I always do better in an environment full of immigrants of any type, it seems. The department worked to get me a more stable position the next year and helped me get into the university's childcare center. But the despair of impending motherhood did not leave me nor had the rash and the vomiting. On top of it, my feet swelled so large that I could only wear flipflops for 2 months. And my marriage, which had never been good was only getting worse.

Fast forward to childbirth. I am not going to go into details. I will only say that as someone who has spent her life moving, continually moving from one place to another for a variety of reasons, having a high risk pregnancy with a husband you despise in a city with no friends or family for support is not something I would wish on anyone. I realized last night that the physical and emotional trauma of it will never leave me even as I laugh when I speak of the complications. It isn't funny to have a child get stuck in the birth canal or to wish afterwards that you had died in childbirth instead of having to continue a life you find increasingly untenable. But all I can do is laugh to keep from crying and from feeling that gaping hole develop in my chest again. I love my daughter. 15 years old soon and worth it all, but the first two years of my life after her birth were an unrelenting hellscape. 

The details would probably bore you, but some of the highlights include being a functional single parent, having a spouse literally attempt to sabotage you on campus job interviews by calling WHILE YOU ARE INTERVIEWING by claiming an emergency with the baby, gaining the passwords to your email accounts to monitor your communications, having panic attacks that lead to hyperventilating, going to marriage counseling only to have the therapist say "so, the best solution for you (i.e. me) is probably divorce. Do you need me to help your husband realize this?", secretly applying for jobs and squirreling away money and repeatedly doing the math to see how much you need just to survive away on your own. All the while you are watching this thing you called a parasite develop and grow into something you cannot imagine ever being without while being so exhausted by it all that you haven't written more than a single article out of your dissertation for 3 years.

I write all of this because I have realized that it is all interconnected--my academic journeying, my memories of my family, the direction my scholarship eventually took. I have passed my life among immigrant communities and as an immigrant myself in one form or another, as a child of divorce moving criss-cross around the country, a metic in academia migrating from the working class to a middle class I never felt welcomed into, as an adjunct moving from job to job, as a woman told at almost every job interview that as the only woman in the department I would be expected to teach a course on women and gender all the while repeating that "I do not work on women in antiquity".  I write this as a person who has lived in 10 different cities, in more than 20 houses or apartments, in 5 different states, who feels like it is time to uproot and move when I am anywhere for more than a few years. I write this because in order for you to understand why I even wrote Immigrant Women in Athens, you have to know that it is all connected.


I swore I would never write anything on women. But when I had finally, after 6 years on the job market, landed the tenure track job that allowed me to leave the marriage I never should have entered into, I ended up having no choice. Let me explain.

I was not told at this job that I would have to teach women in antiquity. There was a male colleague there who already did so. I was also told at my interview not to worry about being a parent and needing to schedule my classes around her school schedule because my colleagues, though both male, understood the issues and even were the ones responsible for their kids after school. Although they did not know when they offered me the job that this job was my salvation and that I would be coming to them as a newly minted single mother who was fractured and scarred, but not completely broken, that is what they got. And in some ways, their attempts at politeness and paternalism were nice, except that I was still scarred by the middle class mullets of my first job and this one, too, was relentlessly middle class, the town the school is in even more so. The stabbing looks of pity from the other parents when they learned that my child was 'of divorce', their never inviting me to join them in anything, their never inviting my daughter to playdates. Not until, of course, their own marriages fell apart and I was all the sudden not so unusual or so scandalous.

Was I scandalous? Of course not. I was a divorced single parent who was aggressively independent, paid my own bills, paid my own student loans, bought my own car, bought my own house (eventually and with my mother's help), was happily and unapologetically NOT MARRIED. I had a partner who lived in another state who might as well have been Snuffaluffagus for all they saw of him. But I was happier than I had ever been, had ever thought I could be. I was finally free and my own person. My daughter would not grow up seeing me trapped and miserable. She would see her mother do the things she wanted do, become the person she wanted to be. She would see her mother happy. And the long distant relationship was perfect for someone who needed time alone to heal and learn to trust again.  

About a few months into the first school year at the new job, I get a call. My step-mom has been kicked out of the house by my father. They are getting a divorce. Dad is in shock and not functional. Step-mom, of course, is said to be the bad guy and I, like the rest of the family, am expected to cut her off. I call her and set up a time to go see her to talk.

"It was because you left your marriage that I knew I could do it, too." This is what she tells me as we sit in a diner in the small town outside of Akron where she is living. They had moved from CA when I was in grad school for my dad's job. My father had never been the best husband. To anyone. Not my mom or my step-mom. But he had fulfilled his promise, the one to take care of her boys. The boys were both grown up now. The contract had been fulfilled. She saved her money and bought herself a little condo. She has started dating someone. She had married the only two boyfriends she ever had. She isn't planning on marrying her third. He gets it. He understands. This is why they are happy together. A few months later, the idea for Immigrant Women began to take shape. 

Although I swore I would never write about women, I tore into the Ancient Prostitution Industry canon (which had grown quite large over the decades) with a vengeance. I read all the texts they discussed and more. What I saw in those texts was not a bunch of whores who needed redeeming, but my grandmother and my step-mom, even myself. I saw women who might have worked as prostitutes at one time or another, but who were really just trying to survive a world built to exclude and exploit them. I saw patterns--all of these women shared a characteristic. They were all metics. They were all immigrants in some way or another. Was this the reason their lives were overlooked? Was their foreignness, their status as formerly enslaved, their lack of roots the thing that worried people about them? I decided to find out. 

Three years later, I completed the manuscript. I wrote aggressively. I wrote addictively, sometimes churning out 3000-4000 words in a sitting. I edited ruthlessly. I wrote over 200,000 words. In the end, I preserved 80,000. The story of why I wrote the book, of what I hoped to find, of the pieces of myself and my grandmother and my step-mom that inhabited its pages was not part of that 200,000 or the 80,000. When I finished writing the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last chapter, I was too exhausted emotionally to write any more. 

Despite their vulnerability, despite the prejudices (ancient and modern), these women were and are important. Their lives mattered. Their experiences of life mattered just as my grandmother's and my step-mom's, and mine mattered. Maybe that is why I get so angry when I see the entirety of my labor reduced to "On women, see Kennedy" in footnotes with no actual engagement with what I wrote and no recognition that they aren't just women, but metics, and workers, and immigrants, and refugees, and freed slaves, and experiencers of traumas and triumphs. They are survivors and amazing and deserve so much more than that.


A few years after the book was published, I received an email from someone I had never met whom I am happy to now call a friend. She wrote to me because she was from an immigrant family and she thanked me for writing a book that was so respectful of these women and their experiences. She told me that what I wrote meant something to her personally. I responded with a sheepish thank you--I have never been good at accepting compliments--and mentioned that I had my grandmother in mind as I had written it and had intended to write an Epilogue to that effect, but just...didn't.

But, I wonder still: if I had written this Epilogue, would all those respected scholars writing their positive reviews in those respectable journals have still done so? Writing this Epilogue means admitting that I am not 'objective', that I do not read these sources with scholarly distance, but that my own lived experience matters to how I read these texts. Because of who I am and where I come from, I had an insight into these texts that I would not have had otherwise. Our scholarly processes are not diminished by acknowledging and embracing this.

If I was not me and my family was not my family, I too might have been one of those scholars who reduces the life of Neaira--her enslavement in a brothel, the rapes, the abuse and brutalization, the finally finding some peace in older age only to have it interrupted and maybe destroyed by the legal manipulations and deceitful words of a hateful man--to "The True Story of a Courtesan’s Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece." Maybe I too would have become the scholar who treated the words of men's prejudices parading as arguments in relentless lawsuits against foreign women as facts. But I am not that scholar, because my experiences have suggested that people's lives cannot be reduced to that one unpleasant job or arrangement they may have done to survive. Because of my experiences, I looked deeper into these texts, I was skeptical, I was a better scholar. 

Maybe Neaira’s arrangement with Stephanus was just an arrangement. Maybe he needed a woman to raise his kids and she, a foreign woman in a hostile city, needed a safe harbor. Maybe they loved each other. Who knows? What I do know is that she, like all the immigrant and foreign women we encounter in our sources, deserves better that to be reduced in our work to nothing more than a whore. There are women who choose to do sex work. They are proud of that work. But recognizing this fact does not make it ok to build our careers by assuming the same is the case for the women being abused and enslaved and legally attacked in our sources. There is a difference between working as a prostitute out of choice or necessity and being slandered as a whore. Scholarship has mostly failed to see that because they've reduce these women to one dimension.

So, this is my Conclusion. This is my Epilogue. I wrote that book as a way of working through my own traumas. I wrote that book for all the working and immigrant women who have been treated like less than fully human, who exist in a state of alienation from their humanity and themselves. I wrote that book for my step-mom and my grandmother. I wrote it for myself. I wrote it as a call to scholars to stop treating our sources as documentaries, to stop letting texts intended to manipulate and slander define them and to stop 'redeeming' women who don't need redeeming by people who would turn away from them if they met them today, who would vote for politicians who would prevent them from finding safety in their towns, who would talk behind their backs, refuse to rent them an apartment, and tip them badly if the service they provided wasn't 'exceptional.' In conclusion, I wrote that book because I needed to write it and I needed other people to read it. I wrote it as a form of cathartic history. And with this Epilogue now at last written, hopefully people will read it as such.

An Ethics of Citation

By Rebecca Kennedy (RFK) and Maximus Planudes (MP)

“The intellectual seeks to be attuned to the multivalent meanings of silence, to the names that never rate footnotes and citations, to pro forma, perfunctory nods in  acknowledgments pages, to the erased thinkers in the hinterlands of the metropole.” -- Omedi Ochieng*, Theses on the Intellectual Imagination


Interrupting Lovemaking to Answer the Door.[1] 

There has been discussion of late about best practices for citation in scholarly works. Is it a problem if our citations are limited to mostly white male scholars from elite universities? If so, are we to use a quota system of scholarly citation to ensure a diversity of voices? Do we cite scholars who have proven 'problematic,' as the saying goes today? Anyone who believes that these questions are silly or have obvious answers probably has not thought much about the history and purposes of citation. There is a lot more diversity in practice than our training would admit. Even the two of us, who agree on everything except Euripides Hippolytus [2], have different views on citational practices (as will be made clear below). 

Two recent blog posts--one from Mary Beard (MB), the other from Joel Christensen (JC) at Sententiae Antique--have addressed this issue of citations from a similar, but slightly different position. MB’s offering is titled “Footnote Politics”, JC’s “Good Words from Bad People”. They consider whether one should cite work by “scholars who are tainted (politically or sexually or however)” (MB) or when “a scholar or artist of some renown is a terrible person” (JC). In both cases, the focus is on the behavior or morality of the individual. For example, JC asks if we should cite the work of a convicted pedophile. The answer is, of course, complicated: is the work about sexuality and children? If so, the work may be tainted by the biases of the person. But what if the situation is like MB imagines: What if THE “most authoritative recent work on a particular subject ... were written by (eg) someone whose public remarks have been taken to be racist, or who is plausibly alleged to be a harasser.”[3] Can you NOT cite them?

We have written this blog because we feel that it can be unproductive to focus on the immorality of a “great” scholar or the idea of “key work” in abstract. We often emphasize the character of the person (not) cited. We find it is more helpful to consider citations from the perspective of the person (not) citing--you. It may be useful to bring our focus to the writer, to the scholar in the process of composition, and their ‘ethics’ of citation. We call it an ethics, and not a politics of citation because we frame it within a community of scholars rather than within individual political commitments. 

We explore the problem from the perspective of the scholar mediating between the work of others and their audience, acknowledging that they are producing and shaping knowledge and not just funneling the ideas and words of others. We write this, then, for two reasons: (1) to bring awareness and understanding to the fact that citation methods have always varied widely and (2) to provide some ideas for a practical ethics of citation that is aware of this variety instead of turning every footnote into a moral conundrum. 

Why cite at all? 

Fustel du Coulanges, the 19th century ancient historian known primarily for his fine sideburns [4], complained about having to document his research, lamenting that in his day people just gave the results of their research. Nowadays (19th c), however:
The scaffolding matters more than the structure... learning wishes to make more of a display of itself. Scholars wish above all to appear learned (cited in Grafton Footnote, p.70-1).
This complaint reminds us that the norms and practices of citation that we encounter today have a history. As practices with a history, we have more freedom in modifying them than our training in graduate school might have led us to believe. If we are going to think about our citational practices, particularly in relation to the endlessly prolonged growing pains of the field, we should really explore them with an awareness both of their historical contingency and from the perspective of what citations do and what we might want them to do.

Most students arrive in first-year college writing seminars believing that they should cite to avoid plagiarism. While not wrong, it is an impoverished justification for a core scholarly practice.[5] To understand citation better, it helps to look at the footnote, whose history and practice is tied to citation without being coterminous with it. Grafton writes about how footnotes allow historians to tell two stories: the main story of the text and the secondary story of the research behind it. He also points to how it transforms a monologue into a conversation. Unlike historical narrative, however, scholarship tends to elevate some conversations to the main text, while relegating others to the footnotes . This practice suggests that the idea of ‘two stories’ cannot be pressed too schematically. We should, however, continue to think about how citational practice serves to highlight conversations and to reveal the story of the research. 

Grafton also documents the variety of citational practices, both historically and nationally. Although footnotes cannot bear all the weight we imagine they should--will we really be denied tenure for a refusal to cite Holt Parker in a work on Roman sexuality?--, they do serve to "convince the reader that the historian has done an acceptable amount of labor" and "indicate the chief sources the historian actually used."

Footnotes (or the dreaded endnote), as repositories for citations, thus serve essential functions: they provide the intellectual context for our arguments, refer to other related scholarship or different points of view, and acknowledge our debts. This last function, the most important, perhaps, overlaps with the practice of Acknowledgments (in articles, these are usually in the initial footnote, of course). 

Citations also supposedly signal the professional competence of the author. In "Fussnoten: Das Fundament der Wissenschaft," Steve Nimis demonstrates the fundamental role footnotes play in the professionalization of scholarly knowledge.[6]
The documentation of the work of predecessors can be one of the most odious tasks of the professional scholar, but there is no other requirement which is more insisted upon than this one. To be trivial, to be over-speculative, to be downright boring are all minor failures--often they can be endearing traits--in comparison to the failure to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of what in literary studies is called "secondary literature," but is more generally referred to simply as "the scholarship."
Nimis sees citation as the nexus of scholarly and professional authority, the key space where academic relations of power are expressed, as Reviewer #2 knows all too well. Nimis calls our attention to the professional, disciplinary functioning of citation as a form of virtue signaling--especially in what he calls ‘the pile,’ the long list of books on a topic that the author feels obligated to include--and the traditional, but unnecessary reference to Wilamowitz. 

Recognizing that citation is a form of professional positioning, however, need not be negative. It can also serve to remind us that in mastering this scholarly practice, it becomes a tool we can control, rather than be controlled by, in the creation of the academic community we want to see and be part of. So, what are some practical considerations?

A Golden Rule: Acknowledge Obligations 

In the course of research, we are bound to incur debts to people, to institutions, to ideas found in other works. These debts are obligations that we should acknowledge. There is naturally leeway on what counts as a serious enough debt to warrant citation in our scholarly notes, to be listed in the acknowledgments section versus what can be passed over. It is, however, a fundamental principle of honesty, the golden rule, if you will: acknowledge obligations. If your work is built from or dependent upon the work of another, you must cite it--even if this person is a horrible monster. 

One can acknowledge hindrances too, of course, like the person who promised to read your chapter but never got around to it or the douche professor in grad school who tried to have you kicked out, but there is no obligation here. Some people have suggested stating alongside any acknowledgment of debt that the person is a horrible monster. This may or may not make it past the editorial stage. Maybe a more practical approach is to include a statement of your ethics of citation, perhaps in your initial note or in your methodology section. It might be as simple as “citation =/= endorsement of the person, it only acknowledges a scholarly debt to someone’s work.” 

Other than this golden rule (and working in tandem with it), we suggest thinking in terms of two principles in considering the way our choices of citation situate our work within a scholarly conversation. The first is an ethics of inclusion, the second an ethics of exclusion. Both have risks and value. 

Ethics of inclusion

Let’s start by distinguishing this ethics from ‘the pile’ criticized by Nimis. By ethics of inclusion, we do not mean that one should cite everything ever written on a topic in a paragraph-long list in one’s notes. Instead, consider it this way: How might the idea of citation as the creation of a scholarly conversation inform the way we approach the problem of who to cite? 

In other words, should we care about citations limited to the predictable set of scholarship, the greatest hits parade of top 40 classics? As MB points out, we do have a problem here:
More important there is a real concern that the range of works cited in academic books and articles is inward looking, self-reinforcing and circular. To parody slightly, the line-up of footnotes in some books consist mainly of the author and his stale, pale, male friends all citing each other’s work.
It is important to make sure that our footnotes don’t participate in an elite, prestige-invested circle jerk--even if those “stale, pale, male scholars” are the ones we were told while writing our dissertation (or by reviewer #2) that we MUST cite in order to prove our professional competency. The truth is, we do not have to cite them unless we have a direct intellectual debt to them, even if we read them (out of some sense of scholarly obligation). We will naturally read more than we cite in any research. The question we should ask, however, is: Who constitutes our ideal scholarly conversation? 

In the prestige bound world of academic classics, it is natural to want to set ourselves in the context of the most well-known scholars. And the gatekeepers may insist on certain names being present. But you can ask yourself: is that citation to Wilamowitz a debt I owe or the display of membership that I can do without? In fact, we argue, it is more important for younger researchers and more recent scholarship to be centered in our conversations, even if our debt to them might be small. We want them to be included in the conversation more than anyone else. Also, citing more recent scholarship will most likely incorporate engagement with those older ‘foundational’ or ‘key’ works (e.g.”See X 2020 with bibliography”) and it puts you more directly in contact with the current state of your question. Thus, it is not about reaching some quota, ostentatiously performing some sort of scholarly affirmative action--as is a frequent accusation against those who support an intersectional feminist politics of citation [7]. It is an ethics of inclusion where we consider, in the broadest possible way, who we want to be a part of this scholarly conversation, who we want to be in conversation with.

And it doesn't have to be only about today. Can you find that hidden gem from the past, a work neglected that still has value for the conversation? Perhaps that work, because it has been excluded in the past and their ideas ignored, struck something new and exciting within you? As we conduct our research, it typically becomes clear relatively quickly who the standard voices in a conversation are, who we find ourselves in disagreement with, who we vigorously agree with, whose work we find compelling and engaging even if we aren’t talking about exactly the same thing. We are willing to bet that if instead of playing the prestige game, we focus on neglected voices from the past, from different national traditions, and younger voices, not only will our own scholarship be enlivened, but our citations will be far broader than the “stale, pale, male.” An ethics of inclusion will encourage us to add these voices to the conversation and in this way we can work to create the scholarly community we want to be part of, which is especially important if we are doing work that is non-traditional or seeks to revise previous closely held ‘foundational’ scholarly doctrines.

RFK was long ago informed by an editor (while revising her oddly underestimated first monograph)[8] that it was better to present oneself as a part of a rising tide than a voice in the wilderness. The idea was that positioning oneself as the only or the first may grant some personal satisfaction and feed the ego, but it doesn’t do much to invite people into your ideas or include you within their already existing conversations. By choosing the community we want our own work to be positioned within, we invite them to also include us in theirs. And such invitations don’t come by positioning ourselves in opposition to our community, but as part of it. 

Senior scholars can practice an ethics of inclusion by inviting new voices into their work and early career scholars can decide where they want their work to be situated and whose they think it intersects with the most. An ethics of inclusion means not being afraid that your ideas are “too close to” or might overlap in places with those of others. It means looking specifically for those intersections and leveraging them to make your arguments and ideas better and then acknowledging it. This ethics can work in tandem with the Golden Rule, but also (maybe surprisingly) with the second principle, the ethics of exclusion. 

Ethics of exclusion

We might think of the gate-keeping scenario of citation as an exclusionary practice. It is. But this is not what we mean by the ethics of exclusion. Nor, really, do we mean here a type of ‘cancel culture’ that seeks to eliminate the personally problematic scholar. Instead, we mean here a practice of notable non-citation that, partnered with an ethics of inclusion, can speak quite loudly.

Grafton (because of course MP must cite Grafton) points to a particular Italian tradition of the polemical non-citation. We might think here of an example in the study of ancient disability. A scholar working on this topic might read, but then refuse to cite R. Garland’s Eye of the Beholder because he frames the study of ancient disability within the study of monstrosity. The non-citation of this work would stand out as it is often considered a ‘foundational’ or ‘key’ work in bringing disability studies into Classics. This pointed absence would tell the audience everything it needed to know--that the author does not consider the book a work on disability at all. 

This is not to say that this exclusion is fair to Garland or that we would advocate it (we aren’t advocating here, just suggesting options). What it would not be, however, is unheard of. In the Italian tradition (and given the difficulty of obtaining modern secondary works in some Italian cities), Grafton seems right to express his admiration:
The combined precision and obscurity of the Italian citation code compels admiration -- especially in light of the practical difficulties that confront any Italian scholar who wants to read a given work before not citing it.
When we consider the ethics of not citing something, it is helpful to remember simply that non-citation may indeed be an option. In our view, if you owe a debt to a work, however, you should acknowledge it. But outside of that, there is significant space for non citation. It doesn’t mean refusing to read something. It means reading the work and then deciding that it is NOT a work you want yours to be in conversation with. 

Let's look at what seems to us an easy example: Tenny Frank. Tenny Frank’s arguments that ‘race-mixture’ caused the fall of the Roman empire are racist and do not hold up to scrutiny. They also have a large following in deep dark places in the internet that promote ideas like race-mixture = white genocide, that white women who marry Jews are ‘race traitors’, etc. Do we really need to cite something (unless it is the primary source under scrutiny) as a potentially valid explanation for why Rome fell? His work has been superseded in every way, including in the collection of tombstones he relies upon. And yet, it was still being cited in a serious work of scholarship in 2018 and was reprinted by D. Kagan in a history textbook in 1990! Why? Why? Why? Just read Emma Dench’s Romulus’ Asylum and save yourself the trouble of associating yourself with Nazis or of wanting to stab your eyes out to cleanse them after reading it. We care not about the possible personal, moral failings of Dr. T. Frank. He could have been a monster or not. But his scholarship in this case is racist and promotes racist, unfounded, and inaccurate ideas. There is no value in citing it unless the Race and IQ crowd is the community you want to be a part of. 

The question is tricker when we are considering not citing something because the author, not the work, is objectionable. Here, to be clear, we are not talking about evading an obvious debt: if, in presenting your research, you find that you have incurred an obligation to a person or piece of scholarship, this obligation should be acknowledged. While I (MP) can understand how that might put us sometimes in an awkward position, I am not particularly bothered by it because I see it as acknowledging a debt incurred rather than promoting a whole person. While I (RFK) take a somewhat different approach--if the problematic scholar produces scholarship that is directly related to or promotes the problematic behavior (i.e. if one argues for certain types of male-boy relationships in antiquity and uses this to advocate for their legality today), then we can question the value of the scholarship, especially if some of it is published on a ‘press’ that is actually the front for an advocacy group or clearly and dangerously biased think tank. This is different from a person expressing racist ideas whose scholarship is to produce critical commentaries on Lucretius.

Yet in the broader sense of imagining the scholarly conversation we want to be part of there is leeway for simply not citing something. Your personal ethics of citation may lead you to cite it because you believe that a person is not defined by some act, however horrific. Or, your personal ethics of citation encourages exclusions of some people from the scholarly community. Not everything must be cited and passing over in silence is also an age-old venerable scholarly practice. Our goal is not to dictate the correct practice, but to provide a way of thinking that may help you navigate choices that have to be made. For that purpose, we suggest that your citations create as well as possible the community of scholars you want to be part of. If you can pass over something in silence or if your silence can be its own statement, then having a practice that includes an ethics of exclusion can help. This is scholarship. It is neither unusual nor radical.


There is no obligation to cite everything. Acknowledge your debts, yes. But mostly, build the community you want your work to be read and considered within through your practice of citation. Let’s not assume that there is a clear and obvious standard for citation that you deviate from by not citing the Princeton-Harvard-Oxbrige set, by passing over in silence some reviewer’s idea of the ‘foundational’ work and instead citing the forthcoming work or dissertation of a new voice in the field (who you know was obligated to include the lit review!). Something you can consider, however, if it helps, is noting your citation ethics in the methodology section in the introduction of your book or in the acknowledgment footnote of an article. That way, your audience can understand your silences and your inclusions and can better see the community of scholars you envision your work being a part of. 

Perhaps, more important, we ask that you consider why you write. Why do you write? As a student, you wrote often to demonstrate your mastery of the scholarly tools. The dissertation has its own role and is really designed to show your committee that you have jumped through all the hoops, crossed all the ‘T’s and dotted all the ‘i’s, that you are professionally competent. Later, you may need to publish for a job, for tenure, if you are one of those few scholars who 1. has a TT job, 2. is at an elite research university, and 3. has a tenure and promotion committee that cares about whether your work is liked by Prof. Y at Yale. But there is another way to think about it, one that centers our scholarship as writing in and for people and not for the elusive, abstract, and increasingly unattainable ‘tenure’ or the achievement of other metrics. 

One of the authors of this blog post is tenured, but works for a school that privileges teaching and service above scholarship--one of her colleagues has written only one article since 1999 and the other has only published 4 or 5 in 35 years. Neither has ever published a book and the campus is filled with dedicated teachers who only publish the minimum to get tenured and then devote themselves to serving the college and students. Literally no one at the college cares if she ever writes anything ever again nor do they care about the content of what she has already written. The other author has never held a TT position and is in his second decade of being contingent; he only gets reviewed based on teaching. As a result, he writes whatever scholarship seems interesting to him and has the CV of a spectacularly unmotivated magpie. One of us loves discursive notes and over-cites regularly, once producing a 14 page bibliography for a 177 page book. The other is a minimalist who hates any citation that can’t fit in the main text. We both still write scholarship--not because we have to fulfill some metric, but because we want to participate in the conversations happening on topics we enjoy. For most members of our field today, the only reason to write is because we want to be part of a scholarly community. We embrace an ethics of citation that helps us be part of our chosen communities.

In other words, there is no universal standard for citation. You have the ability to decide your own ethics of inclusion and exclusion, as long as you acknowledge debts owed. Hopefully, this short (haha) excursus helps.

*We acknowledge no one in the production of this post, except Omedi, who had nothing at all to do with the writing of this. We just really wanted to cite this quotation from his work.


[1] This description of footnotes by Noel Coward is related by Grafton, 1997, The Footnote: A Curious History, p.69-70. Grafton's "oddly underestimated" book is a major inspiration of MP and the source of most quotations here. RFK has not read the book on footnotes, but feels like she knows it based on how much MP citesplains to her from it all the time. 

[2] We have a major dispute, which has on multiple occasions led to the slamming of doors and at least an hour of not talking, over whether or not the letter accusing Hippolytus of rape could have been written by the gods as part of the plan to ruin Hippolytus and not by Phaedra. On the possibility of this, we disagree. Through no fault of his own, the work of David Konstan (who may never even have stated an opinion on this issue) has been cited as part of this dispute. Often citations are more symbolic than substantive.

[3] As part of her discussion, MB brings up this conundrum: “Suppose the best work on the subject on the coinage of Roman Bithynia was written by a convicted gangland murderer.” We are wondering why it has to be a “gangland” murderer. Could it just be “murderer”, ‘Ndrangheta side hustle in Roman Bithynian coinage notwithstanding. 

[4] He famously refused even to read Mommsen until the end of his groundbreaking “Ancient City” was completed, and then he didn’t even cite it, or really any modern scholarship at all. See Momigliano, Studies in Modern Scholarship. 

[5] RFK assumes she is not alone in writing all of the citations at once after the main body of any article is written, going back to fill in all the notes of “CITATIONS” left dangling in the footnotes during the process of writing? 

[6] MP would regularly assign this article to graduate students, back when it was part of his job to help radicalize professionalize them. RFK has never taught graduate students but remembers reading this article and using it as the justification for her refusal to ever cite Wilamowitz (which she has never done) and for her random announcement while writing her dissertation that she would not cite any work on tragedy written before 1929.

[7] Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press Books, 2017. 

[8] Published on a non-prestige press, but with a pretty hefty royalty arrangement, unlike what seems to be the standard with certain unnamed university presses that think first books should not come with much of anything for the author. The book also contains some pretty awesome typos--7 of them in total--including one in German.