Can Classics Survive?
I did my B.A. and my M.A. in classics, although I never taught classics at any level and eventually turned to English and, later, psychology. After four years of Latin in high school, I decided to study what I most loved in college, and that was Latin. But I never wanted to teach at any level below college, which is why I changed fields.
I tell you this to explain why these two recent articles drew my attention.
“Dan-el Padilla Peralta thinks classicists should knock ancient Greece and Rome off their pedestal — even if that means destroying their discipline.”
As much as I love Latin literature, I’m not surprised to learn that the study of classics, like the study of the humanities in general, has declined in favor of majors that offer better job opportunities after graduation. But I did not know this:
Long revered as the foundation of “Western civilization,” the field was trying to shed its self-imposed reputation as an elitist subject overwhelmingly taught and studied by white men. Recently the effort had gained a new sense of urgency: Classics had been embraced by the far right, whose members held up the ancient Greeks and Romans as the originators of so-called white culture. Marchers in Charlottesville, Va., carried flags bearing a symbol of the Roman state; online reactionaries adopted classical pseudonyms; the white-supremacist website Stormfront displayed an image of the Parthenon alongside the tagline “Every month is white history month.”
This article focuses on Dan-el Padilla Peralta, “a leading historian of Rome who teaches at Princeton and was born in the Dominican Republic,” who believes “that classics has been instrumental to the invention of ‘whiteness’ and its continued domination.”
“The field as is doesn’t deserve to persist. But scholars are hard at work improving it.
This article by Johanna Hanink, associate professor of classics at Brown University, emerged as a result of the New York Times profile above. She writes, “The field of classics should evolve to keep up with the world outside the library doors . . . Today, as the United States comes to grips with its own painful history and diminished status in a globalized world, our approach to antiquity should radically shift once again.” She feels “invigorated, and not threatened, at the prospect of change for my discipline.”
There’s been a lot written about how experiencing violence and atrocities first-hand can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here James Robins go one step further, to ask people if people, such as therapists or historians conducting research, can “be traumatized by something experienced only secondhand.”
UPI reports on research recently published by JAMA Network Open about older adults with insomnia: “Adults in their 60s and 70s diagnosed with insomnia who practiced tai chi daily woke up, on average, two fewer times during the night than those who didn’t use the ancient Chinese approach, the data showed.”
Here’s some interesting research about the “reminiscence bump”: “people tend to disproportionately recall memories from when they were 10 to 30 years old.” The research findings suggest that “we aren’t primarily so interested in the music of our youth because we think it’s better than music from other eras, but because it is closely linked to our personal memories.”
“Since the release of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock 50 years ago, the allure of speculative nonfiction has remained the same: We all want to know what’s coming next.”
Samantha Culp looks at speculative nonfiction about the future, which she defines as “the constantly evolving genre we might call ‘pop futurism.’” She explains the telltale signs of a pop futurist book: “it sketches out possible tomorrows, highlights emergent trends to watch, and promises ways for even nonspecialists to apply these insights to their own life and work.”
The seminal work of this genre, she writes, is Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s book that recently marked its 50th anniversary. Here she looks at subsequent examples of this type of book and concludes that “we need an entirely new way of talking about the future if we are to shape it into something equitable and sustainable for all.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown