Against Classics

I republish here a post from the Women’s Classical Committee blog, in which I summarise some of the points I made in a talk to their AGM in Oxford this spring. Original publication here.

Despite all the efforts made in recent years to increase the diversity of Classicists by organisations like Classics for All and now the WCC as well as by university departments, it is no secret that our student body is still dominated by those from privileged backgrounds, that our secure and senior faculty are disproportionately male, and that BME scholars are disproportionately absent at all levels. I want to suggest here that ‘Classics’ itself is part of the problem: that we stack the odds against diversity by the way we describe and conceptualise our subject.

Classics is not after all a neutral term. For one thing, this eighteenth century coinage privileges language and literature: the “classics” concerned are Greek and Roman texts. It comes from an era when most of the available evidence was indeed textual, but it does not represent the breadth of the subject as we teach it today. It also dictates a focus on elites, on men, and on people we now at least perceive as white – not only because the writers of these texts overwhelmingly fit this description, but because the people they wrote about do too. Continue reading “Against Classics”

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The Cuckow is in the higher Garden

I’m writing a book about the ancient Phoenicians. Right now, this involves sitting in the Bodleian library reading nineteenth century issues of the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. It was then widely believed – at least in Cornwall – that the Cornish were descended from intrepid Phoenician tin traders who made landfall on this cold Atlantic coast, bringing civilization, industry and the secret of clotted cream. And there are plenty of reports in the J of the RIC from local historians, politicians and businessmen about Phoenician Stuff they’ve found in Cornwall: place names, jewellery and so on. There’s also a lot about local meteorological patterns, especially rainfall, and quite a bit about pilchards. Continue reading “The Cuckow is in the higher Garden”

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