Ways to Say ‘No’ to Service Asks

It can be hard to know how to decline tempting offers to engage in new service opportunities.  This is a letter I sent off this morning:
Dear XXX,
I’m honored to be asked.  However, I’ve resolved to take on no further service commitments until my present book projects are launched and I’m in a better position to apply for full.  CUNY has a 3-4 teaching load and I was made chair immediately upon being tenured.  I’ve not been able to give as much time as I’d like to publications and thus have been at the rank of Associate for ten years.
In a few years, as I reach my personal research goals, I’d love to be asked again for this an similar opportunities to support my colleagues in their own publications.
In the interim, may I point you to the wonderful resource: http://woah.lib.uiowa.edu/: a crowd sourced list of female ancient historians.   Or, if you want to consider an open call for applications for the position you might advertise the opening in the next newsletter of the Association of Ancient Historians.  http://associationofancienthistorians.org/
With gratitude,

Peer-Review as (Self)-Pedagogy

I’ve not read any of the listserv discussion.  I’ve only seen the fall out on twitter.  Here’s a bit of my own life experience that might be of interest to some. 

Minor addition 5/22/18: Some people seem to be reading and even liking this post.  Thank you.  I am also hearing the well worn argument that any affirmative action will undermine decisions based on merit.  As I said in the first version of this paper, the verdict is already in on ‘color blindness’ (it’s racist) and we can extrapolate lessons regarding ‘blind’ peer review from this work.  Similarly, we can extrapolate lessons from the case for affirmative action.  These are well worn and well understood.   See below for suggested links.

In May 2017 I organized with students, former students, and mentees an international interdisciplinary conference called The Cost of Freedom: Debt and Slavery.

In retrospect the most educational part of organization process for me was the peer review process for the abstracts:

The committee consisted of

  • female tenured classicist at Large Public University (me!), European-American
  • male Classics PhD candidate about to defend, European-American
  • female early stage PhD Candidate in Comp Lit at an Ivy League University, Caribbean-American
  • male early stage PhD Candidate in American Studies (trained in Sociology) at a Large Public University, male, Dominican-American
  • female undergraduate in Philosophy (aiming at Law School), African-American

We also represented a wide range of different religious heritages and degrees of present practice.   We started with a blind approach to the review of 60+ abstracts.  All abstracts were read by all committee members.  Only the undergraduate coordinator knew the identities.  Separately we each answered a relatively simple pre-determined questionaire in a spreadsheet including a numerical score and open-ended comments.

At our meeting our first conversation was about the experience of reading and reviewing, where we felt our own fatigue, interests, tastes, stress, scholarly backgrounds coming into play.

Then we constructed a whole program based on our blind scoring.  We worked from the assumption that if even one person on the committee gave the highest possible score to a paper, the paper should be included.  We discussed at length those with great discrepancies in their scoring.  We did not average the scores.

Still in that same meeting we then read the biographical statements submitted separately by each applicant.  My junior collaborators were shocked and horrified (I only a little less so) that the panels we’d constructed were heavily favored towards white male speakers and we’d not managed to attract applicants–let alone select–ANY from a Haitian background, something we felt essential given the theme of our conference.  Many asked, “if this is what WE come back with in our hard-fought attempts at inclusivity, how is there any hope for those from non-traditional backgrounds to succeed in the academy with its belief in blind peer review?!”

We then had a really hard conversation about what we wanted our conference to be about, what work we wanted to support, and foreground.  What made something academically worthy?  Then we read all the bios and abstracts together again.

We decided on a longer, more grueling schedule, to ensure the conference included more scholars from more diverse backgrounds.  We in fact doubled our intended number of speakers.  We re-thought our panel themes to make sure we could showcase different approaches and we went out and actively recruit scholars who hadn’t applied to fill in the intellectual gaps, even providing translations services and offering funding to allow such participation.

What was our biggest take-away?  Regardless of our background, we still found ourselves inclined to defer to the voices of white men.  Why?  I suspect because even in blind peer review those voices sound so much like the familiar voice of authority.   They have been trained to speak with authority and we have been trained to recognize that sound as the sound of authority.  These are speculations, based on a single experience, not tested hypotheses.

Does this threaten the position of white men?  Some, but far from all.  In the second round of review and the reformulation of the program, we in fact found ourselves adding in one senior white male scholar who in the end gave an incredibly moving paper at the conference.   Many thoughtful white male scholars consciously adopt an inclusive open style, preferring themselves to use a voice that may sound less self assured and less authoritative, because it leaves space for others.  In doing so, they engage in richer more rewarding conversations.

One of the things that scares me most is my own tendency to coach mentees to sound more authoritative, more rigorous (more like some one who was acculturated to white male privilege).  To walk the walk, to talk the talk, to fake it till you make it.  To pass.  Enacting privilege has certainly been my own chief survival strategy. 

Blind peer review is not the sole means for achieving ‘fair’ allocation of speaking slots at conferences.  It’s problems are closely tied to the well-critiqued problems of ‘color blindness’ (see below for refs).

We need to understand on a very personal level what sounds like ‘good scholarship’ to our own ears and think about why it sounds so.

Can we be more open in our ideas of what has merits?

Can we save space for ideas and voices that we might not yet readily identify as ‘rigorous’ or ‘disciplined’ or ‘focused’ or ‘trained’?

What’s the worst that can happen?

We hear a bad paper or three?

Doesn’t this happen anyway?!

We hear an idea that makes us angry or makes us question our own assumptions?

Great!  You’d get energized to write more and better!  To think harder.  Isn’t that why we got into the business?

We don’t get to give our own paper?

Yes, you might have to give up a place now and again.  I strongly suspect I was not selected from a recent panel so that a graduate student could speak.  Do I think my paper would have been more ‘relevant’ more ‘informed’ more ‘on topic’ more ‘polished’?  Yes.  Do I fault the committee? not one iota!

This self-examination can be exhausting.  But it is worth it, not just for others, but for myself.

Essays on why ‘color-blindness’ is a problem.

A 2013 editorial from the Washington Post

2011 Psychology Today article

2013 Historical Essay on the idea

Essays on why affirmative action isn’t a bad idea added 22 May 2018

2014 Washington Post article

Critique of 7 common criticisms of Affirmative Action

2017 US News and World Report article

Feeling like you don’t know how to talk about race, but you want to?

Checkout anything by Ijeoma Oluo

She’s on twitter too.

(Please don’t ask your students or friends of color to do the extra work of teaching you personally, or of assuring you you’re getting it right! We all make mistakes and need to be gracious when corrected for them.  Myself included.  I wish I could take back so many things I said in my early career.)

Dear Neville,

I read Jenkyns’ review of your book.  I’m sorry, but not surprised.   Classics is a discipline that likes to police its members.  I have often wanted to break up with Classics.  I never describe myself as such.  I’m a Roman Historian and Numismatist who knows a thing or two about the Hellenistic World and a little of what came earlier and later.  I’ve never paid dues to a professional organization with Classics in its name.   I wish I could write half as well as Josephine Quinn on why Classics is the wrong name for what we do.

I linger in my relationship with Classics in respect for my students and colleagues who remain attached to that disciplinary framing.  (I do fantasize of being poached by a History department from time to time though!)  I don’t want to (ab)use my white tenured privilege to flee the problems of the discipline when there is good work being done by the Sportula and Eos and others to show that Classics can be something different and better than it has been.  Maybe I need to stick around to aid and amplify the restorative justice work that needs doing, as best I’m able.

The reason I found Jenkyns review so disheartening is its publication on a platform designed to expand access to Latin and Greek, particularly in State Schools (= Public Schools to American readers).   In May 2016 I volunteered to be on a lunch time round table panel about Diversity and Ancient History in the classroom at a professional meeting.  It was organized by a graduate student, a person of color.   But no one else volunteered and I ended up giving an hour long talk on the subject to a packed room.  All I did was share something of how I teach gen ed courses at Brooklyn College and how I tie the material into the contemporary lived experience of my students.  Everyone was enthusiastic and kind in the group context.   The ‘kindness’ remained after the session but the comments changed.

The most common follow up statement I heard after the session was some version of “how interesting, but my students aren’t like your students, so it isn’t really applicable at my institution…”  The problematic implication being that nice middle class white ‘kids’ (because white people remain children even in college and perhaps into their 40s and 50s and beyond) don’t require a type of ancient history that considers matters of ethnicity, race, class, social justice, and historical abuses of power.

I wish I had known how to respond in the moment.

Far worse were the two senior eminent (white) scholars who privately and separately took me a aside to ‘gently’ explain I was doing it wrong.  “Greek and Roman literature isn’t Caribbean literature”, one told me.  I needed to make clear to my student population of primarily first generation Americans what they and all of us ‘owed’ to Greece and Rome and their gifts to humanity.  That it was impossible to learn the same lessons by studying other cultures, places, and periods, because the legacy of Greece and Rome was fundamentally not just more powerful, but also better and more beneficial.

The use of Caribbean literature as the example of choice by way of negative contrast displayed a deeply racialized thought-process.  The message I heard was that it was my job if I had such students (students of color, that is) to teach them why they ought to be grateful to European (white) civilization.  I felt cast into a colonial or imperialist missionary role.

The conversation with the other senior scholar, male this time, wasn’t quite so awful, but largely because I’d already been through the first one, and secondly senior white men tend to take a paternalistic tone when schooling junior white women.  Senior white women are, in my experience, far more direct.  He said much the same–leaving out disparaging comparisons to other cultures and their literatures–that Greece and Rome were different, more special, more worthy of a study.  I was going too far in suggesting we were one among many histories.  The Canon matters.

The graduate student who organized the event has left the field.

I think twice about these types of events now.   I listen harder when junior colleagues, especially colleagues of color share their own experiences of being policed.  It is way worse for them than I.  I don’t ask lightly for anyone to step into the fray and speak truth to power.

I am agnostic on the value of preserving Classics are a discipline under that name.  I am thus a crappy advocate for the field and would not place myself in such a role.   What matters most to me is how I hear my students and former students saying:

“These texts, these images, these histories, these landscapes, they resonate with me!”

What I try to say to them is:

“YES this gives me pleasure too! What do you see that I do not yet see?  Why do you think they resonate for you?  I see more when I look at the contemporary world when I bring my knowledge of the Classical past to it.”

AND, I’m not afraid to say that a big part of that past includes atrocious abuses of power.

We’ve not even gotten started cataloguing abuses of the discipline.  Pharos is trying to give us a modern baseline going forward but we’ve got centuries of crimes to face as well.

What scares me most about a review like Jenkyns is not the attempt to decentralize the analysis of abuses of power from any conversation on the future of the discipline.  That’s fine, I, you, others even smarter and more driven than us will continue that work, fueled by our frustrations and sense of justice.  The work will get done.

What really scares me is that it seeks to narrow the definition of what Classics might be and it does so in a space specifically designed to widen access.

What scares me is how I am reminded of the exhausting work of trying to say something positive only to be policed by our colleagues for not doing it right.  If you (an eminent scholar in your own right!) will be so critiqued in such a forum, where is it safe for other voices to emerge?

Frankly, I don’t actually care what Jenkyns thinks of your book.  I want to know if it resonates with graduate students from diverse backgrounds, from contingent faculty, from those who have left the field to find more meaningful work for themselves elsewhere, for those teaching in underfunded institutions.

Time is short, the useful review is one that tells me if I dare set it to my students or if they will roll their eyes, and shrug that I think it represents a way forward in a fraught and problematic discipline.

Respectfully yours,


P.S. Enjoy your work in the garden! And Theocritus 15 is one of my favorite texts for use in the undergraduate classroom!  It comes shortly after Lysistrata and excerpts of the Armenian version of the Alexander Romance and is paired with 17, and helps in the set up for Juvenal 10.

P.P.S.  I guess I better buy your book.

P.P.S. This post is getting a good deal of traffic.  Please consider giving to the Sportula.  The Sportula is a small group of Classics grad students who pooled their money to provide microgrants of $5-300 to undergrads with unexpected financial need.  These students are true future of our discipline.

Preparing for an Archival Dive…

I’m off tomorrow after the last day of classes to UTAustin to visit the Organizational records of the British-owned Saint John d’El Rey (São João d’el Rey) Mining Company in Minas Gerais, Brazil on deposit in Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

I’m very excited.  The goal is to learn more about the production and use of this slave medal. This blog post is preparatory work to make sure I see what I want to see in the archives.

I’m going to start with the Annual Reports and Minutes skimming from the beginning but focusing in on 1848….

shelved materials

Letters book, 1830 May-1832 November

Letters book, 1843 April-1846 October

Regulations of the Company, 1884

Annual Reports (also in boxes unbound)

Ledgers, 1830-1846

Abstract of Title Deeds, 1834 and 1858

Register of shareholders, 1858-1886

A No.1, 1858-1888

B No.1, 1858-1873

B No.2, 1873-1886

Minute Books, 1830-1954, undated

Minute Book No.1, 1830-1840

Minute Book No.2, 1840-1851

Minute Book No.3, 1852-1863

Minute Book No.4, 1864-1883

Minute Book No.5, 1883-1888

Minute Book No.1, 1887-1907

Boxed Materials

box    folder

1   1      Reprinted letters and extracts regarding Emancipation, circa 1870s-1880s

27  6     General correspondence, Morro Velho, 1867-1868, 1936, 1960

27   7     Correspondence regarding fire at Morro Velho, 1867 November-1868 January

 120  3   Printed Materials, 1835-1885

4                                                    Morro Velho Archives Documents and Notes, 1888-1972

120                      11                         Misc., undated

120             13               Borges Taviera & Co., 1864

121.122,123                           Unbound Annual Reports of the Directors, 1831-1984

132                        Half Yearly Reports, 1862-1985

1                Half Yearly Reports, 1862-1867

2                Half Yearly Reports, 1868-1875

3                Half Yearly Reports, 1876-1880

4                Half Yearly Reports, 1881-1886

5                Half Yearly Reports, 1887-1893

6                Half Yearly Reports, 1894-1896

7                Half Yearly Reports, 1897-1899

133          9           Superintendent’s Annual Report, 1848

134    1                   Circulars, 1850

2                   Report to the Board of Directors by W.B. Pascoe, 1881

3                   Representacao, 1885-1886

4                   Memorandum by the Company, 1881

7                   Report of Select Committee, Morro Velho Mine, 1837

8                   Insurance Co’s, 1949-1950

9                   Regulations of the Company, undated

217/3       Register of shareholders, 1858-1886

A No.1, 1858-1888

B No.1, 1858-1873

B No.2, 1873-1886

221                      Articles of association and company regulations

Articles of association, 1862-1886, 1908-1917

6                                                        Articles of Association, 1862 July-1886

7                                                        Articles of Association, 1862 July-1886

222    1                                                        Articles of Association, 1862-1886

2                                                        Articles of Association, 1862-1886

224         Memorandum and Articles of Association, The Companies Acts, 1862-1888

1   Articles of Association, undated

2   Memorandum of Association, 1862-1883

3   Memorandum and Articles of Association, 1888

4   Memorandum and Articles of Association Index, 1862-1886

5   Resolutions, Memorandum of Association, Articles of Ageement, undated

Leases, contracts and legal documents, 1830-1956

Lease of the mines of São João d’el Rey and San José, 1830

6   Lease of San Joao d’el Rey and San Jose Mine, undated

Contract for the mines of São João d’el Rey and San José, 1830

7   Contract for the Mines of San Joao d’el Rey and San Jose, 1830

Particulars & Conditions of Sale of “St. Peter’s Wharf”, 1859

8   Particulars and Conditions of Sale, 1859

Draft Lease of ship-building yard and premises at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1866

9   Draft Lease and Trust Deed, 1866

225       Titles and Deeds, undated

1   Sale of Company’s Houses, undated

2   Re: Properties List of Titles and Deeds, undated

3   Report on Titles: Dr. Torres Report, undated

4   Appointment of new trustees for the super-annuation fund (trust deeds), undated

Fire and riot insurance at Morro Velho, undated

5   Fire and Riot Insurance at Morro Velho, undated

6   Fire and Riot Insurance at Morro Velho, undated

7   Fire and Riot Insurance at Morro Velho, undated

8   Insurance Policies (bound), undated

Correspondence about Investments, undated

9   Bank of England: U.K. overseas Investments, undated

262   1               Workmen’s Compensation for Silicosis, 1937

2               Silicosis Pneumokoniosis and Dust Supression in Mine’s, 1947 April

3               Higiene das Minas de Ouro Silicose, 1940

276   1               Wooden Medallions: Malcolm Alfred M’Call and Henry Percy Harris


Evidence on the Settlers of Neapolis

Just trying to keep my sources straight and working through Lomas’ footnotes.

Basic Strabo and Livy Passages (for once my own translations; follow links for other people’s translations):

Cumis erant oriundi; Cumani Chalcide Euboica originem trahunt. Classe, qua advecti ab domo fuerant, multum in ora maris eius quod accolunt potuere, primo [in] insulas Aenariam et Pithecusas egressi, deinde in continentem ausi sedes transferre.

They originated in Cumae, and the Cumani came originally from Chalcis in Euboea. My means of the fleet, in which they had travelled from home, the possess great power over the shore of the sea where they reside, first they took the islands of Aenaria and Pithacusa, then they ventured to transfer their base to the mainland.

Μετὰ δὲ Δικαιάρχειάν ἐστι Νεάπολις Κυμαίων ὕστερον δὲ καὶ Χαλκιδεῖς ἐπῴκησαν καὶ Πιθηκουσσαίων τινὲς καὶ Ἀθηναίων, ὥστε καὶ Νεάπολις ἐκλήθη διὰ τοῦτο

After Dicaearchia is Neapolis of the Cumani, later colonized by the Chalcideans and some Pithacussans and Athenians, thus because of this it is called Neapolis.

Other passages:

Strabo 14.2.10 on the Rhodians:  “among the Opici they founded Parthenopê”… notice a whole bunch of other rather outrageous claims and then a mention of Timaeus (not as the source of this particularly, but of their involvement in island foundations, that Strabo dismisses.   Everyone loves to dismiss Timaeus!)



ἄστρον τι κοινὸν τῆς ὅλης οἰκουμένης  cf. Erskine 1994

On Odysseus in Latium see my article on Fides…

Cf. Strabo 6.1.6 Chalcidians as founders of Rhegium as a sort of sacred spring exercise.

Velleius Paterculus 1.4.1-2: The Athenians established colonies at Chalcis and Eretria in Euboea, and the Lacedaemonians the colony of Magnesia in Asia. Not long afterwards, the Chalcidians, who, as I have already said, were of Attic origin, founded Cumae in Italy under the leadership of Hippocles and Megasthenes. According to some accounts the voyage of this fleet was guided by the flight of a dove which flew before it; according to others by the sound at night of a bronze instrument like that which is beaten at the rites of Ceres. At a considerably later period, a portion of the citizens of Cumae founded Naples.  The remarkable and unbroken loyalty to the Romans of both these cities makes them well worthy of their repute and of their charming situation. The Neapolitans, however, continued the careful observance of their ancestral customs; the Cumaeans, on the other hand, were changed in character by the proximity of their Oscan neighbours. The extent of their walls at the present day serves to reveal the greatness of these cities in the past.

Athenienses in Euboea Chalcida <et> Eretriam colonis occupauere, Lacedaemonii in Asia Magnesiam. Nec multo post Chalcidenses orti, ut praediximus, Atticis, Hippocle et Megasthene ducibus, Cumas in Italia condiderunt. Huius classis cursum esse directum alii columbae antecedentis uolatu ferunt, alii nocturno aeris sono, qualis Cerealibus sacris cieri solet.  Pars horum ciuium, magno post interuallo, Neapolim condidit. Vtriusque urbis eximia semper in Romanos fides facit eas nobilitate atque amoenitate sua dignissimas. Sed illis diligentior ritus patrii mansit custodia, Cumanos Osca mutauit uicinia. Vires autem ueteres earum urbium hodieque magnitudo ostentat moenium.   

On this last and the connection to Pseudo-Symnos above, see Malkin.