Thoughts on Classical Studies in the 21st Century United States

Abstract: This paper consists of three complementary parts. The first section describes three instances where very technical scholarship on Greek literature overlaps with, and draws attention to, particularly dramatic historical contexts. This section describes an aspect of Greco-Roman studies that is both too demanding and too narrow — too demanding because it assumes that anglophone researchers work with scholarship in languages such as French, German, and Italian, but too narrow because it does not engage with scholarship that is not in a major European language. The second section talks about the general need for Classics and Classical Studies in a country such as the United States to extend beyond Greece and Rome. This section builds on work that I have published in the past distinguishing Greco-Roman from Classical Studies. The third section describes a more concerted attempt to expand beyond North Africa and to include sources from Sub-Saharan Africa. I report on developing for a spring 2021 course on Epic Poetry a 10,000-line Mandinka/English corpus of stories produced by West African Griots. I will also briefly discuss the use of Classical Arabic to explore locally produced sources about West African history and culture. As a first step, the fall 2021 course on Classical historians at Tufts University will center not only on sources such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy and Tacitus but on two histories that focus on the Songhay Empire: the Tarikh al-Fattâsh, begun c. 1593 by Mahmud Kati, and the Tarikh as-Sudân, composed by al-Sadi (c. 1594–1655). This class will expand the role of Classical Arabic in Classical Studies at Tufts.

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