Black Classicism - Moving Forward

The lecture series Black Classicism– Moving Forward began in September 2020 and is co-sponsored by the Core Curriculum, the Department of Classical Studies, and the Department of African American and Black Diaspora Studies. This lecture series is designed to engage with and critique the ancient world from the perspective of Black authors, artists, and thinkers.

Lectures are open to all faculty and graduate students and draw attendees from throughout New England. About one lecture is held each semester. If you wish to be put on the mailing list or if you have further questions, please contact us at or 617-353-2427.

Presenters for 2023-2024 include:

Samuel Agbamu (University of Reading)
Thursday, March 28th, 2024. 5:00pm EST, Zoom
Topic: Putting the ‘Human’ in Humanism: Unsettling the Coloniality of Antiquity

Abstract: Jean-Paul Sartre begins his preface to Frantz Fanon’s anticolonial classic, The Wretched of the Earth, with these memorable words:

“Not so very long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the Word; the others had the use of it.”

Through readings of the anticolonial and decolonial Caribbean intellectuals Sylvia Wynter, C. L. R. James, and Frantz Fanon, and building on the work of the Critical Ancient World Studies collective, I suggest that repertoires of Greek and Roman antiquity constitute ‘the Word’ which has served to separate Eurocentric constructions of ‘Man’ from the rest of the world’s populations. By centering the human, rather than the Man of classical humanism, I hope to work towards a more capacious humanism – one which embraces more-than-Man – at the same time as undermining the colonial foundations of the study of the ancient world.

Sonia Sabnis (Reed College)
Friday, November 10th, 2023. 4:30pm EST
CAS 224, 725 Commonwealth Ave
Topic: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Citationality of Ancient Greece & Rome

Abstract: Du Bois’ interest in and use of sources from ancient Greece and Rome has been a hot topic in recent years, evidenced by a special volume of the International Journal of the Classical Tradition (2019) and a conference at Penn State (2021). In the concluding essay of the former, Patrice Rankine noted “the need to postpone the word citation, given the difficulty of locating Du Bois’ exact sources of influence” and the accompanying turn to Gates’s theory of “Signifyin(g).” In this lecture, I use archival resources to survey Du Bois’ citations of ancient Greece and Rome. While citations of Greek and Roman sources are minimal features within Du Bois’ enormous oeuvre, they are prominent in his understanding of history and humanism in education. At the same time, Du Bois’ classical references suggest an ironic relationship to the citationality of Greece and Rome in mainstream white media, one that is supported by more acerbic writings by Du Bois’ NAACP colleague (and Yale classics major) William Pickens. Du Bois and Pickens’ particular brand of citation adds breadth to our understanding of exclusionary practices of the past.

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