Reconstructio Americana: Ancient Greece and Rome after the American Civil War
“Reconstructio Americana: Ancient Greece and Rome after the American Civil War”
Panel proposal for the 154th annual meeting
of the Society for Classical Studies
January 5–8, 2023, New Orleans, LA
Everybody seems to be talking about Reconstruction these days, from Henry Louis Gates’ four-part PBS special to the frequent editorials comparing our present predicaments to the turbulent period that followed the American Civil War. After all, the Reconstruction era (c. 1865–1877) seems a lot like ours: a time of racial reckoning, heightened partisanship, increasing political violence, and debates about what it means to be American. Famously characterized as ‘America’s unfinished revolution’ (Foner 2014) and less famously as ‘America’s most progressive era’ (Egerton 2015) and ‘the first civil rights era’ (Jenkins and Peck 2021), Reconstruction witnessed legislators’ and activists’ attempt but failure to extend equal political rights to African Americans and women. Contemporary concerns are more and more frequently traced back to Reconstruction: America’s struggle with paramilitary white supremacist groups begins with the Ku-Klux Klan in 1866; the environmental movement won an important early victory with the establishment of the first National Park at Yosemite in 1872; and America’s current system of higher education was established during Reconstruction, both through the implementation of 1862’s Morrill Land-Grant Act to found new colleges and through the professionalization of many academic disciplines, including Classical Studies.
If as Americans we increasingly trace our predicaments back to Reconstruction, should we not also be looking to Reconstruction as Classicists? Our professional organization, né the American Philological Association, was founded during Reconstruction in 1869, sponsored by leading politicians such as Charles Sumner and James A. Garfield as well as prominent scholars. The first issue of TAPA also appeared in 1869. J. W. Allen and J. B. Greenough’s standard Latin grammar appeared in 1872. The first “German-styled” PhD program in Classics was established at Johns Hopkins in 1876. Moreover, throughout this period the “culture of classicism” (Winterer 2002) persisted in social and political discourse. Latin poems and letters were still composed, and Latinate macaronic satires enjoyed wide circulation (Dinan 2018). The first generation of African American congressmen used Classical allusions in their floor speeches, as did their white colleagues (examples in Simpson 2018). The Ku-Klux Klan employed Latin in their secret documents and their battle flags (Parsons 2015). And Classicists themselves, from the unreconstructed ex-Confederate Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve to the former Freedmen’s Aid Commission employee William Francis Allen, wrote on political and scholarly subjects for the general public (Briggs 1998 and Hester 2015).
Despite the centrality of this era to the origin of the profession, American Classical Studies rarely, if ever, contextualizes its birth within the Reconstruction era. This means that the cultural codes of Classicism employed during Reconstruction are often overlooked by scholars in other disciplines. More importantly, ignoring Reconstruction prevents Classicists from following the Delphic directive to “know ourselves.” Classical Studies has recently been struggling with its own history of exclusion and grappling with its potential culpability in the history of American racism. There is no clearer example of this struggle internal to the discipline of Classics than the events of the 2019 SCS convention and the forthcoming issue of TAPA addressing race and racism in the field. Given the legacy of Reconstruction in the history of American race relations and the origin of the discipline of Classics during this period, it is essential for us to examine how the social, racial, and political turmoil of Reconstruction shaped the origins of the discipline of Classical Studies in the United States.
This panel seeks to continue the conversation on the historical connection between Classical Studies and Reconstruction begun at the 2021 SCS panel “Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy" and continued at SCS 2022. We invite papers that address any topic pertaining to the Classical tradition and American social and political life from the end of the Civil War to about 1880. Some examples of possible topics include:
- The birth of American Classical Studies as a profession, including the founding of the American Philological Association and the work of early society members such as William Watson Goodwin, Alice Robinson Boise Wood, or Richard Theodore Greener.
- The use of classical languages, motifs, or exempla in political speeches and writings from the era, whether used to promote the Lost Cause and white supremacy (e.g., Ku-Klux Klan, White League) or to promote civil rights, women’s suffrage, and racial equality.
- The use of visual motifs and figures indebted to classical antiquity in Reconstruction-era paintings, sculpture, monuments, cartoons, and other visual culture.
- The use of the Classical tradition to justify westward expansion after the Civil War and conflict with Native American tribes.
- The changing Classical curriculum (Greek, Latin, classical history and culture) in schools across the country, from newly emerging public primary schools to the increasing numbers of American colleges and universities.
- Modern interpretations or reimaginings of Reconstruction that utilize Classical themes (e.g., freedmen’ education, the Lost Cause, white supremacy, etc.) or the explicit outcomes of using Classics during the Reconstruction era on future generations. This could include films, television, plays, music, etc.
Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words as an email attachment (.doc, .docx, or .pdf) to Sean Tandy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Benjamin Howland (email@example.com) by April 11, 2022. In general, please follow the SCS’s Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts (except please include your bibliography on a separate page rather than in the textbox as indicated in those directions). Please include your CV with your submission. Feel free to email us with any questions you might have.