Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Race, Blackness, Antiquity


What was the definition of “race” twenty-five hundred years ago? What did black skin color signify in the centuries before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade? In this course, we will investigate the history of black skin color in Greek and Roman antiquity alongside the legacy of race within the field of ancient Greek and Latin literature (Classics). We will engage in class discussions based on weekly readings, and the class will culminate in student presentations on a topic that relates to the themes of the course. In addition to interrogating the terms “race” and “blackness” as it applies to an ancient time period, we will cross-examine the role that race and cultural imperialism have played in the formation of the current discipline of Classics. This course will benefit greatly from students with a broad spectrum of interests; all are welcome to join the discussion.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Sarah Derbew

"I am an assistant professor in Classics who writes about representations of black people in ancient Greek literature and art. I also investigate the ways that African, African American, and Black Caribbean writers interact with Greco-Roman antiquity. During pre-pandemic visits to museums in England, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the United States, I began to note the lasting impact that seemingly mundane decisions, such as object placement and wall text, had on me as a viewer. I began to ask questions, such as, what is gained/lost when an ancient Egyptian exhibit is located in the Greco-Roman wing of a museum and not in the African wing? What are the consequences of including colonialist language (for example, “Europe discovers African Art”) in descriptions of objects? I warmly welcome students interested in any of these topics to my course, office hours, and the Classics department."