Pasts Imperfect (9.2.21)

Addressing Disability in the Ancient World

This week, Cora Beth Fraser and Candida Moss give us a starting point for resources and bibliography focused on ancient disability studies before we touch on the closure of Yale-NUS, new finds at Herculaneum, the origins of indigo, and a new database where you can get your (de)fix for ancient curse tablets.


Attitudes to neurodiversity in society, and in academia, are laden with awkwardness and suspicion, in ways which are almost impossible to explain. But maybe our stories can show them. At Asterion, a new organisation for neurodiversity in school and university Classics departments, a group of around 30 neurodivergent classicists and historians are aiming to tell the stories that shape their lives; to offer support and resources to others who are struggling alone; and to suggest easy changes in teaching practice that could make a huge difference.

Their focus is on the places where Classics and neurodiversity intersect, whether historical, mythological, pedagogical or theoretical. The organisation is called Asterion, after the Minotaur of myth: reclaiming the name of a child who was born different. Names matter. They shape our understandings, particularly of things outside our own experience. That’s why it’s so important to have practical and actionable guides – like the new guide to disability terminology on the SCS blog - and textual studies that look at the roots of how we understand the ‘normal’ body.

Disability has a long entanglement with religion, but a shorter history within the discipline of religious studies. The pioneering work of Hector Avalos, Rebecca Raphael, and Jeremy Schipper has created space for an academic and activist conversation under the auspices of Biblical Studies and diversified assumptions about so-called "religious perspectives" on disability in the ancient world. Inspired by these developments, the working group ReMeDHe creates the opportunity for cross-disciplinary conversation about healing and healthcare and provides pedagogical and bibliographical resources for those interested in the field. 

Among exciting recent avenues of inquiry, late antique scholar Candace Buckner has expanded the area's remit by exploring the intersection of disability, ethnicity, and race in monastic literature. Schipper and co-author Nyasha Junior have productively steered the broader academic discussion about disability towards a cultural model. Meghan Henning and Candida Moss have also contributed to the growing field of disability studies and Biblical scholarship. This brief overview provides only a starting point.

Global Liberal Arts: A Dream Betrayed?

Since 2011, Yale-NUS College — a collaborative endeavor between Yale University and the National University of Singapore — has pioneered liberal arts education in Asia. But this Friday, students and faculty were shocked to learn that their thriving college would be closed through forced merger with NUS’ University Scholars Programme, with this year’s class to be its last.

Students, many of whom chose this international learning experience over more traditional local experiences, feel betrayed and short-changed. Untenured faculty have been left in the lurch. And even those with tenure may find themselves folded into departments without room for their liberal-arts teaching or research specialties such as Yale-NUS’ innovative “Global Antiquity” program.

It’s a worrying sign for the future of international educational collaborations where changing political tides can affect strategic interests, leaving faculty and students stranded or without legal recourse. (Compare one assistant arts professor at NYU Shanghai who is being blocked from suing this Chinese program or its American “mother ship” for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.) Parties concerned over the closure of Yale-NUS may sign this student-led petition, which has already garnered 100,000 signatures, or lobby US institutions to protect the faculty and students working abroad in their names.

Seen on the Internet:

At Hyperallergic, Rohini Kejriwal discusses the origins of indigo in her new exhibition.

Over at Science Advances, a new open access article argues that men and women at Herculaneum had variant diets. The authors, Silvia Soncin*Helen M. Talbot, Ricardo Fernandes, Alison Harris, Matthew von Tersch, Harry K. Robson, Jan K. Bakker, Kristine K. Richter, Michelle Alexander, Steven Ellis, Gill Thompson, Valeria Amoretti, Massimo Osanna, Marina Caso, Francesco Sirano, Luciano Fattore, Andre C. Colonese, Peter Garnsey, Luca Bondioli, and Oliver E. Craig:

Significant differences in the proportions of marine and terrestrial foods consumed were observed between males and females, implying that access to food was differentiated according to gender. 

This week marks the launch of TheDefix, an open access Heurist database hosted by the University of Hamburg at the chair of Ancient History. It “aims to collect all published curse inscriptions from the ancient world, providing information on their material and textual features along with their bibliography.”

New journal issues online, August 25th through September 1st curated by @YaleClassicsLib
Rhetorica Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer 2021)
Mnemosyne Vol.74, No. 5 (August 2021)
Classical Receptions Journal Vol. 13, No. 3 (July 2021)
NB: David Whithun, “American Archias: Cicero and The Souls of Black Folk
Classical World Vol. 114, No. 4 (Summer 2021)
NB: Joel Christensen, “Beautiful Bodies, Beautiful Minds: Some Applications of Disability Studies to Homer
Anatolica Vol. 47 (2021)
Augustinian Studies Vol. 52, No. 2 (2021)
Near Eastern Archaeology Vol. 84, No. 3 (Sept. 2021)
NB: Robert J. Litmann, et al., “ Eau de Cleopatra: Mendesian Perfume and Tell Timai
Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique Vol. 144. No.1 (2020) Varia #openaccess

New #openaccess journal announced: Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology hosted by Berkeley’s Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Literature and edited by Adam Benkato and Arash Zeini. It will publish papers on “philology and epigraphy of the Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, Bactrian, Sogdian, Chorasmian, Khotanese)”

Pitches: The Public Books section "Antiquities" is currently taking pitches — as is our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books, using this form.