Finding Nowhere: Mapping the Future Study of AntiquityRoundup
tags: classics, Antiquity
Originally from the Chicago area, Stephanie Wong wears the hats of an editor, writer, artist, and graduate student. As a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Brown University, her research focuses on the material connections between early modern Asia and the Americas. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and Eidolon. Along with Sarah E. Bond, Stephanie edits the Public Books Antiquities section.
Sarah E. Bond is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. She is interested in late Roman history, epigraphy, late antique law, Digital Humanities, public history, and the socio-legal experience of ancient marginal peoples. Her book, Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professionals in the Roman Mediterranean, was published with the University of Michigan Press in 2016.
This project inaugurates a new section: Antiquities, edited by Stephanie Wong and Sarah E. Bond. The conversation “Finding Nowhere” allows both Wong and Bond to explain their vision for what the ancient world looks like beyond Greece and Rome, and why imagining a collective human future may start with learning to unsee the past as fragmented.
Stephanie Wong (SW): I wanted to be part of Antiquities with Public Books because I wanted to see the writing I wanted to read, frankly. I feel less and less interested in belonging to a space that traditionally has not welcomed writers like Vanessa Stovall, Ali Olomi, and Ismael Cuevas Jr.
And I could do without the underdoggery of it all, too—I would rather celebrate new structures, experimental ideas, than playact “inferiority” or “unseriousness.” It’s so funny to me to think of this kind of work as what a lot of academics call “second book” material.
But what do you think? I’d love to hear your perspective as my academic elder sister figure.
Sarah Bond (SB): About a month after the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) and Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joint annual meeting in January 2019 in San Diego, I lost my faith. Specifically, I lost faith in the existence of a field called “classics.”
The term itself is not ancient. In fact, it was popularized in English school systems beginning in the 16th century and then caught on in the 18th century as shorthand for referring to the study of ancient Greeks and Romans.
Classics, as a field, has been used as an instrument for white supremacy and an argument for Western exceptionalism. Seeing this, both before and after that 2019 meeting, I wanted to transition from classics back to the field of history. So I changed academic departments, in order to try to figure out how the emerging field of “global antiquity”—wherein we see the ancient world in a global perspective, without privileging Greece and Rome—could be reified.
Besides that, working with an Antiquities section was important because I needed to learn to decenter myself as a white woman and instead begin to create spaces to amplify the next generation. I had long admired Stephanie’s work in Eidolon and was delighted we could come together to create fora for emerging voices that truly were the future of the study of antiquity. That’s why we decided to start the section together, and why we selected these three remarkable authors to inaugurate it.
SW: As astrology enthusiasts ourselves, wasn’t it fun to see how Ali Olomi’s piece developed? It’s clear that medieval Muslim dynasties considered elective astrology a valuable, highly intellectual tool for literal world building. If you want to see something spectacular, take a look at the horoscope for the founding of Baghdad that Ali created for this essay. Eat your hearts out, astrology memers.
SB: Yes, I love how Ali reveals the connection between the terrestrial and heavenly spheres in the founding of Baghdad. And this connection really speaks to my interest in the history of how we order space: reading geography as a kind of text that can help us recover identity.
During this period of uncertainty in a global pandemic, to explore such a city plan—which served to connect individuals to a higher power, and which reflected a celestial order—provides insight into how urban planning can reflect belief systems. The strong connections among space, religion, and the founding of a new place were also something that spoke to me in embarking on this new venture we are forming together.
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