Teaching the Ancient Migration Experience

Introducing immigration into the Classics classroom is part of the discipline’s ongoing commitment to represent the ancient Mediterranean’s diversity more clearly to our students. As Suzanne Hakenbeck has argued, much of our recent archaeological and historical work on the ancient Mediterranean has underrepresented the role of migration. Nineteenth century scholars like Christian Jurgenson Thomsen (famous for the creation of the problematic Three Age System) tended to characterize European cultures as static, and twentieth and even twenty-first century research has done little. Consequently, peoples on the move have been considered problematic interlopers, harbingers (or, if you ask Edward Gibbon, agents) of the downfall of great empires. More often, however, migrant histories are left out altogether. This omission leaves students with a partial view of the ancient world, one that problematically equates modern nation-states with ancient peoples and presents human mobility as a modern phenomenon.

More recently, some scholars have tried to shine a light on mobility, migration, and its role in the ancient Mediterranean world. Over the summer of 2017, I participated in an NEH Summer Institute on migration in late antiquity at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, directed by the Richard Talbert and Michael Maas. Over the course of the month, my 29 fellow Summer Scholars and I engaged in vigorous and productive debates about the nature of migration in this period from several methodological perspectives.

The challenge came that fall, when I applied my knowledge to a seminar course at Bucknell University entitled “Migration and Immigration in the Classical World.” Focused on the Hellenistic and Roman periods, this course focused on developing a critical and theoretical vocabulary for discussing migration, analyzing primary and secondary sources related to the topic, and strengthening writing and communication skills. The course had only 5 students, which allowed me the luxury of close consultation with my students as they navigated this difficult topic. I organized readings thematically, devoting units to xenia, ethnicity, diaspora, economic migration, and wrapped up the term with a focus on “state-sponsored migrations,” a polite term for forced migrations driven by imperial administrations and war.

Discussions in the last unit proved to be the most challenging. We began with a discussion of slavery as a major mover of peoples. Teaching slavery in antiquity is always difficult, but I felt strongly that students needed to consider how dislocation and migration would have factored into the slave experience. As part of these sessions, I relied on my training as an archaeologist and art historian to highlight the lived experience of ancient slavery. Using Walter Scheidel’s articles on human mobility in the Roman Empire, I asked students to break into pairs and reconstruct the journey that people captured during Roman military campaigns might have traveled as they entered into bondage. I then shared with them objects and buildings that have been associated with ancient slavery, from slave collars to the potential slave market in the Eumachia Building at Pompeii. These objects ground discussions of slavery and help students engage more concretely with the horrors and lived experiences of ancient people. But they also help us to understand the material impermanence of people and challenge the idea that those who move are not worth counting.

Teaching this topic also requires an extra level of attention to classroom culture. Pedagogical research has suggested that building an environment of trust and respect in the classroom is critical to student learning, particularly for students who come from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. For a university like Bucknell, which traditionally serves students of privileged backgrounds, part of my challenge was to push students to see beyond their own experiences, to imagine what it would be like to migrate across the ancient Mediterranean. Building these cultures is an ongoing part of my pedagogy, one that requires a deep commitment to modeling the types of behaviors and inquiries I want my students to see. Sometimes this meant ensuring that one student did not speak over another, but it also meant gently correcting students when they used outdated or offensive terminology and asking uncomfortable questions about the present. In the spring, I will teach this course again to a larger and more diverse set of students, which will require a deeper and more concrete commitment to developing a positive and respectful classroom culture.

The most important thing we can do when we teach this topic, however, has little to do with the past. Gibbons’ idea of the “barbarian hordes” still rings through in much modern news coverage of immigration into the US and Europe. The first unit of the course, which focuses on critical vocabulary, asks students to think about the language used to describe immigration. Paired with a presentation on Syrian migrants in contemporary Greece and a film screening of a modern film on migration across the US-Mexico border, my students found resonances between ancient and modern migrations. These connections prompted valuable discussions about cultural boundaries, the value of human life, and the political and cultural rhetorics surrounding migration that were the highlight of the semester. As I prepare to teach this course again, this time to a larger and potentially more diverse group of students, my goal is to bring out the commonalities between antiquity and modernity even further.

Lindsey A. Mazurek


CANE 2017: “How We Can Make a Difference: Classics, Social Justice and Outreach”

By Dominic Machado and Roberta Stewart.

On July 11 in Providence, RI, we held an hour-long workshop at the Classical Association of New England Summer Institute, called “How We Can Make a Difference: Classics, Social Justice and Outreach.” We hoped to start a conversation about how we as teachers can use the study of antiquity to engage with diverse populations and how our interactions with these populations can enrich the study of Classics. We are glad to report that the event was a success. The workshop had more than thirty participants, roughly half of the Summer Institute’s attendees.

The workshop as advertised in the CANE Summer Institute Brochure:

This workshop will be a discussion of how we as teachers can use the study of antiquity to engage with diverse populations and how our interactions with these populations can enrich our study of the subject. We will focus on what we as classicists can bring to the most marginalized social strata (e.g. minorities, the incarcerated, war veterans, those suffering from disabilities, etc.) as well as how we can work to include the perspectives of such groups in the study of the Classics. The workshop will feature a brief introduction to the Classics and Social Justice initiative as well as two short presentations that will outline our outreach experiences with war veterans and minority groups and share ways to get involved in similar initiatives. The rest of the time will allow participants to share their own experiences working with such populations or to ask questions about getting involved in their own outreach initiatives.

We began the workshop by providing a brief introduction to the Classics and Social Justice initiative and its goals. This was followed by two short presentations in which we discussed our own outreach experiences and offered some thoughts on how to get involved in similar initiatives. Dominic discussed how classicists can make a difference in the country’s educational crisis. He stressed that our knowledge of Latin can be a powerful tool for improving literacy and bringing new educational opportunities to underserved minority communities. He noted that it was essential that this outreach be combined with efforts to make our field more attuned to the unique experiences of these communities (e.g. reading the Aeneid as refugee narrative). Such perspectives are not only tremendously useful for underserved populations, but will produce new and exciting ideas in our field.

Roberta then shared her experiences teaching a class at Dartmouth College called “War Stories.” The course required students to interview a veteran and write a response paper detailing their interaction as a part of their final project. The results showed just how powerful outreach can be. Roberta read excerpts from several final papers which revealed how transformative the experience of interviewing a veteran was for her students. Their preconceived notions of what it meant to be a former soldier were completely shattered. Even more importantly, the responses that Roberta received from veterans were similar in tone; they appreciated the sensitivity and patience of the students who interviewed them and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share their story.

The second half of the workshop took the form of an open discussion. Participants were given the opportunity to share their own experiences working with underserved populations or to ask questions about getting involved in their own outreach initiatives. The discussion was lively, informative and productive. Teachers talked about the barriers that they faced in trying to do outreach in the past. Others responded to these concerns by discussing creative solutions they found to bypass the administrative red-tape that prevented them from taking part in such endeavors. Though the conversation was very wide-ranging, there was one common thread that ran throughout: the participants wanted to learn more about outreach. In fact, the participants encouraged us to conduct a follow-up session at CANE annual meeting this coming March. We are currently putting together a panel proposal for the meeting – we welcome any submissions or suggestions from blog readers – and we hope to continue our discussion about outreach soon!

Working with Refugees at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The following piece initially appeared on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA)’s website. It is reposted here with Moira Lavelle’s kind permission. Follow the ASCSA on twitter (@ASCSAthens).

Moira Lavelle

Senior Associate Member Dr. Stephanie Larson has spent much of this past year aiding the needs of the 5th Lyceum School refugee housing and a redistribution center in Exarchia, Athens. Larson got involved with the 5th school when it opened this past spring as the movement of refugees into Greece was at its peak. “It was one of the first shelters set up after the borders closed in central Athens, and it’s close to the School. And I thought that this was something that I could do outside of my academic work and taking care of my family,” explained Larson. “So I just started going down with a group of ex-pat ladies and we were doing art with the kids there, and they were working out some of their experiences in the art. But then I thought: I have a lot of friends that have enough money, we all have enough money, and I should do something more than playing.”

Larson posted a status on her Facebook asking for help, and donations began pouring in. She joined forces with friend and fellow ex-pat Alicia Stallings, a poet and writer who lives in Athens. Together they pool funds given by their friends, family, and the local St Andrews Episcopalian Church in Larson’s home in Lewisburg, PA. “With whatever money I have I buy food usually,” said Larson. “Sometimes I buy formula, diapers. Heaters are now being requested because it’s getting cold out.” The needs of the shelter change week to week: sometimes Larson is asked to bring tea bags, olive oil, and lentils, and the next week the needs have shifted to salt and milk.

With her own personal funds Larson has also adopted a family she met at the 5th school. They had been selected to move a charity apartment in a suburb of Athens, because of mother was pregnant with their sixth child. About once every week or ten days, Larson brings this family fresh vegetables and fruits from the local markets and lately baby items, including a “baby box,” given for free by Allied Aid. I also try to spoil them every once in a while” admitted Larson, “I bring them candy, I bring them chocolate. And I bring my kids every now and then and we play soccer.”

Larson Rogers donations

Dr. Stephanie Larson and Dr. Dylan Rogers with the results of the 2016 donation drive for the 5th Lyceum School refugee housing and redistribution center. 

“I think about it this way—you can provide a little bit for some people. And that’s great and everyone should do that. But you can also provide more for one, or more for five. And to me that’s worth it.” Larson said, “And how do you pick? You don’t really pick, it just happens. I think if I were in that situation I would kind of want one person to just take care of me too.”

The family had been waiting in Athens for their sixth child to be born before their relocation to France could take effect. In the interim they could not work, and the children could not attend school. But the baby was born on November 28th, and the family is likely to be relocated in the coming weeks.  “I had the pleasure of visiting the hospital where the mother gave birth to the baby. I was very lucky to have been there on that day, since the hospital decided that they needed the bed for someone else, and so I was able to help the family with the (appropriately Byzantine) paperwork and I was also able to buy the mother the vitamin drops for the baby requested by the hospital.” Larson commented, “Having had my own children in the luxurious Danville Geisinger medical center and in my own room with my own private bathroom, I was shocked by the idea of sharing a maternity room with 10 other women. The conditions were not great.  The floors were relatively dirty, and although I was there visiting for two hours before we learned that she was being forced to leave, no nurse checked on her a single time.”

refugee art .jpg

“I just started going down with a group of ex-pat ladies and we were doing art with the kids there, and they were working out some of their experiences in the art.”

Larson also helps address ad hoc issues with other volunteers when needs arise for emergency housing or food. This takes many forms: one day Larson helped one woman living in the Orange House shelter sell her handmade jewelry at American Community Schools Holiday Bazaar, another she helped a single mother with four children find emergency housing. “I do those kinds of problem solving when I can,” explained Larson. “And it takes a lot of time as I’m trying to do scholarship and take care of my family, it takes a lot more time than I thought.”

This holiday season, with the help of Assistant Director Dylan Rogers and Research Archivist Leda Costaki, Larson was able to run a food and money drive for refugee aid here at the ASCSA. With the support of our members last week she was able to deliver 262 diapers, 984 baby wipes, 844 tissues, 4.3 k of baby formula, 9.5 k of condensed milk, 3 k of tuna fish, and €1.070 to the 5th school.

“At the end of the year we move back to the U.S., and then our lives will change,” stated Larson. “But I will keep raising money and sending it over, I think that’s the most useful thing I can do.”
If you would like to donate to Dr. Larson’s efforts email her at slarson@bucknell.edu.

Also, our Social Media Manager, Moira Lavelle, is working with LBGTQI+ Refugees Welcome, which is raising funds through their website to help LGBTQI+ refugees here in Athens. All funds donated go directly towards food, clothing, and legal documents. You can contact Moira directly with any questions (Moira.Lavelle@ascsa.edu.gr).