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Speaking as a Classicist: The APA/SCS and American Politics

Lee T Pearcy

Bryn Mawr College

In the past few years, many classicists have begun to use our disciplinary framework to engage with contemporary social and political issues. Under rubrics like “classics and social justice” this movement has spawned an affiliated group and sessions at our annual meetings in 2017 and 2018; been the subject of innumerable blogs, tweets, and facebook posts; and produced or called attention to valuable initiatives connecting academic classicists with non-traditional audiences. In this paper I propose to examine our Society’s earlier positioning of itself in American society and politics at critical points. My method will be to take soundings into our Proceedings and other documents around the years of our 50th, 75th, and centennial years (that is, the two World Wars and the turmoil of the 1960s).

This investigation will, I hope, reveal that our discipline, as represented by the APA, has frequently addressed political issues with the language of epistemological virtue (Zagzebski 1996); that is, it has implied or assumed that character traits like precision, accuracy, and objectivity, as formed by and enacted in good classical scholarship, can be applied to civic problems. This idea that epistemological virtue can be translated into civic virtue reflects the origins of American classics in the modern, and fundamentally Prussian, disciplinary university of whose American version the nascent APA was a harbinger (Clark 2006: 239–96; Krajewski 2016). It displaced the antebellum notion of moral virtue as the goal of classical studies (Eskilden 2016).  Whether it will in turn be displaced or supplemented will be one of the questions facing our Society as it enters its next 150 years.

Session/Panel Title

From APA to SCS: 150 Years of Professional Classics in North America

Session/Paper Number

16.4

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