Statement on Proposed Executive Order on Classical Design for Federal Buildings

The following was approved by the SCS board of directors on February 7, 2020.

The Society for Classical Studies joins the Society of Architectural Historians in opposing the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  As students and scholars of the ancient Greco-Roman world and its ongoing cultural impact, we recognize that classical antiquity provided some of the many traditions that have shaped this nation, and we appreciate the examples of neo-classical architecture, both public and private, to be found throughout the United States.  But we firmly believe that the architectural style of public buildings should not be dictated in advance, but rather freely and deliberately chosen in view of all relevant considerations, and we reject the supposition that a style derived from classical models is necessarily better suited than any other to express the history, values, and aspirations of the American people.

Please see the letter below from the Society of Architectural Historians and a number of other scholarly societies, including SCS.

February 10, 2020

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Opposition to proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

Dear Mr. President,

The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) expresses strong opposition to the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”

SAH is the principal scholarly organization for architectural historians worldwide.  Its members represent a broad spectrum of academic and professional specialties, with membership spanning the globe.  Our membership strongly opposes the language in the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  We share the concern expressed by the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the academic associations listed below that have made common cause with us by signing this letter.

As an organization whose members have observed, recorded, and analyzed both historic and contemporary architecture since our inception in 1940, we have come to understand that most significant public architecture in the United States has resulted from the intersection of monumentality, permanence, and aesthetic significance and the specific local demands of site and community.  While we appreciate and encourage the attention paid to new federal courthouses, federal public buildings in the national Capitol region, and all federal buildings in the U.S. with budgets in excess of $50 million, we nonetheless remain convinced that the dictation of style – any style – is not the path to excellence in civic architecture. 

Democratic by Design:  Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture (1962), concluded, “Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought…Design must flow from the architectural professional to the Government, not vice versa.”   An important but often overlooked precept of Democratic by Design was the emphasis on “contemporary American architectural thought,” not necessarily contemporary design.  It encouraged both architectural practitioners and government officials to look for ways to express the ideals of American democracy in architectural form by looking to voices of the American public, rather than the amplification of a federal dictate from on high. 

The influence of Democratic by Design has been enduring and wide reaching.  This initiative has led to the design of several landmarks of American architecture, including the U.S. Tax Court Building in Washington, DC.  That courthouse was described by architecture critic Ada Louis Huxtable as “a progressive, sensitive contemporary solution fully responsive to Washington’s classical tradition and yet fully part of the mid-20th century—a period of exceptional vigor and beauty in the history of structure and design.”   A more recent example of this influence is the Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, destroyed by a domestic terrorist bombing in 1995.  In her Oklahoma City Journal Record piece describing the design of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, architect Carol Ross Barney’s statement echoed the enduring significance of Democratic by Design: “Obviously, the best thing to make it bomb-resistant was to make it hard, make it concrete.  But that’s the wrong message.  The message is that government has to be open.” 

A robust return to the principles of Democratic by Design would result in federal architecture that is monumental, permanent, and beautiful. This would be achieved by listening to the voices of the American public, placing emphasis on the communities in which these new buildings are to be located, and stressing the General Services Administration’s role in insuring that this diversity of voices is heard.  Instead of proscribing a particular stylistic outcome, such a path would instead promote architectural excellence, and a thoughtful fit between new federal architecture and the communities in which these buildings are to be constructed. 

While SAH opposes the language of proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” we strongly support a renewed effort to encourage the design and construction of federal buildings that embrace architectural excellence based on the best architectural thinking and technology available. America’s best can be embodied in an architectural expression that is monumental, permanent, community-centered, and beautiful.

Respectfully submitted,

Society of Architectural Historians

Middle East Studies Association

National Council on Public History

Organization of American Historians

Society for Classical Studies

(You can view the above letter on the SAH website at https://www.sah.org/about-sah/news/sah-news/news-detail/2020/02/06/society-of-architectural-historians-letter-in-opposition-to-proposed-executive-order-making-federal-buildings-beautiful-again)


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Since issues pertaining to social media continue to arise, the Society for Classical Studies wishes as a supplement to its earlier statement to caution its members and the members of its various affiliated organizations that they should take great care before making allegations on matters of fact about members of the scholarly community or repeating such assertions in their own media posts. Strong criticism is protected by academic freedom, but falsehood is not. Repeating false information or false rumors, or encouraging false inferences about another person, or about scientific or other factual matters, could hurt the public image and long-term health of our Society and our discipline, and could cause harm—both reputational harm and legal liability—to the original poster and to others. The SCS Statement of Professional Ethics prohibits harassment and intimidation, which can take place on social media, and the Committee on Professional Ethics may review complaints about such harassment.

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Tue, 12/21/2021 - 9:13am by Helen Cullyer.
A white woman wearing rectangular glasses, a black mask, and a purple t-shirt holds a white flag. Behind her, a person in a black jacket with a fur-trimmed hood holds a sign. They are outdoors on the sidewalk, and the sky is cloudy.

Our sixth interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is a virtual conversation between Dr. Joshua Nudell and Dr. Aven McMaster.

Joshua Nudell: There is no easy way into this conversation, but, until recently, you were tenured at a university that went through bankruptcy and now you are a contingent faculty member. Without dwelling on the events at Laurentian, how has this transition informed your view of contingency in particular and academia in general?

Aven McMaster: Don’t worry, I’m used to talking about all this! In fact, it’s a reminder of how entwined we tend to be with our jobs.

Before all this happened, I’d already been grappling with the problems of contingency, since my partner has been a sessional lecturer (Canadian term for “adjunct”) for years now. But obviously it has made this issue even more personal. Losing the only job I’ve trained for, after 15 years of full-time employment, certainly has made me doubt a lot of what I thought was stable or certain in this world.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 12/20/2021 - 9:21am by .

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to announce its summer seminars for 2022:

Thanatopsis: Greek Funerary Customs Through the Ages (June 6-24, 2022), led by Professor Daniel B. Levine

and

The Northern Aegean: Macedon and Thrace (June 30 - July 18, 2022), led by Professors Amalia Avramidou and Denise Demetriou

For more details see https://www.ascsa.edu.gr/programs/summerseminars

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 12/20/2021 - 8:37am by Helen Cullyer.
Roman Forum

Travel and see ancient sites in the Mediterranean and Europe in 2022!

The Vergilian Society is offering exciting tours of ancient sites in Sicily, Naples, Malta, Portugal and Romania.   

The Vergilian Society is also offering stimulating Latin workshops for teachers that include opportunities to visit a variety of ancient sites to reinforce their teachings of the ancient world. 

For a description and details of the tours and workshops, visit https://www.vergiliansociety.org/2020-vergilian-society-study-tours-and-workshops/

Over $100,000 in scholarship money available: https://www.vergiliansociety.org/tours/scholarships/

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 12/20/2021 - 8:28am by Helen Cullyer.

Basler Homer-Kommentar [zur Ilias] (BK) /  Homer’s Iliad. The Basel Commentary (BKE)

Project promoter: Swiss National Science Foundation in support of scientific research (SNSF), Berne.

Place of work: University of Basel, Department of Ancient Civilizations, professorial chair for Greek Philology, Petersgraben 51, CH-4051 Basel.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 12/16/2021 - 10:36am by Helen Cullyer.

The Multi-Sensory Experience of Mystery Cults

in the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean:

Making Sense of the Emotions of the Ancient Worshippers

Universität Erfurt, 6-8 May 2022

Call for Papers (Online Conference):

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 12/14/2021 - 3:11pm by Erik Shell.
A beige terracotta vessel shaped like a long tear drop. A dark-skinned figure faces left wearing striped pants and a draped mantle holds an ax and an arrow.

To say that there was such a thing as racism in classical antiquity would strike most modern readers as odd. However, if we examine what racism means, it is not as striking. The modern connotations of “racism” often instantly call up differences in biological features such as skin color. Historians of antiquity, such as Frank Snowden, have examined ancient evidence in search of racial hatred, working from these modern assumptions about what “race” is. Given those assumptions, Snowden concluded that the ancients did not have an idea of racism or hatred of black people more specifically.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 12/13/2021 - 12:35pm by .

The panel seeks to bring together academics and non-academics to brainstorm ways in which we can effect positive changes to the field of Classics given its negative past, public perception of the field, and the various institutional policies that hamper its effective teaching and study in sub-Saharan Africa. What has been done so far? What critical challenges persist? And what are the ways forward? 

Date: Monday, December 13, 2021

Time: 2pm-4pm GMT

Venue: Zoom (the link will be sent to registered participants).

Organizer: Michael K. Okyere Asante (UESD, Somanya/Stellenbosch University)

Moderator: Dr Nandini Pandey (John Hopkins University)

The panel discussion will be held in two parts: first, we will receive short presentations from speakers, followed by a general discussion of the issues raised in the various speakers' presentations. We intend documenting the discussions and coming up with a report on the issues raised to guide us in forming collaborations which will address these issues for a better future.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 12/08/2021 - 9:38pm by Helen Cullyer.

"'What Has Antiquity Ever Done for Us?'

The Vitality of Ancient Reception Studies, Now."

Online, Wednesday, 15 December to Saturday, 18 December

With #ClassicsTwitter Movie on Sunday, 19 December

View the program at antiquityinmediastudies.wordpress.com/program

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 12/08/2021 - 9:32pm by Helen Cullyer.

The graduate students of the Department of Classics at The Graduate Center at CUNY are happy to share the call for papers for our Spring 2022 14th annual Graduate Conference, entitled ‘Secret Knowledge in the Ancient World: Acquisition and Concealment.’ The conference will be held via Zoom on Friday, May 6, 2022.

We are pleased to announce our keynote speaker, Prof. Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (Bryn Mawr College).

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 12/07/2021 - 3:15pm by Erik Shell.

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