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Talk to compare diversity between ancient Rome, modern times

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – The subjects of race and diversity are frequent talking points in modern times. During a talk at Monmouth College, a visiting scholar will share how the subjects were dealt with in ancient times.

University of Wisconsin classics professor Nandini Pandey will speak at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Pattee Auditorium of the Center for Science and Business. Titled “What Did the Romans Think about Diversity, and What Can We Learn from Them?,” Pandey’s talk is free and open to the public. Her talk is related to her new project on race and diversity in Rome and America, funded by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies.

“Though ‘diversity’ is a buzzword in American universities and other institutions, we rarely articulate why we value it, who stands to benefit, and whether our policies always help those we intend,” said Pandey. “This talk traces the valuation of diversity back to early imperial Rome and argues that, at its origin, it is inextricable from the desire to dominate, consume and digest.”

On the other hand, Rome also recognized – better than many modern nation-states – the pragmatic political and economic benefits of including and advancing constituent people regardless of race. Pandey’s talk will conduct a comparative critique of modern American and ancient Roman practices and rhetoric surrounding diversity, opportunity and advancement, with an eye toward improving racial justice.

“When I’ve seen Dr. Pandey speak before, she’s extremely engaging, and she does a wonderful job of making complex subjects accessible,” said Monmouth classics professor Adrienne Hagen. “She has a way of relating it in terms where you don’t have to have a background in ancient Rome to understand. You just need to be curious.”

Pandey holds degrees in classics and English from Swarthmore College, Oxford University, Cambridge University and the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book, The Poetics of Power in Augustan Rome, was published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press. She also writes regularly on classics and contemporary culture for Eidolon, an online site for progressive engagement with classics.

Pandey’s visit was scheduled, in part, to contribute to the efforts of the “Race, Ethnicity, and the Other in Antiquity” course that Hagen and her department colleague Alana Newman are team-teaching this semester.

“Part of what we discuss in the course is, ‘What do we mean by race?’” said Hagen. “In antiquity, they didn’t define people by skin tone the way we do. Racism and ethnicity is a complex issue that is different in many, many ways from our history today.”

While on campus, Pandey will also speak to Hagen’s “Introduction to Classics Studies” class, where she will give pointers to the students on how to write with an embodied voice, bringing part of themselves into their academic writing.