Sensitive Topics in Ancient History

As you probably already know, I am teaching a third year module on Roman and American Slavery in Leicester. This year, and for the first time, I decided to encourage my students to contribute to a collective blog . Only then, it became obvious that they were intensely preoccupied more with issues of racism than with the generic topic of slavery. I suspect that the reason for such a preference is the fact that they have had no direct experience with slavery, while racism remains endemic across modern societies. Their views, as they are published in the blog, are not only interesting in an academic way but they also reveal a great sense of underlying guilt.

As I have to teach such a sensitive topic, the following advertisement caught my attention.

“”Teaching Difficult Subjects in the Classics Classroom” An APA Workshop, organized by Susanna Braund and Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz

We propose a workshop with 5 brief presentations (10 minutes) on particular situations, with materials to help faculty in the classroom.

This workshop would follow up on the very successful roundtable and workshop on teaching rape at the 2008 and 2009 APA meetings; we would like to broaden the discussion out at this time. Ancient texts raise a variety of issues–slavery, infanticide, adoption, abortion, rape, abuse, incest, sexuality–that may be difficult to discuss in a classroom where some students will have had personal experiences that might make them uncomfortable. Please send anonymous abstracts to Susanna Braund by March 1. Abstracts should follow APA guidelines. Contact Prof. Rabinowitz at (, for more information.” Classics list

I wish I could participate but due to the economic crisis it seems that my research (and personal) budget is non existent. In any case, I will wait eagerly for the results of the meeting. As I do not know how to face the guilt of my students, I will be grateful for any advice you would like to give me.

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. I find the most sensitive subjects offer fruitful areas for exploring what historical thinking is all about. What, for example, are we to make of Marc Bloch’s dictum to understand, not judge, when we are dealing with the likes of an Adolf Hitler. I find it still possible, and Bloch’s dying in the resistance against Hitler helps me want to rise to this challenge, but I too would love to attend such workshop, albeit perhaps set in more familiar historical territory.

  2. (I really must learn to proofread before hitting submit on WordPress blogs. Argh.)

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