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Arts & Culture

Black Classicisms

Problem and opportunity  

The discipline of Classics is deeply implicated in the modern history of European colonialism and imperialism. Studying the ancient world remains more of a possibility for more people from wealthier, privately educated backgrounds. Nevertheless, there is a rich history of African, African American, and Caribbean writers who have since the early-modern period engaged with ancient Greece and Rome to produce remarkable works of literature.

The reception of antiquity is at the centre of the ‘Black Atlantic’ canon. This field of study is one of Professor Daniel Orrells' research specialisms. The King’s Department of Classics has one of the most diverse Classics departments in the country in terms of student body. This project is designed to give ownership to students of colour in the Department over the decolonisation of the curriculum with full support from academic staff.  


 Structure of the project 

As Project Lead, Professor Orrells will work with students at the London Classicists of Colour Society. This Society comprises Classics department students at King’s and UCL. Professor Orrells will work with these students to design a 15-credit Level 6 and Level 7 module called ‘Black Classicisms’. The module will examine the reception of classical antiquity in African, African American, and Caribbean writers and artists from the mid 17th century to the early 21st century.  


The project will comprise a series of workshops co-led by three UG research assistants and Professor Orrells, to explore and discuss ideas for the module design. The workshops will have up to 20 students. Students of colour will be prioritised for the project.

  • The first workshop will introduce the topic of ‘Black Classicisms’. Professor Orrells will provide a worksheet with some basic questions for the students to discuss in small groups, asking: what topics might we study on this module? Which texts and artistic works could be part of the syllabus? This workshop will conclude with a plenary discussion. The students will then be tasked to explore a couple of texts in preparation at the next workshop.
  • In the second workshop, the students will give short presentations on their choice of texts. As a group, we will then discuss how the different texts and artistic works could cohere into structured syllabus. We will talk about curriculum design and assessment ideas.
  • The project will culminate in a third and final workshop where the students will present their module to invited academics and King’s students and academic staff. The invited academics will be leading classicists who work on this topic. Professors Emily Greenwood (Harvard), Sarah Derbew (Stanford) and Kelly Nguyen (UCLA) are all leaders in this field of research. As well as the students, these professors will also present ideas for a module syllabus on ‘Black Classicism’. This workshop will culminate in a plenary discussion about the different module syllabus ideas.  
Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator