Date February 22, 2024
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New grant enables Brown, Princeton scholars to expand study of race in the classics

A $1 million Mellon Foundation award will support “Racing the Classics,” a project co-founded by Brown assistant professor Sasha-Mae Eccleston, to impact scholarship in ancient Greek and Roman studies.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Sasha-Mae Eccleston and Dan-el Padilla Peralta started discussing the complexities of race in the classics in 2008 as postgraduate “study buddies” at the University of Oxford.

Nearly a decade later and no longer students, but faculty members — Eccleston at Brown University, Padilla Peralta at Princeton University — they invited others into their ongoing conversations by founding an international conference series in 2017 called “Racing the Classics.” The conference invited participants to discuss, demonstrate and imagine ways that the critical examination of race could influence scholarly approaches to ancient Mediterranean cultures.

Now, with support from a new $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, administered through Princeton, Eccleston and Padilla Peralta are expanding the conference series into a multi-year cohort-based fellowship program at Princeton and Brown. 

Expected to begin in 2025, the program will support approximately 10 fellows per cohort. Each cohort will include a mix of graduate students and early-career researchers.

“The discipline has been set up in ways that either support or exacerbate racialized differences, and that makes it inaccessible to a lot of people,” said Eccleston, an assistant professor of classics at Brown. “For example, it can be difficult for students from low socioeconomic or racially minoritized backgrounds to access Greek and Latin education at a young age.” 

In recent years, she noted, universities’ ancient Greek and Roman studies departments have been thinking more seriously about the exclusion of students and faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

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Sasha-Mae Eccleston

“But it has been proving challenging to make those adjustments systematically, and in a way that doesn’t burden the small number of individuals who belong to racialized groups already in the field — much to the detriment of their physical and mental health,” Eccleston said.

The Racing the Classics fellowship aims to go beyond simply diversifying the field of classics.

“There is the issue of representation in the classroom and across the discipline, but we are also talking about the representation of the Greeks and Romans themselves,” Eccleston said. “This work is also about finding new ways of analyzing and approaching these cultures.” 

Eccleston and Padilla Peralta are designing the program around the idea that the fellows will support one another as colleagues and collaborators throughout their careers as they do the challenging and rewarding work involved in reimagining a well-established but traditionally exclusive discipline, Eccleston said.

For each fellowship participant, the experience will include a two-week in-person intensive summer workshop followed by an academic-year practicum focused on relationship building, mentorship and discussions with members of the field from across the world. The workshops will alternate between Princeton and Brown, with Brown hosting the second cohort workshop during the summer of 2026.