American Classicisms

This working group investigates the role played by the classical traditions of Greece and Rome in the institutions, intellectual life, and popular culture of eighteenth and nineteenth-century America. It asks how early Americans accessed, constructed, mobilized, and appropriated knowledge about these pre-modern societies — often times to the exclusion of others. Possible case studies emerge from — but are not limited to — the democratizing impulses of the Founding Fathers, the philosophical underpinnings of the Transcendentalists, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Phillis Wheatley, the travel literature of Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Neoclassical stylings of Hiram Powers and Harriet Hosmer. Furthermore, within the formation of American universities and educational curricula in this period, we examine the professionalization of Classics as an academic discipline and interrogate the rhetorics, postures, and practices of American classicists both as they ventured trans-Atlantic contributions to an international Altertumskunde and as they responded to the political and social conditions of their lived moment.

Drawing on resources and histories local to Yale University and its New England setting, the working group is committed to bringing evidence from an array of media — texts, paintings, sculpture, photographs — under the scrutiny of scholars with diverse expertise. Our aim is to build an interdisciplinary community that can tackle methodologically demanding projects under headings like Reception Studies, Intellectual History, or the Sociology of Knowledge.

The working group meets once monthly to discuss a schedule of shared readings. We are currently soliciting recommendations for the 2019–2020 program and welcome participants especially from the fields of African-American Studies, American Studies, Art History, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, History, Religious Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Prior knowledge of ancient languages and Greco-Roman materials, while helpful, is not necessary.

Sponsorship for American Classicisms for the 2019-2020 academic year is provided by the Whitney Humanities Center.

For schedule of meetings and further information, please contact Talia Boylan ( or Christopher Londa (