Rev. Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics

In the DH seminar I’m taking this semester, we are tasked with reviewing a digital project and posting this review on our blog, aka here. I want to tailor my DH assignments to Classics, since we are graciously given quite a bit of leeway and freedom (Thanks, Dhanashree!). I thought it might be interesting to review a project I’d heard a lot about, but not explored in depth. So, I would like to take this opportunity to investigate the Pharos project which seeks to “document appropriations of Greco-Roman culture by hate groups” and provide a space where scholars (and not just those working for institutions) are able to publicly respond to them. This project was started (presumably) in 2017 by Curtis Dozier at Vassar College in New York and is funded by the Vassar College Department of Greek and Roman Studies and the Vassar College Office of Communications.

I first learned of this project via Twitter and was super excited that someone had finally created a way to document and respond to these hate groups which perpetually appropriate what we study to meet their own ends. Curtis Dozier has set up a static WordPress site, which ensure its longevity and accessibility to future directors and users. The site is hosted on the Vassar servers which lends it traditional credibility in terms of having a ‘.edu’ address but it also ensures longevity. Having started to create a new site for our own Classics museum, I have learned that any site hosted at an collegiate institution is essentially guaranteed oversight and stability.

The overall setup of the site is simple, but thorough. There are four different post tags which allow the reader to filter and search through them: Documenting Appropriations, Response Essays, Scholars Respond, and Site News/Editorial. These four categories adequately describe the different types of posts that concern the project. They are also well-described alongside the overall structure and goals of the site on the home page. In terms of accessibility, this site loads well on all devices and has many methods by which one might read the material.

The material of the site holds itself to a high scholarly standard. It is also incredibly self-consistent with its own ideology: when an article criticizes a how a hate group has misappropriated Greco-Roman culture, Pharos always links the reader to an archived version of the site, so that one may view the original content at the time the article was written without giving the site “revenue-generating traffic.” Thus, this project seems to be supremely grounded in factual criticism and always provides citations as well as a list of the scholars who contributed to the response (many of whom are well-known, respected, paragons of the field).

To illustrate, the most recent topic, for which there is both documentation and a response, concerns the male-supremacy hate group, Return of Kings, and their arguments about Roman virtus. The documentation page begins by immediately linking the reader to an archive of the original post, an article on the group by The Southern Poverty Law Center, a screenshot of the original article title and image, and an updated link to the scholarly response. All of this comes before the actual description of the article, thus prodding the reader to investigate the case for themselves before reading any secondary material. This focus on the primary evidence is compelling and a great way to introduce problematic appropriations.

The response to this document, with seven Classicists listed as contributors (and several very recognizable names), is structured in bullet point format, which makes it easy to dissect the scholarly arguments against Return of Kings’ article and clearly demonstrates the faults, misogyny, and utter incorrectness of their arguments—all while citing many educational sources, all of which are open source and not behind a paywall. I counted ~40 citations to both primary texts and secondary sources which support their points, but mostly provide avenues for non-Classicists to learn about the ancient world through trusted sources. Here we have professors and Classicists pointing the reader to open-access articles, texts, and translations so that they might become more familiar with this material and perhaps prevent the spread of these wrongful appropriations.

Lastly, I would like to draw attention to the sole post (for now, I’m sure) under the tagged section ‘Site News/Editorial’, since it outlines exactly why Curtis Dozier has created this project and why he believes it has significance. Dozier cites incredibly noble and thorough reasons for this project and it is most definitely worth reading, even if you are not a Classicist. In fact, the whole project is approachable by anyone and they need not be steeped in Greco-Roman culture in order to understand the writing or arguments. One need only have a computer, an open mind, and the will to think critically about social justice in terms of the past. This is the kind of digital scholarship that we should be producing, and I’m proud to be a part of a discipline that takes social justice so seriously.

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