Teaching Indigeneity and the Classics: A Syllabus

Teaching Indigeneity and the Classics: A Syllabus

by Katherine Blouin

cover picture: Bronze statue of Egerton Ryerson splashed with paint. This action was performed after an earlier (pink) splashing, which was part of an broader art action by Black Lives Matter Toronto. Ryerson University, Toronto, Summer 2020

This Fall, I will be teaching a graduate seminar entitled “Sprung from the Earth: Indigeneity and the Classics”. This course is offered by the Department of Classics of the University of Toronto. It is the first time I’m offering this course, and I am very much endebted to all the indigenous teachers who I have been and am still (un)learning from these past few years. My thanks also go to my friend and colleague Karina Vernon, whose UTSC English syllabus “ENGC01: Indigenous Literature in Canada/Turtle Island” has inspired several of the evaluations described below (quotation marks correspond to quotes from that syllabus), as well as to the guest speakers who have kindly accepted my invitation. I’m making my syllabus available here in order to share some of the readings, art works, videos, and assignments which have inspired me. I hope to add some reflection on this pedagogical experience once the Fall term is over.

Gaia giving Erichtonius to Athena, 5th c. BCE


This course will explore the representations and realities of indigeneity in the ancient Mediterranean world, as well as the entanglements between modern settler colonialism, historiography, and reception of the “Classical past”. Throughout the term, we will be drawn to (un)learn, think, write, and talk about a series of topics, each of which pertains in different ways to a set of overarching questions:

What can Classicists learn from ancient and modern indigenous ways of knowing?

What does it mean to be a Classicist in Tkaronto, on the land many Indigenous Peoples call Turtle Island?

What does it mean to be a Classicist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada?

What does it mean to be a Classicist in a settler colony?

How did ‘the Classics’ inform settler colonialism?

How does modern settler colonialism inform our reconstruction of ancient indigeneities?

How does our relationship to the land we come from and are currently in play a role in the way we think about the ancient Mediterranean world? Why is that so?

How did societies of the ancient Mediterranean conceive of indigeneity?

How did those relationships manifest themselves at a local, communal, and State levels?

The format and flow of this course aims to center ancient and modern Indigenous ways of knowing. To quote UofT English Professor Karina Vernon: “this will also mean challenging the ways we traditionally do things in the university classroom. In this course, we will think in new ways about what learning and teaching means”, what a source is, what a being is, what a “text” and a “story” are, and what else a virtual classroom can look like. “We may, for instance take things quite slowly. Occasionally, we will put down our pens and leave our zoom screen in order to see what being outside might teach us”[1]. We will emerge from this course with an appreciation of the vitality and complexity of ancient and modern Indigenous cultural forms and knowledge, as well as with a heightened sense of Classics’ – and our own – place on Turtle Island.

Christie Belcourt’s “The Wisdom of the Universe” (2014)


Week 1 Course Presentation & Where are We?      

Readings: – Robin Wall Kimmerer 2013. “Allegiance to Gratitude“, Braiding Sweetgrass.

– Thomas King, 2012. “Forget Columbus”, The Inconvenient Indian, ch.1.

– Lee Maracle 2017. “What do I call you: First nations, Indians, Aboriginals, Indigenous?, My Conversation with Canadians.

Video: Sky World Oral Story

Film: – Tai Simpson 2019. “Indigenous Storytelling as a Political Lens“, TedxBoise

Kent Monkman’s “Miss Europe” (2016)

Week 2  Classics and Settler Colonialism

Readings: – Katherine Blouin, Aven McMaster, David Meban and Zachary Yuzwa 2018. “Indigenizing the Classics: A Teaching Guide“, Everyday Orientalism

– Emily Varto 2018. “The Tinted Lens of Ancient Society: Classical History and American Experience in the Ethnology of Lewis Henry Morgan“, E. Varto ed. Brill’s Companion to Classics and Early Anthropology, 63-98.

– Zachary Yuzwa (forthcoming). “The Fall of Troy in Old Huronia: The Letters of Paul Ragueneau on the Destruction of Wendake, 1649-1651”, Classics in the Early Americas.

Art pieces:Kent Monkman’s Paintings

– François Girard dir. 2017. Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes.     

Week 3 Indigenous Cultural Competence Training Part 1

Readings:  – James Daschuk 2019. Clearing the Plains. Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Indigenous Life, ch.1 and 2.

– Thomas King, 2012. “The End of the Trail”, The Inconvenient Indian, ch.2.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer. 2013. “In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place”, Braiding Sweetgrass.

Videos: – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Book Launch, “Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back on Unceded Algonquin Territory“, IPSMO’s Youtube page, 2012.

– Scholar Strike Canada 2020. “Solemn Promises on Stolen Land: Policing and Treaty-Breaking on 1492 Land Back Lane“, Youtube.

Primary source: The Indian Act

Week 4 Indigenous Cultural Competence Training Part 2

Readings: – Thomas King, 2012. “We Are Sorry”, The Inconvenient Indian, ch.5.

– Lee Maracle. “Salmon Is the Hub of Salish Memory“, Memory Serves.

Video:  – Lee Maracle, “Aboriginal Apology | Residential Schools“, Context Beyond the Headlines’ Youtube Page.

– Gregg Deal 2018. “Indigenous in Plain Sight“, TedxBoulder.

Podcast: – Chris Piuma and Suzanne Akbari 2020. The Sprouter-Inn: Memory Serves.

Week 5 Native Writers of North America on Greco-Roman Antiquity

 This class will feature a #EOTalks by Prof. Craig Williams followed by a group discussion

Week 6 Two-Eye Seeing and the Sky: When ancient Greek and Indigenous Astronomical Traditions Meet

Our teacher for this class will be Prof. Hilding Neilson

Readings: – Kelly Boutsalis 2020. “Teaching Indigenous Start Stories“, The Walrus.

– Rebecca Thomas 2016. “Etuaptmumk: Two-Eyed Seeing“, TedxNSCCWaterfront.

The zodiac of Denderah, 50 BCE

Week 7 Indigenous lives matter: The case of Ancient North Africa                        

Readings: -Diana Davis 2007. Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in                    North Africa, ch.2.

– Elizabeth Fentress 2006. “Romanizing the Berbers“, Past and Present 190, 3-33.

– Boutheina Maraoui Telmini 2014. “La ville numide d’Althiburos et le monde de Carthage“, Rivista di Studi Fenici 42.1, 127-147.

– Samuel Sylla 2019. “Jugurtha, d’hier à aujourd’hui : du résistant berbère à ‘l’éternel Jugurtha’: le passé pour servir le présent“, Halshs archives ouvertes.           

Statue of Massinissa, Tafourah, Algeria

Week 8 Indigenous-Settler Relationships in the Iberian Peninsula  

Our teacher for this class will be David Wallace-Hare

Readings: – Kristina Glicksman 2018. “Metal Mining in Roman Dalmatia“, Opuscula Archæologica 39/40, 261-280.

– Claire Holleran 2016. “Labour Mobility in the Roman World: A Case Study of Mines in Iberia“, L. de Ligt and L. E. Tacoma (eds.), Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire, 95–137.

Ancient sources: – Florus 2.33: On Augustus’ forced relocation of indigenous groups in NW Spain for mining workforces (translation and Latin text here)

– Diodorus Siculus 5.33-38: On the alleged inefficiency and subsequent exclusion of indigenous mining operations in Baetica and other local mining practices in Celtiberia and Iberia. (translation here; Greek text here)

Lex Territorio Metalli Vipascensis Dicta

Week 9 Reading week – no class

Week 10 Autochtony and the Nation 1: The Case of Athens         

This class will include a conversation with Prof. Rebecca Futo Kennedy

Readings: – Rebecca Futo Kennedy forthcoming. “Race and the Athenian Metic Re-Visioned”, V. Manopoulou, J. Skinner, and C.              Tsouparopoulou, eds. Identities in Antiquity.

– Yannis Hamilakis 2009. “Indigenous Hellenisms/Indigenous Modernities: Classical Antiquity, Materiality, and Modern Greek society“, Georges Boys-Stones, Barbara Graziosi and Phiroze Vasunia eds, The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies, 19-31.

– Kim Tallbear 2013. “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity“, Social Studies of Science.

Week 11 Autochtony and the Nation 2: Whose ‘Holy Land’?                                                     

Readings: – Nadia Abu El-Haj’s. 2001. ” Terrains of Settler Nationhood“, Facts on the Ground. Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, 73-98.

-Rachel Poser 2019. ”Common Ground. The Politics of Archaeology in Jerusalem“, Harper’s Magazine.

– Patrick Wolfe 2006. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native“, Journal of Genocide Research 8.4, 387-409.

Video: – Morag Kersel 2020. “#EOTalks 7: Untold Stories at the Museum of the Bible. Artifacts, Provenance, and Bias in the Contact Zone“, Everyday Orientalism.

Lionel Royer’s 1899 “Vercingétorix devant César

Week 12 Colonial Occlusion: The of Case the Gallic Wars

Readings: – Dani Bostick 2020. “Is it Still ‘Too Soon’ to Tell the Truth about Julius Casear?“, Medium.

Ann Laura Stoller 2016. Duress. Imperial Durabilities in our Times, ch. 1.

-Nico Roymans and Manuel Fernández-Götz 2015. “Caesar in Gaul. New Perspectives on the Archaeology of Mass Violence“, Tom Brindle, Martyn Allen, Emma Durham and Alex Smith eds. An Offprint from TRAC 2014, 70-79.

Week 13 Origin Stories and the Colonial Imagination: Rhakotis aka Alexandria

Readings: – Katherine Blouin forthcoming. “Colonial Fantasies and Occluded (Hi)stories: The Case of Early Alexandria“.

– Franco De Angelis 2018. “Anthropology and the Creation of the Classical Other“, E. Varto ed. Brill’s Companion to Classics and Early Anthropology, 349-364.

– A 2-part essay by Khaled Fahmy:

“The essence of Alexandria,” pt. 1, Manifesta Journal, # 14, January 2012, pp.64-72.

“The essence of Alexandria,” pt. 2, Manifesta Journal, # 16, December 2012, pp.22-27.

– Michel-Rolph Trouillot 2015. “The Power in the Story“, Silencing the Past. Power and the Production of History.


Participation and attendance

“As we sit here, together, in this circle, we are sitting here as equals. No one is more or less than any other person.”-Ilarion Merculief, Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning

We will conduct the course as a weekly discussion-based session. Everyone’s preparation and participation is expected. All students are required to have closely read the assigned texts before the respective sessions and to be prepared to engage in class discussion. Please remember that effective participation also requires good listening skills.

During this class, we will learn by forming a talking circle. Here is how Karina Vernon describes this indigenous mode of learning:

“Talking circles symbolize completeness and equality. All circle participants’ views must be respected and listened to. All comments directly address the question or the issue, not the comments another person has made. Going around the circle systematically gives everyone the opportunity to participate. Silence is also acceptable – any participant can choose not to speak.

In order to make your participation in our talking circle productive, please follow these important guidelines:

  • Come to each class on time, having done your readings so that you can contribute thoughtfully to our discussion;
  • Listen actively;
  • Be sensitive to diverse perspectives and subject positions of your fellow students, including the diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, economic positions, physical abilities, ages, educational experiences, social and political views of people in the room;
  • Use inclusive and equitable language;
  • Use first-person “I” statements to disagree with someone and/or to clarify your own views in responding to what your fellow students say.

We will conclude many of our conversations with this self-assessment to help you connect with your own learning and participation:

  1. At what moment today were you most engaged as a learner?
  2. At what moment were you most distanced as a learner?
  3. What discussions did you find most puzzling, confusing, or difficult?
  4. What surprised you most about today?”

Learning from the Land

(this assignment was designed by Karina Vernon)

According to Ilarion Merculief (Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning) Indigenous knowledge is place-based knowledge:

“It springs from a deep and detailed experience of a place and manifests as a sense of belonging to, identification with, and awareness of everything that goes on in that place. In many Indigenous cultures, you need to know as much as possible about the land and waters on which you live; the plants and animals you depend on for your survival; and the people with whom you live your life. All significant learning comes from the place and is responsive to the place.” (19).

“In this class, we will be leaving our zoom screen and going outside for 30 minutes five times during the term in order to learn more about where we are, and to consider what this particular place may teach us. We will be going outside three times in total during the term. The dates of our excursions are indicated by “Outside” on the schedule. Please dress for the weather.

The assignment is this:

Stop Talking

Put down your pens and electronic devices. Set down your books.

Go outside. Find a place to be by yourself.

For 20 minutes, let go of your thoughts and notice where you are.

Listen to the wind. Pay attention to the land you are standing on and all the living beings that share in this space.

Breathe intentionally from the common air.

Notice how you feel.

After we return from the outside, you will have an opportunity to make notes on your reflections – what you learned from being outside on that day. We will briefly discuss in our virtual class circles what we are learning.”

You can either hand in your five journals – polished and expanded from your in-class notes, gradually throughout the term, or submit them all together on the last week of class.

Where are you?

(this assignment was designed by Karina Vernon; I’ve adapted it slightly to the pandemic context)

Every place on Turtle Island is also the traditional ancestral territory of Indigenous peoples. To be living in Canada, then, means being territorialized in Indigenous nations. That is to say, we all live on the traditional ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples. The same applies to settler colonies located outside of North America. Should you be somewhere else in the world, I invite you to think about the earliest, ancient indigenous and settler communities who lived on the land you are currently on.

·       Find out which treaties (if any) govern current land use. If possible, find out what the specific terms of that treaty are.

·       If you are in Europe, you are welcome to pick Toronto as the land you will hopefully be soon in. You can also focus on the land you are in right now and adapt the above.

Your report should include one paragraph (250 words) of personal reflection of how learning about the historical details, above, shapes your sense of belonging/ unbelonging/ citizenship/ inhabitation, etc., on this part of Turtle Island/the land you are on/from.

Classics and Indigeneity at the ROM

For this assignment, you are asked to visit the following 2 galleries at the ROM:

1. Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples art & culture

2. Gallery of Greece

If you are elsewhere, we will find an equivalent depending on where you are and what is open. Should we go on a lockdown during term time, we’ll adjust this assignment so it can be done via the ROM’s website.

Once you’ve done your visit, you are asked to write a 5-to-6 page critical review of these two exhibitions from the perspective of the courses’ discussions on Indigeneity and the Classic. They should also provide a critical analysis of the representations, aims, and limits of the choices made by the curators, and refer to at least 5 of the class readings. I encourage you to ask yourselves questions such as: What particular entanglements between Classics and Indigeneity are visible in these exhibits? What voices and stories are told? Who are the “experts” quoted or featured? What objects are displayed and themes discussed? What is the overall narrative thread of these exhibitions? Are any stereotypes reproduced or challenged? How does the language of the captions participate in the reproduction/challenging of these tropes? What is not discussed? What information is provided about the provenance of the objects on display? How does the spatial layout of the exhibits contribute to the overall narrative conveyed by these two exhibitions?

References of interest:

– Erin L. Thompson 2020. “Museums Should Consider Why They’ve Become Targets of Attack and Protest“, Hyperallergic.

– Sumaya Kassim 2017. “The Museum Will Not Be Decolonised“, Media Diversified.

– Sara Wajid and Shaheen Kasmani 2020. “How Can You Decolonise Musems?“, museumnext.com.

Monument field trip

The relationship between the Eurocentric reception of ‘Classical’ art and settler colonialism is notably expressed through statues and monumental architectures. The violent and highly contested nature of these objects has been in the news on several occasions these past months. How can our shared conversations in the context of this seminar impact your understanding of some of the monuments and statues that are in Toronto?

For this assignment, you are asked to conduct the Monument Lab’s field trip. On that occasion, you must pick one monument that is located in Toronto, or where you live if you are on Turtle Island. If you are taking this course from Europe, you can either pick a monument from the place you are currently in, or select one of Toronto’s (including UofT’s) monuments using Street View, Google Earth, or other another online tool.

The Monument Lab document can be accessed here. For this assignment, you are asked to only do page 1 to 7.

References of interest:

– BBC 4 2014. “Head of Augustus“, A History of the World in 100 Objects.

– Jonah Engel Bromwich 2020. “What Does it Mean to Tear Down a Statue“, The New York Times.

– Erin L. Thompson 2020. “What’s the Point of Beheading a Statue?“, Artnews.com.

Term project: Indigeneity and the Classics

This assignment has 2 components:

1. Each student shall create a piece of artwork that relates to the theme “Indigeneity and the Classics”. The piece in question can be of any type (visual art, spoken word, song, music, dance, etc.), as long as its format allows it to be presented virtually. Students are encouraged to seek inspiration in the weekly readings and discussions, as well as in the other assignments for this course. They are also welcome to explore these themes in the light of their own experiences and relationship with the course’s topic.

2. As a complement to the artwork piece, each student is asked to write a 7 to 8-page interpretive essay. The essay must both situate their creation within a broader historical context and articulate how it tackles issues and conversations that pertain to the contemporary relevance of the broader theme of this seminar. The bibliography must include at least 15 scholarly titles. Please include a good quality file or link to your artwork piece when submitting your essay.

[1] From Karina Vernon’s 2020 syllabus of “ENGC01: Indigenous Literature in Canada/Turtle Island” (UTSC, Department of English).

5 thoughts on “Teaching Indigeneity and the Classics: A Syllabus

  1. Wonderful!

    On Wed, Sep 9, 2020 at 4:44 PM Everyday Orientalism wrote:

    > > > > > > > everydayorientalism posted: ” > by Katherine Blouin > > > > cover picture: Bronze statue of Egerton Ryerson splashed with paint. This > action was performed after an earlier (pink) splashing, which was part of > an broader art action by Black Lives Matter Toronto. Ryerson University, > Toronto, S” > > > >


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