Cambridge University explore evidence of 'skeletal trauma'
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Cambridge University’s Museum of Classical Archaeology is currently displaying plaster casts of Roman and Greek sculptures. They are also on show around lecture rooms but give a “misleading impression” of the whiteness and “absence of diversity” of the ancient world. The Classics Faculty has insisted it will “turn the problem into an opportunity” through drawing attention to the diversity of those figured in the casts.
It will do this by looking at the ways in which colour has been lost and can be restored, and to the “role of classical sculpture in the history of racism”.
The faculty has said the new information panels around the “whiteness” of plaster cast sculptures are due to go on display later this year.
But Cambridge dons have lashed out at the plans, who have branded the move “unhinged” and “extraordinary”.
An academic told The Telegraph: “You might just about understand this coming from a student but the idea that this has been approved by the Faculty is as terrifying as it is comical.
“It is so easy to laugh at this but in laughing, it is easy to overlook how extraordinary it is that one of the finest humanities departments in the Western world is putting this stuff out with an official institutional stamp.”
Another academic claimed the chances to highlight diversity would be limited as the museum’s 600 plaster casts of Roman and Greek statues are largely depictions of Romans and Greeks
The Telegraph has reported that academics part of the Classics faculty are shocked at the plans, which were published as part of an “action plan” to combat accusations of racism.
Last summer, an open letter was written to the Chair of the Classics Faculty Board which called for “public acknowledgement of the problems of racism within Classics and the need for active anti-racist work within our discipline”.
This had been signed by dozens of students, alumni and other staff members, with the letter making several demands including “an acknowledgement of the existence of systemic racism within Classics”.
In response to this letter, the Classics Faculty last month responded with a lengthy statement, as well as an action plan, outlining all the steps it planned to take to address the accusations of racism.
This explained it would display signs to explain the “whiteness” of plaster casts in the museum.
The document states: “Students report that difficult material is not always taught with sufficient sensitivity.”
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This also says that from the beginning of the academic year, dons are being urged to include “content warnings” in material on courses.
Lecturers at the university faculty will also be encouraged to include these before lectures.
Classics tutors will also receive training on how to discuss sensitive topics, while a review will be launched into all language used in course titles and materials.
The document also states that when new courses are designed “the language employed will be subject to scrutiny”.
All new and existing courses will be reviewed to ensure there is sufficient “diversity” on reading lists and bibliographies.
This new blueprint contains a pledge to work on promoting awareness of “harassment and micro-aggressions and how to combat them” by running a series of “race awareness” sessions.
The document also states that all Classics faculty members should be provided with “implicit bias training” every three years, which should be looked at through the appraisal process.
This also admits engagement with the “problematic past and present of Classics” has not been good enough, specifically its relationship to “imperialism, colonialism and entrenched racism”.
Dr Arif Ahmed, a fellow at Gonville and Caius and lecturer in philosophy, claimed the “only criteria” for putting something on a reading list should be its academic merit.
He told The Telegraph: “I have a general concern that actually there is a threat of diluting the academic interest and value of an issue because of current political trends.
“Universities don’t exist for any political purpose at all, even a laudable one like anti-racism.”
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