Wolf Humanities Center Visiting Fellow Profile: Dr. Christopher Parmenter
By Luke Snyder
Based in Williams Hall, Penn’s Wolf Humanities Center selects a small group of fellows each year to participate in annual research projects. Bringing together a group of scholars from diverse backgrounds, the Wolf Humanities Center seeks to encourage interdisciplinary studies centered around a different theme each year. This year’s theme focuses on migration, an especially interesting topic for Dr. Christopher Parmenter, one of this year’s visiting fellows.
Dr. Parmenter’s journey in Classics has been a diverse and well-traveled one. Beginning with his bachelor’s degree in Classics and English from Hamilton College, Dr. Parmenter went on to Penn as a post-baccalaureate student before receiving his master’s degree from Oregon in 2013. After spending a year at the American School in Athens and a brief period at Oxford, Dr. Parmenter received his Ph.D. in Classics from NYU in 2020.
As a scholar whose areas of specialty revolve around the economic and social history of Ancient Greece, as well as the history of race from the classical period through modernity, migration plays a pivotal role in Dr. Parmenter’s work. This year, focusing on this theme, Dr. Parmenter has introduced a new course to Penn’s Classical Studies catalog: “Classicism in the Black Atlantic, 1776-1968.” In this course, taught during the Spring 2022 semester, Dr. Parmenter and his students are exploring the temporal framing of Classicism during the tumultuous time period known as the Black Atlantic. They are taking a look at the rise of Black literary communities in the United States—beginning around the time of the American Revolution—to gain a greater understanding of the impact of classical literature on these diverse communities and groups. This course is not centered around reading famous authors from antiquity or diving into ancient perceptions of race. Rather, Dr. Parmenter’s course places emphasis on examining how people during the modern era received ancient texts and, more broadly, studying how different cultures have metabolized these texts.
Dr. Parmenter was inspired to create this course by an apparent lack of scholarship in Classics surrounding race in antiquity. As Dr. Parmenter observed during his education, just a decade ago there was very little scholarship on the topic. At the turn of the millennium, academics began to challenge the idea that issues of race and racism in America had only begun during the colonial period. Attitudes and opinions regarding race and racism were now shifting, encouraging scholars to take a closer look at the history of race in America. Reading books produced during this period on references to Classical texts in early Black American poetry inspired Dr. Parmenter to consider how Black communities have engaged with Classics throughout periods of forced migration and settlement.
Beyond this course, Dr. Parmenter is currently in the process of writing his book, Racialized Commodities: Long-distance Trade, Mobility, and the Making of Race in Ancient Greece. This book focuses on the origin of discourses on identity, body, and culture following the Homeric cycles around 700 BCE. Dr. Parmenter explores the flourishing culture of discussing race, the body, and ethnicity that rose around the end of the 6th century BCE in Ancient Greece. Although these discussions were interrupted by the Persian Wars, Dr. Parmenter views them as ways to explore constructivist perceptions of race. Given the cultural connections between contemporary society and these ancient civilizations, understanding how race functioned in antiquity may provide a deeper understanding of the origins of our contemporary perceptions of race.
To learn more about Dr. Parmenter’s research, email him at email@example.com.
Luke Snyder (College ’23) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies and minoring in International Relations and Science, Technology, and Society.