University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA

February 25-27, 2021

The aim of this conference and the edited collection that will result is to propose Aristotelian catharsis as a new lens for historical inquiry. The project aims to do so, specifically, through the study of cathartic history as a phenomenon in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean and in the field of Classical history today. In the process, the project will serve as an example of the productive application of catharsis to the study of the past, and thus a model for other fields of historical research. 

While the study of the past as a healing experience is not entirely new, no uniform vocabulary exists at this time for talking about cathartic history. Rather, scholars who have written to elicit an emotional response from their audiences about the past, or who have chosen to consider their own emotional response to the past, have largely done so in passing or in popularly oriented publications, rather than using that emotional response as a bona fide category of historical analysis in and of itself. And yet, the historian’s selection of topics of research, both in the ancient world and in the historical profession today, is often motivated by personal experiences, broadly defined. This project aims to show that thinking about the past as a cathartic experience whether for us as historians, and/or for the ancient historians we study, and/or for our modern audiences, provides a new bridge for a productive academic dialogue of the past with the present.

Papers will consider, among others, the following questions:

  • How might we apply the Aristotelian theory of catharsis to Greek and Roman historians?
  • In what ways might the lens of catharsis enrich our reading of narratives of trauma (whether personal or literary or national) in the ancient sources?
  • Are we pursuing catharsis in our own research whenever we focus on topics of personal relevance? 
  • Is historical research a cathartic experience? Should it be? 
  • In what ways could thinking about history through the lens of catharsis intersect with the increased interest in social justice within the field of Classics?

Confirmed Presenters

  • Greg Anderson, Ohio State University
  • Joel Christensen, Brandeis University
  • Jessica Clark, Florida State University
  • Kathy Gaca, Vanderbilt University
  • Rebecca Kennedy, Denison University
  • Bruce Lowe, Reformed Theological Seminary – Atlanta
  • Dan-el Padilla Peralta, Princeton University
  • Amy Pistone, Gonzaga University
  • Jeffrey Rop, University of Minnesota -- Duluth
  • Sarah Scullin, Managing Editor of Eidolon
  • Kelly Shannon-Henderson, University of Alabama
  • Amit Shilo, University of California – Santa Barbara
  • Jessica Wright, University of Texas – San Antonio

Organizer: Nadya Williams,