Above the Veil: Revisiting the Classicism of W. E. B. Du Bois

Harriet Fertik, Mathias Hanses

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Studies of W. E. B. Du Bois typically emphasize his shift from an elitist devotion to European classics to a more radical promotion of African culture. These essays move beyond this simple dichotomy. We aim to demonstrate that throughout his life, Du Bois used classical ideas to challenge white Americans’ exclusive claims to power, even as he recognized and critiqued the role of Classics in sustaining racist hierarchies and institutions. Rather than focus exclusively on explicit citations of Greece and Rome in Du Bois’s writing, we use Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s model of Signifyin(g) and Lorna Hardwick’s conception of ‘fuzzy connections’ to trace and interrogate Du Bois’s elusive engagement with Classics. We provide detailed studies of three works: The Souls of Black Folk (1903), The Star of Ethiopia (1910s) and ‘Of the Ruling of Men’ (1920). The concluding essay situates Du Bois’s classicism in the wider context of African American literature and at the intersection of debates on education, humanism, and race in America. Throughout these papers, we examine Du Bois’s understanding of what is at stake for those who present themselves as the inheritors and interpreters of antiquity. By putting Du Bois back at the centre of ongoing scholarly conversations on black classicism, we hope to show that his inventive and political approach to the past provides a valuable model for reception studies today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics
  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities


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