A conference in the Fredric Ewen Series on Civil Liberties and Academic Freedom, 19-20 May 2017
Brooklyn College, City University of New York
The rhetorics of freedom and liberty permeate contemporary and historical political discourse. This language and its associated symbols is invariably positively connoted from the perspective of the speaker and the presumed audience. However, the associated values and defining principles shift dramatically in each social context. In short we can all agree freedom is good, but we cannot agree what it means to be free. One of the key sites of contention in such discourse is what needs to be sacrificed in order to achieve liberty and what costs are associated with the preservation of freedom. The valuation of liberty is directly linked to whose freedom is prioritized and who is seen as bearing the associated costs. All of this is especially true any discussion of slavery.
The aim of this conference is to bring scholars from numerous disciplines into conversation across the historical timeline. Just as freedom and liberty are slippery concepts, so are ideas of debt, value, and payment. But rather than simply viewing these terms as rhetorical devices that make freedom seem worthwhile, we deploy debt, value,and payment as analytical tools for understanding how freedom works – while also keeping in mind that these are concepts that themselves demand investigation. These ideas unite the discourses of freedom and liberty, from ethical and economic discourses, which describe freedom as either physical labor or a mental activity, as well as the language of religion and science. Often our innumerable ways of assessing value bleed one into another, especially in conversations regarding individual and shared liberties.
By explicitly juxtaposing the different methodologies used in asking “what does freedom cost?” from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present, we hope to explore overlapping areas of research and help expand the existing conversations in each discipline. In addition to providing vocabularies, practices and theories of freedom that we still use today, Ancient Greece and Rome provide many examples of peoples who lacked freedom but strove to obtain it, including slaves, women and conquered peoples. By simultaneously examining the Greco-Roman antiquity and modernity, we bring to light recurrent historical patterns of the costs that people have and continue pay for freedom.
Our ultimate goal is to produce a rigorous edited volume of the most substantial and unified conference contributions for publication by a major university press.
Our confirmed keynote speakers include, Orlando Patterson (John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University), Saidiya Hartman (Professor, English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University) and Deborah Kamen (Associate Professor, Classics, University of Washington).
Liv Mariah Yarrow
Associate Professor, Classics Department