Professor Michele Valerie Ronnick will receive the Lifetime Service and Achievement Award from Eta Sigma Phi, the national honor society for classical studies, on March 24, 2017, at the group’s annual meeting. Ronnick will be recognized for her contributions to the study of classics, which include her scholarly work ranging from a book on Cicero; articles on Augustus, Horace, Juvenal, John Milton, Oliver Cromwell, John Adams, Tom Stoppard and Gianni Versace; a series of postcards featuring classical elements in Detroit’s buildings; and her published articles and poems on Augustus Woodward, who established Campus Martius in downtown Detroit.
Since the early 1990s, part of her work has been to turn the attention of academicians and the public at large to the influence that ancient Greek and Roman culture has had upon the creative and professional lives of people of African descent.
Her work has uncovered the autobiography and the published works of the first professional classicist of African descent in this country, William Sanders Scarborough, and it forms the subject of her second and third books: The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship; and The Works of William Sanders Scarborough: Black Classicist and Race Leader. In 2001, she proved that Scarborough was the first black member of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and since then, the MLA has given a $1,000 book prize in his honor.
With funding from the James Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard University and advice from William Peck, former curator of ancient art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Ronnick has been curating an exhibition of photographic reproductions of African American classical scholars and educators from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“With this work begins the serious study and teaching of philology, the study of language, by African Americans. All who study language and literature in the United States today, be it Italian, Swahili, Sanskrit, English, ancient Greek or Arabic, trace the origin of their disciplines to the men and women featured in this photo installation,” said Ronnick.
The exhibition, titled “15 Black Classicists,” will open at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, early next year. A smaller installation, “14 Black Classicists,” sponsored by the James and Sarah Argyropoulos Foundation for Hellenic Studies and the Department of Classical Studies, will open at the University of California, Santa Barbara on January 14 and remain until April 30, during which time Ronnick will visit to talk about the history of African American interest in classical studies.