The Classics Department at Johns Hopkins University has a long and distinguished history of scholarship and excellence. The department notes, however, that not all of its history instills pride.
American classicist Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (born 1831, in Charleston, South Carolina) received his bachelor’s degree at Princeton and his doctorate at the University of Göttingen. For 20 years he taught at the University of Virginia. In 1875, Daniel Coit Gilman, president of the newly founded Johns Hopkins University, invited Gildersleeve to become the university’s first professor. Gildersleeve assumed his new position in 1876 and remained at Hopkins until his retirement in 1915. He was instrumental in the adoption of the German model of the research seminar for the new university. Considered by many in his time to be an icon in American classical scholarship, Gildersleeve established the first graduate seminar in the country and founded the American Journal of Philology, still a leading journal in the field. His internationally recognized scholarship enabled him to bring robust studies of Latin and Greek languages to Johns Hopkins.
During the Civil War, Gildersleeve served in the Confederate Army in the summer months, when the University of Virginia was not in session. He was seriously wounded in the leg; he would later recount that he lost his pocket copy of Homer on the battlefield. During the war, Gildersleeve also penned unsigned editorials for the Richmond Examiner that, even considering their time and place, stand out for the malevolence of their racism. Gildersleeve remained an advocate for the Confederacy throughout his academic career, and the Johns Hopkins University Press republished his “The Creed of the Old South” (1896) and “A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War” (1897) on the occasion of his retirement from the university. Both essays draw liberally on Gildersleeve’s classical learning, culminating the career of a classicist who, despite his noteworthy contributions as a scholar, teacher, and educational innovator, repeatedly lent material and moral support to the forces of racial oppression.
Today, the Department of Classics at Hopkins repudiates the racist views of Gildersleeve and pledges its efforts to bring the benefits of discovery to the world. We are committed to diversity in all of its forms, and we educate our students to think both critically and creatively about the past, including about the history and mixed legacy of the discipline of Classics itself. We continuously search for new ways to recruit a diverse body of students and faculty, and we actively oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination in higher education and beyond.