History Lesson

A Race Odyssey

Mary Lefkowitz

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From the author of Not Out of Africa comes a gripping first-person account of the tyranny of political correctness in academe

In the early 1990s, Classics professor Mary Lefkowitz discovered that one of her faculty colleagues at Wellesley College was teaching his students that Greek culture had been stolen from Africa and that Jews were responsible for the slave trade. This book tells the disturbing story of what happened when she spoke out.

Lefkowitz quickly learned that to investigate the origin and meaning of myths composed by people who have for centuries been dead and buried is one thing, but it is quite another to critique myths that living people take very seriously. She also found that many in academia were reluctant to challenge the fashionable idea that truth is merely a form of opinion. For her insistent defense of obvious truths about the Greeks and the Jews, Lefkowitz was embroiled in turmoil for a decade. She faced institutional indifference, angry colleagues, reverse racism, anti-Semitism, and even a lawsuit intended to silence her.

In History Lesson Lefkowitz describes what it was like to experience directly the power of both postmodernism and compensatory politics. She offers personal insights into important issues of academic values and political correctness, and she suggests practical solutions for the divisive and painful problems that arise when a political agenda takes precedence over objective scholarship. Her forthright tale uncovers surprising features in the landscape of higher education and an unexpected need for courage from those who venture there.

Mary Lefkowitz is Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, Wellesley College. She has published many books on classical culture, including Greek Gods, Human Lives (published by Yale University Press) and Not Out of Africa. In 2006 she was awarded a National Humanities Medal for outstanding excellence in teaching and scholarship and for championing high standards and integrity in the study of Ancient Greece and its relevance to contemporary thought. She lives in Wellesley, MA.

“Anyone serious about fundamental principles of education , academic freedom, good and proper racial relations, and the expectation of civil behavior in intellectual controversy must confront Mary Lefkowitz’s chilling account of what happened to her and others at Wellesley College.”—Donald Kagan, author of The Fall of the Athenian Empire

"Lefkowitz makes a passionate and well-reasoned case for the importance of traditional virtues in the writing of history: close attention to evidence, clear argument, the refusal to substitute wish for reality. She also discusses with some subtlety the vexed issue of civility on campus."—Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago

"A clear-eyed look at the perils—and promise—of contemporary academic life."—Booklist

"History Lesson is Ms. Lefkowitz's personal account of what she experienced as a result of questioning the veracity of Afrocentrism and the motives of its advocates. She has advanced the intellectual case against Afrocentrism before, in Not Out of Africa; here she takes a more personal approach, at one point mentioning the strain of the controversy as she battled breast cancer."—John Leo, Wall Street Journal

"[Lefkowitz's] account asks—and answers—provocative questions about the limits of [academic] freedom and about what scholars owe to their disciplines, their students and their colleagues."—Amanda Heller, Boston Sunday Globe

"[Lefkowitz] offers personal insights into important issues of academic values and political correctness, and she suggests practical solutions for the divisive and painful problems that arise when a political agenda takes precedence over objective scholarship. Her forthright tale uncovers surprising features in the landscape of higher education and an unexpected need for courage from those who venture there."—Greek America Magazine

"Lefkowitz's painful struggle and ultimate victory are edifying—and, perhaps, a hopeful sign for higher education."—Robert Whitcomb, The Weekly Standard

"[Lefkowitz] is a courageous woman who deserves commendation for instructing us that academic freedom is not a license to tell lies in the classroom."—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinion

"This short but important book is the personal account of an acrid controversy that erupted at Wellesley College during the culture wars of the early and mid-1990s. . . . [Lefkowitz] recounts her 'cautionary tale' in lucid and riveting detail."—Leo Goldberger, Moment Magazine

"Highly recommended."—Choice
ISBN: 9780300151268
Publication Date: April 28, 2009
208 pages, 5 3/16 x 7 15/16
Greek Gods, Human Lives

What We Can Learn from Myths

Mary Lefkowitz

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