Magisterial Feminae: How Women Who Studied the Ancient World Innovated Brooklyn College, the Latin/Greek Institute, and Beyond

The Brooklyn College (CUNY) Archives & Special Collections has opened an exhibition celebrating female premodernists who taught at Brooklyn College before 1980, including medievalists (and MAA members) Elizabeth A.R. Brown, Nancy Black, and Jacqueline De Weever.

Brooklyn College Associate Professor of History Lauren Mancia and Assistant Dean for Academic Programs and Director of the Latin/Greek Institute Lucas G. Rubin, as well as twelve History and Classics students from Brooklyn College, have created an incredible exhibit that will serve as a fascinating walk back in time and will run through December 31, 2023. There is also an online version of the exhibition here:

The exhibition draws from the rich resources of the Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections. The materials celebrate these women’s extraordinary contributions to the classroom and their discoveries and transformative insights into the study of premodernity. It also situates their achievements in the context of a mid-twentieth-century academic landscape that was always challenging, if not sometimes downright hostile, to women. The exhibit details their hardships and the battle many of these premodernists waged against sexism in the academy in the 1970s, of which the founding of the Brooklyn College Women’s Center and the Women’s Studies Program are a consequence.

There are several major threads to this exhibition that tells the story of the academic achievements of premodernist women faculty, and it demonstrates how their specific training equipped them with an array of skills that were transformative, in and out of the classrooms of Brooklyn College. Other major Brooklyn College institutions will also be highlighted, including the legacy of the Latin/Greek Institute (LGI), celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Since it was founded in 1973, the LGI has graduated almost 3,000 students, including many medievalists.

“When we began doing the research for this exhibition, we thought we were simply going to tell the stories of these female professors, their academic achievements, and their legacy. We thought we were merely going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Latin/Greek Institute,” Mancia said. “But one of the most surprising and timely things we’ve found in our archival research is how these women time and time again reached for the humanities, and the premodern, at times of crisis in Brooklyn College’s history. After World War II, after the NYC budget crises of the 1970s, and after the enrollment crises resulting from the transformations in CUNY’s admissions and tuition policies in the late 1970s, these women saw the humanities as the means for Brooklyn College’s—and higher education’s—revitalization and survival through hard times.”

The exhibit helps highlight the work of Brooklyn College’s Late-Antique-Medieval-Early-Modern (LAMEM) working group of 23 different faculty members from eight different departments and programs around the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (Art, Classics, English, History, Judaic Studies, Modern Languages and Literatures, Philosophy, and Religion). LAMEM celebrates its 10th year in 2023 and is co-convened by medievalists Lauren Mancia (History) and Karl Steel (English) in 2022-23, and Nicola Masciandaro (English) in 2023-2024.

The exhibit opened on May 2nd, 2023, and medievalists Elizabeth A.R. Brown, Jacqueline De Weever, and Nancy Black were in attendance. Medievalists Sara McDougall (John Jay/Graduate Center CUNY), Nancy Regalado (NYU) and Marianne Kowaleski (Fordham) were also there. Photos of the opening are below.

Visitors without a CUNY ID can show government-issued IDs at any of the campus entrances and enter the Brooklyn College Library to visit the exhibit during normal hours. Anyone interested in arranging a special tour of the exhibit for a class or group before the closing in December can contact Lauren Mancia at

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