Print Project Proposal: Cleopatra

Hey everyone! For my print project, I would like to dive into the social debate surrounding the representation of Cleopatra. As a Classics and Africana Studies major during undergrad, I have always been interested in this debate. People constantly go back and forth about whether she is Macedonian, Egyptian, or both. The debate specifically revolves around her skin color. This debate was recently sparked again when Israeli actress Gal Gadot was casted as Cleopatra in an upcoming film. As a co-producer, Gadot publicly defended their decision. Gadot stated in an interview with BBC Arabic’s Sam Asi, “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” Like Gadot, people have very strong opinions about the “facts”, and this leads to (probably) the largest social discussion regarding the Classics field.

I want to investigate the variety of arguments that people have made regarding Cleopatra’s representation on Twitter, blog posts, and Reddit while tracing how those arguments are based on historical facts. This is a truly fascinating discussion that shapes how Cleopatra is represented in films, video games, and classrooms. To analyze tweets, I plan to simply use Twitter’s search function to find the latest posts that include Cleopatra’s name by hand. If time permits, I may use the Twitter API and twarc2 to collect tweets using Python. From my preliminary research, I noticed a number of articles and blog posts dedicated to Cleopatra’s race. There were a few that appeared to be scholarly. This would be a great way to consider how scholars participate in this debate. Finally, using the Pushift Reddit Search tool, I hope to analyze how Reddit users are discussing Cleopatra’s representation. The Pushift Reddit Search tool will allow me to search through all the posts and comments that mention Cleopatra throughout Reddit’s history as a platform.

Discovering Cleopatra’s race would be the best possible outcome for this project. More realistically, I think this project could highlight a few key things for public historians. Public historians consider how the general public interacts with history. The debate over Cleopatra’s race is a really interesting case study that gets a lot of public attention. Like Gadot, people often rely on the “facts” when discussing it. Where are these facts coming from and how are people getting access to them? Classics scholars do not have the definitive answers, but many people believe that they do. As a public historian, how would you go about curating an exhibition on Cleopatra when people have their minds set on who she is? More generally, how do you insert yourself as a historian within this debate or ones like it? I hope that this project can explore the nature of the arguments and historical evidence behind Cleopatra’s race while providing commentary on how public historians can insert themselves within public historical debates.

One Reply to “Print Project Proposal: Cleopatra”

  1. Hi Josh,

    This is a really creative and interesting idea. I very much appreciate the way you have drawn out a connection between historical literature and scholarship into a contemporary and public history context. I also think you’ve done a nice job in identifying a current context where you could make good use of born digital social media textual data as a source for relevant exploration and analysis. Reddit, Twitter, and blog posts are all relevant sources for this kind of work. Overall I think this could make for a really interesting project.

    If you were to run with this as your course project, I think my first suggestion would be to consider if you want to focus on one platform and go deeper (ex, just look at twitter) or if the comparisons across the different platforms is particularly relevant (for example, I think the comparisons between discourse on this on some parts of reddit and on twitter might be different in ways that are interesting in their own right. I also think another question you would want to delve into is the extent to which you end up wanting to do bulk text mining kind of work vs doing close reading and comparing and contrasting relevant exemplar instances of discussion. From my experience, the kind of nuanced points you want to get into are likely going to be better served by using the search and bulk methods to identify particularly rich discussions or examples that you would then do more in depth analysis on. That said, I could see a case for taking a lot of different analytic approaches in a context like this depending on exactly what kind of data you ended up getting.

    In short, this is a really interesting idea and I think it could be the basis for a great print project.

    Best, Trevor

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