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Boshell Foundation Virtual Lecture: Portrait of a Goth—In Conversation with Historian Douglas Boin

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Boin Side By Side

Photo by Nicole Griffing

Moody, haunting, and frighteningly un-classical—the idea of the Gothic evokes dark chapters in the history of art and culture. But how did these ideas take root? And above all, are they accurate? 

Lisa Çakmak, curator and chair of Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium, joins Chicago-born author and historian Douglas Boin for a talk about the origins of the Goths in the ancient Mediterranean—and for an important conversation about the need to include the art and stories of overlooked individuals and marginalized communities in our histories and museums. Few figures are more infamous than the man who sacked Rome in 410 CE, Alaric the Goth. Yet Roman artists, ever dismissive of foreigners, largely turned both Alaric and the Gothic people into caricatures of wild, uncivilized barbarians. 

Introducing audiences to the story of Alaric’s life, as well as highlighting pieces from the Art Institute’s collection, this evening’s conversation reconsiders this landmark, but largely misunderstood figure, and raises questions about who we exclude from our cultural spaces—and how to remedy it. 

About the Speaker

Raised just outside Chicago, in Park Ridge, Illinois, Boin grew up attending Jesuit Catholic schools, where his teachers cultivated his interest in storytelling, history, and religion. After college at Georgetown, he pursued graduate work at the University of Texas, specializing in the history of Rome. As associate professor of history at Saint Louis University, he writes about the people, cities, and beliefs of the Roman Empire and divides his time between St. Louis and Austin. He often speaks about classical history, his ongoing fieldwork in Italy, his love of Italian culture, and how growing up gay in a Catholic family has shaped his writing.

Boin’s research has been featured by NPR, the Atlantic, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, NBC news, the Boston Globe, and the Spanish newspaper El País. Two of his essays on the history of Rome were published by Time magazine—”What We Get Wrong about the Fall of Rome” and “An Ancient Roman Lesson in the Power of Welcoming Immigrants.“ His advocacy on behalf of cultural heritage was featured in the International New York Times. In 2017, he co-organized a panel at SXSW (South by Southwest) and he was nominated for a 2019 PROSE Award from the Association of American Publishers.

As a scholar, Boin’s work focuses on politics, society, and culture at the end of the Roman Empire. He has documented the restoration of temples during the divisive fourth century CE; shown that the legacy of Augustine and his mother, Monica, was not received as swiftly as faith history asserts; explained how the origins of the word “pagan” grew out of a contentious conversation between Christians about choices they faced after Constantine’s revolution; upended the conventional picture of Julian as Rome’s “last pagan emperor”; and used ancient statues to document everyday life in Italy in the fifth and sixth centuries CE. From 2010 to 2013, Boin taught in the Department of Classics at Georgetown University and was the team lead for the collaborative Living Late Antiquity project, which launched in 2017.

We recommend using a laptop or desktop computer, and downloading the latest version of Zoom to enjoy this program.

If you have any questions about virtual programming please reach out to museum-programs@artic.edu.

For questions related to accessibility accommodations, please email access@artic.edu

This lecture is generously sponsored by the Boshell Family Foundation.

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