The 2022 CLT Author Bank!
By Angel Adams Parham
Introduction to the Author Bank
“The best which has been thought and said” is the pithy little phrase with which the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold defined an ideal education. Teaching students “practical” topics that ultimately lead back merely to the workplace, instead of offering them the heritage of humanity as their birthright and means of enrichment—this is not what he had in mind. A generation later, the great American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois took a similar stand: “I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, but to make carpenters men.”
The Classic Learning Test is based upon exactly the same foundation of the meaning and purpose of education. CLT’s Author Bank is, accordingly, one of the defining elements of its curriculum. Serving as the source for two-thirds of our testing passages and an informal reading list, it is, in substance, the CLT version of the “Western canon.”
The Author Bank therefore calls for diligent curation and periodic revision. Last summer, with the assistance of a handpicked panel of scholars from its Board of Academic Advisors as well as selected leaders from K-12 classical schools, the CLT undertook the project of re-examining and improving the Author Bank; that work is now complete. We are proud to announce the release of the 2022 edition of the CLT Author Bank!
The Case for the Author Bank
Any curriculum must choose some specific body of work to promote, because there simply isn’t time to read everything. As mentioned, the Author Bank is CLT’s “take” on what’s generally called the Western canon—that corpus of literature and learning produced by, and representing, the intellectual achievements of the West. (“The West” is a complicated term, but for our purposes, it means societies that have been active in an inter-connected conversation over nearly three millennia which includes writers from Europe, the Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Near East, and many parts of the Americas.)
An explicit concentration on the Western canon worries or even offends some people today. Movements like #DisruptTexts argue that it downplays or even ignores the warts of Western history—even that it fosters racism, imperialism, and other injustices. It is important to acknowledge that this history of inequality and injustice is real and that there are people today who use the idea of the canon and the classics to exclude others.
But writers within the canon energetically address these abuses–it’s just a matter of drawing out those voices which have already been part of the conversation. Who better to break down and expose the absurd evils of racism than the golden-tongued student of Cicero, Frederick Douglass? Would we willingly part with Dr. King’s powerful arguments from Aquinas and Augustine, showing that “an unjust law is no law at all” and that the spiritual dignity of the person is greater than the temporal dignity of the state? These writers help us to understand both the strengths and the flaws of the West, and we urgently need to understand these things if we want to live intelligent, upright, fulfilling lives in the society where we find ourselves. To take up a phrase of Chesterton’s, while it is folly to fiddle while Rome burns, there can be no serious-minded objection to studying hydraulics while Rome burns.
Why a New Edition of the Author Bank?
There are different versions of the canon. One of the most widely known is the aptly-titled Great Books of the Western World series from the University of Chicago, in which the late Mortimer Adler played such a prominent role, and the undergraduate curriculum of St. John’s College also has a claim. CLT has drawn on these materials from the beginning in designing its Author Bank. However, every list has room for improvement, and even the best will see some change over time: a version of the canon published two hundred years ago, though similar in principles and even in many of its names, would of course have no opportunity to consider Albert Einstein or Flannery O’Connor. Moreover, college-level sets like the aforementioned aren’t necessarily suited to an exam for high school students. We therefore approached the revision of the Author Bank with both a deep respect for what we already had, and a desire to make it both richer and more suitable in its resources of wisdom, knowledge, and beauty.
The previous form of the Bank occasionally drew critiques for the relatively small number of women and racial minorities who were present on it. Some classical educators dismiss all such critiques as wanting representation for the sake of mere political correctness. As with people twisting the canon to suit a bigoted agenda, there is no doubt that such tokenizing representation does happen; yet it is also true that differences in sex, race, religion, class, and so on produce varied experiences and perspectives on the world. Part of training in wisdom is being steeped in minds whose qualities are quite different from our own, which allows us a far richer taste of what it means to be human. So we decided to take those critiques seriously, and we did feel that it would be worth our while to look for female authors and authors of color whom CLT had, in previous editions, overlooked.
We were also concerned with period balance. While the Author Bank had a thorough selection of excellent authors from the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, our list of ancient sources was on the shorter side, and its selection of medieval authors was downright poor. We therefore sought to identify writers (and, in some cases, particular anonymous works) whose value and influence we had not previously done justice.
After several consultation sessions with the panelists from the Board, and a round of review with representatives from CLT secondary school partners, we decided on the following additions to the Author Bank. We’re extremely pleased to present this list of great men and women to CLT supporters and the whole academic world. Below are the authors who have been added to this edition of the Bank.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh (18th c. BC)
- Hesiod (8th c. BC)
- Terence (195-159 BC)
- Livy (59 BC–AD 17)
- Seneca the Younger (4 BC–AD 55)
- Josephus (37-100)
- Origen (184-253)
- St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395)
- St. Jerome (342-420)
- St. Benedict (480-547)
- Procopius (500-570)
- St. Gregory the Great (540-604)
- St. Bede the Venerable (673-735)
- The Thousand and One Nights (10th c.)
- Peter Abælard (1079-1142)
- St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
- Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141)
- St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
- Héloïse d’Argenteuil (1100-1164)
- Marie de France (1160-1215)
- The Nibelungenlied (c. 1200)
- Magna Carta (1215)
- The Saga of Erik the Red (13th c.)
- Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
- John Wycliffe (1328-1384)
- Julian of Norwich (1343-1420)
- Christine de Pizan (1364-1430)
- The Pearl Poet (14th c.)
- Thomas Malory (1415-1471)
- Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566)
- John Donne (1572-1631)
- Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)
- Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
- Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755)
- Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)
- Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863 & 1786-1859)
- Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
- Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
- Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964)
- Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
- Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
- John Maynard Keynes (1882-1946)
- Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
- Langston Hughes (1901-1967)
- Albert Camus (1913-1960)
- Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
Special thanks are due to the panelists from CLT’s Board of Academic Advisors: Jennifer Frey, Douglas Henry, Thomas Hibbs, Alexandra Hudson, Ben Merkle, Christopher Perrin, Anika Prather, and Jessica Hooten Wilson. Their erudition, hard work, and enthusiasm for classic learning shaped this edition of the Author Bank. I’d also like to highlight the contributions of those CLT employees who devoted their efforts to this project, namely the company founder Jeremy Tate, Stephanie Beattie, Gabriel Blanchard, Rachel Greb, and Noah Tyler.
Dr. Angel Adams Parham serves as president of the Board of Academic Advisors for the Classic Learning Test. She is Associate Professor of Sociology and senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out our ongoing series profiling the writers and books of the Author Bank (updated every Monday), and our series on “the Great Conversation,” the history of ideas in the Western world (updated on Thursdays). Thank you for supporting the Classic Learning Test!
Published on 19th May, 2022. Page image of the Abbey Library of St. Gall (source), a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site; the collection is one of the oldest libraries in the world, dating originally to 937, and is located in Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, formerly a Carolingian-era Benedictine monastery.