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Strengthening a Classics Department with Ancient History

Dennis P. Kehoe

In this paper, I will discuss how a Classical Studies department can use an array of offerings in ancient history as a means of boosting enrollments and maintaining a central place in the undergraduate curriculum. My observations will be based on my own long experience in Classical Studies department in a selective private university. Over time, we have been able to increase the number of faculty with research and teaching interests in ancient history, and this has allowed us to increase and diversify our offerings in this area. My department’s focus in ancient history does have some costs, since the time that our faculty devote to ancient history and ancient material culture necessarily subtracts to what we can devote to language training. Consequently, most of our departmental majors follow a Classical Studies tract, which does not require language, and we have a much smaller number of Latin and Greek majors. This situation has not compromised our ability to prepare students for graduate school in classical philology, but it does pose challenges for preparing students for graduate work in ancient history.

At my university, we have long been in the fortunate position of being able to offer a wide array of courses in ancient history. When I was first appointed, my department required a three-course sequence in Greek and Roman history as part of our major, which were shared between my department and a colleague in the History department, who teaches both Greek and Roman History. My job was originally to teach courses in the Roman history part of this sequence, as well as courses in Latin. In recent years, our Classical Studies department has added two additional tenure-track faculty members with research and teaching in Classical and Hellenistic Greek history. We have always had faculty members in Greek and Roman archaeology, and, in addition, over the past several years, visiting faculty with interests in material culture and in ancient religion. The result is that, every semester, we are able to offer courses in various levels in both Greek and Roman history, and our faculty are able to teach fairly specialized classes. Certainly some of us have become very adept at presenting what could be viewed as specialized topics to a broad undergraduate audience. For example, during the present semester (spring 2013), we are offering Roman history courses on the Roman Republic, law and society in the Roman world, cities and urban life in the Roman world, and philosophy and religion in Late Antiquity (an honors seminar), Greek history courses on temples and festivals, Alexander the Great, and Greek warfare, as well as courses on Roman art and archaeology, Pompeii, and the Greek Dark Ages. Our colleague in the History department is offering a seminar on Roman imperialism and a survey on Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Each semester, we seek to combine courses at the introductory level with more advanced seminars.

Our ability to offer so many courses in ancient history places us in a very fortunate situation, but is also presents challenges. One challenge is that most of the students we teach are not our majors; many students choose our courses to fulfill general education requirements. Consequently, it is difficult for us to assume knowledge in more advanced courses, or to sequence courses to provide a more rigorous major in Classical Studies. At the same time, we face the challenge of balancing the courses our best students take in Classical Studies with traditional language courses, which they need if they are considering graduate work in Ancient History. However, we have been able to offer upper-level ancient history courses that depart from traditional political narratives to explore issues in Greek and Roman society and economy. These courses allow us to introduce our students to some of the central debates in the field of ancient history, and they enrich our offerings. 

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History in Classics / Classics in History

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