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Reconnecting the Classics: The Vocation and the Vocations in the 21st Century

Christopher Blackwell

Furman University

Reconnecting the Classics: The Vocation and the Vocations in the 21st Century

This talk will present thoughts on reconnecting undergraduate Classics education with the realms of commerce and industry through a curriculum that puts modern information technology and computational approaches to philology at its center. This would not be the first time we will have radically rethought the discipline and our pedagogical approaches to it.

In 1903, Percy Gardner published Oxford at the Cross Roads: A criticism of the course ofLitterae Humaniores in the University. The occasion was a panic at the prospect of Oxford being invaded by Americans, thanks to the newly established Rhodes Scholarships. Gardener's focus was the systematic exclusion of art and archeology from the Oxford curriculum and the University's "exclusion of personal research and contact with fact, its discouragement of all advanced study." In 2019 it is possible to substitute "computational methods" for "art and archeology", to leave his comments on research unedited, and to read Gardener's monograph as a compelling contemporary statement of the state of undergraduate education in our discipline.

Speaking from the perspective of a faculty member in a small department at a private four-year liberal arts college, I will present an outline of an undergraduate Classics curriculum redesigned with an eye to serving our current students, inclusively, with an eye toward their success as future leaders in the information economy. Necessarily, this approach fails to align with a traditional Classics curriculum designed to prepare students for post-graduate, pre-professional study.

We start from these questions:

•What does Classics have to offer that the other Area Studies do not?

•How can give Latin or Greek students a meaningful experience in (only!) two semesters?

•How can we make Classics less risky and more obviously valuable to students from financially insecure backgrounds?

•How can we put some specifics behind the traditional (and traditionally ineffective) selling-points of the humanities: critical thinking, integrated thinking, etc.

My proposed answer is an aggressive embrace of technology, not merely in the form of pedagogical tools to supplement an essentially 19th century language pedagogy, but as a subject in itself, and a pervasive project in relating classical philology to real and specific problems in commerce and industry: data-science, cybersecurity, finance.

I expect this talk to be controversial, but I hope it will spark a discussion of our profession, our discipline, and our responsibility to our students.

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Reconnecting the Classics

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