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My Mistake: Twenty-Five Years a Captive

Mary Ann Eaverly

University of Florida

Having taught for more than thirty years, I have made my share of mistakes, but the one that I would like to highlight is a larger philosophical error, namely, a too narrow definition of my subject area, which limited my course offerings and the range of students with whom I could share Classics. Hired as the first Classical Archaeologist in a department that focused primarily on philology, I set about implementing a series of courses that replicated my own training by crafting very focused classes—Greek Vase-Painting,  Topography and Monuments of Athens, Etruscan Archaeology, Archaeology of Classical Athens.   

Unbelievably—to the eyes of a new teacher – many students were interested in my field but did not plan to pursue it as a career. Fortunately, after some years of this narrowed focus, and shortly after a student praised my course with “I really enjoyed your class, it was a refreshing change from my important subjects,” I was able to free myself from my Classical parochialism.

Because I had taught mythology, an English Department colleague asked if I would guest lecture on the mythological references in a modernist poem. What surprised me was that along with mythological references the poem specifically used archaeology (Karnak, Pompeii) to express the poet’s despair about WW II. This broadening of my focus led to the creation of a team-taught course—on women writers and mythology. This collaboration also enhanced my scholarship resulting in several co-authored papers.  

Emboldened by my new freedom, I began to collaborate with our Materials Science Engineering Department. I worked with colleagues from English, Anthropology, Sociology, and History to design a course on the relationship between a society and the materials it uses. Our mandate was to help the engineers realize the broader implications of the work they do by enlisting humanities perspectives. For example, my unit on Roman concrete raised the issue of what societal needs drove development of this material in antiquity, and asked students to examine what forces shape its use today.  Integrative critical thinking was our goal.  Not a concept new in Classics — this idea goes back to the ancient idea of the trivium — but now just as important for scientists.  

By creating courses that highlight the importance of studying the ancient world while providing the foundational material that Classics majors need, I now reach students whose science path made them feel that Classics didn’t have any significance to them. At the same time, by broadening my focus, I have enriched the core archaeology classes which I continue to teach.  

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On Being Calmly Wrong: Learning from Teaching Mistakes

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