Lindsay Samson and Holly Spyniewski
In the case of Latin textbooks, the Roman adage holds true: Roma caput mundi. The primacy of Rome in Latin instruction runs parallel to the political, social, and historical focus of most introductory textbooks. Some people believe that this focus best prepares our students for the texts that they are likely to read in the intermediate and advanced Latin courses--those written by aristocratic men whose perspectives on and experiences of the Roman world are narrowed by their social privilege. This limited view on Roman society, however, correspondingly limits the cultural relevance of Latin to today’s diverse student body.
This paper explores what can be gained by expanding the geographical, social, and temporal range of Latin instruction. We will discuss the design of Rome and Beyond: A Latin Curriculum, a new online, self-published textbook centered in Roman North Africa, and our experiences teaching it on three college campuses in the South.
Considering that Latin textbooks often privilege the male, elite perspective on Roman society, we designed our text around several foundational principles:
- Bring perspectives of women, non-citizens, and people not a part of the aristocracy to the forefront, creating a fuller picture of the ancient world.
- Show the wide range of people who were enslaved by, colonized by, or elevated by the Roman government.
- Illustrate the impact of nationalistic texts like the Aeneid on Roman education without promoting the text itself. We decided not to ignore these texts completely, but instead we selected portions that depict women or non-Romans in a heroic light.
- Present texts outside the canon beside selections from the canon, equalizing their cultural value and importance for understanding the Roman world.
Even in the first year of using this text, we have seen that students are more engaged with a more diverse Roman world presented in our textbook’s original narrative about a young girl in Carthage, and in the adapted selections from Latin authors. In addition to being more comfortable with Latin syntax, students are also asking more probing questions about ethnicity, power dynamics, and race in antiquity. Their curiosity and enthusiasm, encouraged by the textbook’s content, inspire consistent discussions of these topics from week to week. Whereas other texts will include a lesson on slavery or women or race, Rome and Beyond works to raise these topics organically throughout the text (Byron, 117). When paired with assignments or activities that include reflection on what they are learning, these Latin readings encourage students to challenge their own preconceptions about the ancient world, “reframing their assumptions into more complex frames of reference” (Magolda and King, 2008).
A different cultural focus in Latin instruction can build a bridge between our students and antiquity, particularly from students of diverse backgrounds. Demonstrating the broad relevance, both utility and relatedness, of Latin and Roman culture is paramount for attracting and retaining students (Frymier and Schulman, 1995). When students find content relevant—that is interesting, of value to their experience, and worth knowing—they will pursue it despite its difficulty.
Race Classics and the Latin Classroom