A required literary-theory class for Classics graduate students was introduced at my institution in the late 1980s, as a proseminar alternating every other year with the required proseminar in textual criticism. Initially, the course encountered some resistance from some students, but for at least the last twenty years, students seem grateful and eager to have such an introductory theory course.
The general framing or position of the course is that we are not requiring students to become theorists in general, or theorists of any particular stripe. We are simply exposing them to another “language of scholarship”—just as we require of them that they learn German, French, and Italian to be able to read scholarship in those languages, the theory proseminar is intended as a basic introduction to the common discourse of scholars throughout the Humanities and many of the Social Sciences. In order to be able to converse intelligently with colleagues from other disciplines and read and benefit from their work, Classics students require a foundation in structuralist and post-structuralist theoretical approaches. This is especially true because very few Classics undergraduates have much exposure to theory—or even if they do, it is rarely taught to them systematically as a coherent intellectual tradition unto itself.
In our experience, the theory proseminar has become more and more for our students just the first step in a more in-depth and rigorous course of study in different theoretical approaches, as they go off and take other more advanced and specialized theory courses (mainly outside the Classics Department), and learn to make full and effective use of theory for their seminar papers and dissertation projects.
So how do we get beginning graduate students “from zero to 60” (or at least to 30) in a one-semester theory proseminar? The course is taught regularly by several different faculty who have different approaches, and even different notions of the subject matter to be covered in the course (along a spectrum from literary theory narrowly defined to more of a cultural studies approach). This talk will consider the content, structure, pacing, and pedagogical strategies of such a course, including sample syllabi and different writing and in-class projects. In particular, I will consider how such a course can be effectively integrated with the students’ other Classics coursework, and how students can be motivated to regard the theory proseminar as just the first step in their ongoing education in theory.