Skip to main content
‘Tuning the Classics’: Understanding the Undergraduate Curriculum
By Lisl Walsh

Over the past year, a team of faculty from twelve institutions in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest consortium, led by Clara Shaw Hardy at Carleton, have been working to “tune” undergraduate learning goals and outcomes of the discipline of Classics. Inspired by what was accomplished within the discipline of History, the “Classics Tuning Project” participants believe that a shared language that communicates to a variety of audiences what it is we teach and study, as well as what students can expect to learn at the undergraduate level, will benefit the discipline as a whole and can help strengthen the validity of Classics in the face of academic and non-academic misunderstandings about the utility of the humanities, the study of history, and foreign-language learning.

Having now accomplished the first goals of the project, we are ready to share some results and invite other interested individuals/institutions to help expand our coverage and move into a second phase of the project.

First-Stage Goals and Outcomes

In the initial phase of this project, funded generously by the ACM, we (1) met with ACM faculty to define the “Core Competencies” of an undergraduate Classics curriculum; (2) developed and sent out an alumni survey that assesses our success in teaching those competencies; (3) developed an online “repository” of classroom activities, syllabi, marketing materials, outreach activities, advising and career guides, all of which relate (either explicitly or implicitly) to the “core competencies” of the discipline; and (4) presented our initial results at the 2018 AIA/SCS, CAMWS, and Wisconsin Classics Day.

Here is a brief summary of our results:

  • Core Competencies: We defined 4 “Core Competencies” for an undergraduate Classics curriculum — 
  1. “Knowledge and Evidence,” including a critical awareness of chronology and types of sources available for the study of antiquity, as well as “close reading” skills and knowledge of grammar and syntax.
  2. “Interdisciplinarity,” including the abilities to use responsibly multiple disciplinary and extra-disciplinary approaches and multiple types of evidence for problem-solving, to recognize and generate patterns in evidence, and to think about the particular in terms of the general and vice-versa.
  3. “Past and Present,” which encompasses an ability to see the historicity, nuance, and creativity of Classical reception in different times and places, as well as the historicity of the present moment as part of the creation of potential futures.
  4. “Intercultural Literacy,” which includes a sense of the variety of human experiences, value systems, and ways of organizing a society, and abilities to empathize and negotiate with other perspectives and value systems, to imagine alternate choices and norms, and to understand the complexity of consensus-building and argument across different identities and experiences.
  • Alumni Survey: We designed a survey that collects demographic data (including occupation status and sector) and asked the extent to which respondents feel they learned the various aspects of the above competencies in their Classics curricula and the extent to which they felt the skills transferred to their careers and lives generally. We sent the survey out to 1733 alumni of ACM institutions who had majored in Classics or a related field, and we received 615 responses (response rate: 35%), with graduation years ranging from the 1950s to 2017. Part of the benefit of this survey is its range over a number of institutions: while each of us may have small numbers (and thus be less able to support a claim about the value of a Classics education), our combined data allows us to make a far stronger argument to administrators and in public-facing venues. Another benefit is that we can use our data to track various competencies according to their perceived usefulness in various occupational sectors. For example, alumni working in diverse fields (such as law, non-profit, medicine, and computer science) all found their Classics experience highly relevant to their current careers: specifically, they credited their Classics study for helping them make nuanced arguments from fragmentary evidence, answer questions by using multiple methods, and revise their own thinking in light of new evidence presented. We believe our data will be a useful augment to the Paideia Institute’s Legion Project and the UK’s “Classics after the Classroom.”
  • Online Repository: From participants in the August 2017 meeting, we currently have over a hundred items comprised of syllabi, course assignments, major/career advising resources, outreach activities, film suggestions, etc. We are currently working on coding each of the items to correlate them with the applicable competency (sub-)group(s), for easier navigability, and on finding a hosting platform so that they can be made available to Classics faculty outside the ACM schools. We hope that this resource will help teachers to articulate for students more explicitly the skills they are developing in their readings and activities, and that programs can avoid having to “reinvent the wheel” in implementing outreach programs, curricular alterations, and/or assessment plans.

Next Steps, and How You Can Help

Right now, we want to know whether you are interested in joining the next phase of our project and/or having your institution “kept in the loop” on our progress. In the next phase of the project, we will be encouraging other institutions to survey their own alumni, investigating how our “Core Competencies” do or do not align with what other institutions are doing in their curricula (and undertaking any consequent revisions), and helping other institutions contribute their own resources to the repository. We are also working on a more in-depth publication that presents the “Core Competencies” and examines our alumni survey results. We are planning to make the Tuning Project an AIA/SCS-wide initiative, and by doing so, we hope that our discipline as a whole can create a “united front” for the advocacy of its continued value in the education of future generations.

So, if you are interested, please click here to submit a quick Google form, or send an email with your name, contact information, and institutional affiliation (if applicable) to

More July 2018 Newsletter Content

Read the Placement Service Report for academic year 2017-2018.

Check out SCS President Joe Farrell's letter about choosing annual meeting locations and dates.

Cynthia Bannon, Chair for Career Planning and Development Committee, describes some of the changes to the Placement Service guidelines.

Car Engine