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February 12, 2014

In my post last month I referred to the crucial role that study abroad played in my formation as a classicist, and the papers delivered at a panel on study-abroad programs at this year’s annual meeting showed that I am not alone. Those papers (by McGinn, Severy-Hoven, Thakur, Morris, and Romano) spoke eloquently of the profound impact on students of exploring the remains of ancient Greece and Rome and their continuities with the present. It is easy to dismiss the American form of “junior year abroad” as lightweight, but if we allow ourselves a broad perspective on what constitutes worthwhile learning in the humanities—as I argued we should last month—it is clear that study abroad provides unparalleled opportunities for such education.

I’d like to use my post this month to make APA members aware of a relatively new series of summer programs for students of classics offered by The Paideia Institute, a not-for-profit organization founded by Classics Ph.D.s and devoted to providing opportunities for humanistic education through the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. Their programs, taught by Classicsists from well-regarded institutions and departments, include a five week summer program in Rome for undergraduates, a two week program in Rome for high school students, and a two week program in Greece for undergraduate and graduate students. I participated in the program in Greece last summer (I justified a trip to Greece to myself and my more than a little envious family by calling it “professional development”) and was utterly convinced of the value of Paideia’s innovative approach for students of Classics everywhere (but you don't have to take my word for it).

What makes Paideia’s programs in Italy and Greece unique, and worth knowing about and recommending to your students, is that they are focused primarily on the classical languages, and in particular, on the study of the classical languages in relation to the material remains of antiquity. The program in Rome features almost daily excursions through the city of Rome and its environs tied to ancient, medieval, and renaissance texts; in Greece last summer we read Homer’s Odyssey surrounded by the Ionian islands and, somewhere, Homer’s Ithaca itself. Many semester-long programs such as the Centro and College Year in Athens have language offerings, but there are not summer programs that focus on language, and although archaeological programs fill an important need, for there is a kind of learning about antiquity that can take place in an archaeological site that is hard to reproduce in the classroom, in fact the kind of learning that takes place when studying a language in classical lands is just as specific to that context, just as important for our students’ understanding of the languages at the core of how our discipline defines itself, and just as worthwhile for their development as human beings.

Like Paideia’s intellectual and pedagogical ancestor, Reginald Foster’s Aestiva Romae Latinitas (also here)—for many years the only summer experience for American students devoted primarily to the study of the Latin language in Rome (one can still study with the great man in his hometown of Milwaukee and I have it on good authority that he makes the Schlitz brewery as interesting as the Colosseum)—these programs bring students face to face with the interactions between the classical languages and ancient sites. Although Paideia calls them courses in “Living Latin” or “Living Greek,” it would be wrong to characterize them as programs in speaking classical languages. The Latin of “Living Latin in Rome” is “living” in that students do spend some time speaking Latin and listening to Latin being spoken, but they also learn how Latin “lives” in the inscriptions of the city, in the remains at sites mentioned by ancient writers, and in the Mediterranean landscape that informed the descriptions of the poets and historians. It is not just the experience of seeing the remains of antiquity that brings the language to “life,” it is the experience of seeing a language’s embeddedness in a place, in a history, and in particular in a history that extends beyond antiquity very much into the present.

It is this sense of place, of history, of continuity, and above all of participation in a tradition stretching back to antiquity, that is so hard, if not impossible, to convey in the new world, and so easy to convey in the old. In this context speaking in Latin or ancient Greek is not just a satisfyingly geeky hobby, or the most powerful way to practice and internalize grammar and syntax (though it is those things), it is a way of opening students’ minds to the possibility that there is more to Latin and Greek than what they see in their college and high school textbooks, that classical languages are a piece of world history that have left indelible marks on those places where they were spoken. Students return to their home institutions not only knowing Latin and Greek much better than they did, but understanding in a much deeper way why it is they study, and love, what they do.

For those of us who believe in the value of this experience but for whatever reason are unable to take our students to Italy or Greece ourselves, Paideia’s programs are worth a look (it is not too late to apply for Summer 2014). They also run a weeklong program around New Years on Medieval Latin in Paris, a two week summer workshop on Julius Caesar in Provence aimed at AP teachers, and a host of online and domestic programs and events relating to humanistic education through the classics. And if your institution or school has a critical mass of students whom you would like to take to Italy or Greece, Paideia can organize a trip over Spring Break, Maymester, or at the beginning of Summer customized to fit the particular needs and interests of your group (there are other such services but they are not usually operated by specialists in classics).

Summers in Greece and Italy aren’t just for the archaeologists anymore. Spread the word and watch your students’ knowledge and love of Greek and Latin blossom.


Curtis Dozier teaches Greek and Roman Studies at Vassar College. He is the producer and host of The Mirror of Antiquity podcast, and the director of Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics. (Photo Credit: ©Walter Garschagen/Vassar College).