President's Letter for March 2013: STEM Subjects Are Not the Only Essential Ones

There has been a lot of talk in the US recently about the importance of encouraging the study of the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  In the UK, the civil service has long been advocating such an emphasis on STEM, although it is revealing that in the US people still tend to focus on whether this or that education is a good “investment” for the individual, whereas in Britain the government agencies are more concerned with which education is best for society as a whole (on “investment” as the wrong metaphor in the first place, see Bob Connor’s recent post).

In response to this new wave of pressure, there have been a number of excellent defenses of the value of studying non-STEM subjects, and I do not want to rehearse that case here; let me just refer you to the fine column in the Washington Post by Danielle Allen, for example, and to the new AHA website I recently recommended on making the case for the value of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  But I just want to comment on the background of the lawmakers who are the most recent ones to advocate strongly for specific practical steps to foster STEM.

The Economist recently had a leader on US immigration reform, in which they applauded in particular an initiative from a bipartisan group of eight Senators which would allow foreign nationals who go to US universities to remain in the country after graduation: “They would…give an automatic green card to anyone gaining a master’s degree or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or maths from an American university” (February 2nd, 2013, p.10).

This is a very controversial proposal in various ways, as is a similar proposal to give six-year visas to up to 300,000 foreign high-tech workers a year (see the New York TimesOp Ed piece on this subject last month by Ross Eisenbrey).  But it’s interesting that no one appears to be advocating giving an automatic green card to anyone gaining an advanced degree in the humanities or social sciences, although even at a crassly utilitarian level it might look like a good idea to increase the number of US residents who, for example, have an intimate knowledge of other languages and cultures.  I’m not necessarily arguing for such a green card policy myself, but the assumption that it is self-evidently “useful” to foster certain subjects and not others is worth pushing back against before it becomes completely automatic.

If you look at the educational background of the eight Senators, it’s even more interesting that they appear not to see value in retaining as a member of US society someone with a degree in humanities or social sciences.  Only one of the group (Lindsey Graham, R-SC) has an undergraduate major in a science subject (Psychology).  The others have undergraduate degrees in History (Michael Bennet, D-CO); International Relations (Dick Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL); Political Science (Bob Menendez, D-NJ); and Government (Chuck Schumer, D-NY).  John McCain (R-AZ) attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and so wasn’t in the business of choosing majors, but he preferred literary and historical subjects, reporting in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers: “Unfortunately, the curriculum at the Academy was weighted preponderantly toward math and the sciences” (p.134).

In their choices of major, these Senators are fairly representative of their colleagues in Congress.  In the 112th Congress, apart from the 26 Members of the House and the single Senator who had no more than a high school diploma, government and the humanities accounted for 55.7% of the undergraduate majors; 13.7% had degrees in Business and Accounting, with 8.4% in Economics.  24 members had a medical degree.  Only 11.5% of the members of the 112th Congress had an undergraduate major in Science and Technology (for these figures, see Mark J. Perry’s post).

I can’t help wondering if Messrs. Bennet, Durbin, Flake, Menendez, Rubio and Schumer actually believe that the subjects they majored in are useless and that their undergraduate education did not provide them with skills and perspectives that the country has benefitted from. 

Let me be clear: I am enthusiastically in favor of the study of STEM subjects, not least because I believe that science and mathematics are a vital part of a liberal arts education.  I’d be very happy to see more highly trained scientists and engineers in government (it may seem redundant to state this, but one can be easily misunderstood in these debates).  But the value of a general education in the liberal arts, including science, mathematics, the humanities and social sciences, is something we must keep affirming in the face of the consensus one can sense developing. 

I would like to imagine the day when a President gives a State of the Union address to Congress in which he or she quotes the wisdom of George Washington in the first ever State of the Union address, on January 8, 1790: “Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”  Even if we update the spelling and take away the Gothic “k” from “publick”, it is hard to imagine a President today writing those words, with their firm understanding of the value of the whole domain of knowledge.

Denis Feeney
President

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August, 2020

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Eleni Hasaki (University of Arizona) and Diane Harris Cline (George Washington University) - "Social Networks of Athenian Potters: Networks, Tradition and Innovation in Communities of Artists"
  • Rega Wood (Indiana University, Bloomington) - "Richard Rufus Project"
  • Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus College) - "Digital Ancient Rome"
  • Noah Heringman (University of Missouri, Columbia) - "Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition"
  • Alexander Jones (New York University) - "The ANcient Sciences in Cross-Cultural Perspective"
  • Rachel Kousser (CUNY Research Foundation, Graduate School and University Center) - "The Last Years of Alexander the Great (330-323 BCE)"
  • Michael Satlow (Brown University) - "Seeking the Gods: The Spiritual Landscape of Late Antiquity"
  • Pramit Chaudhuri (University of Texas, Austin) - "Computational Tools for Diachronic and Cross-cultural Study of Literature: Multilingual Stylometry and Phylogenetic Profiling"
  • Jessica Powers (San Antonio Museum of Art) - "Art, Nature, and Myth in Ancient Rome"

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View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:57am by Erik Shell.

American Philosophical Society, RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Information and application instructions for all of the Society's programs can be accessed at our website, http://www.amphilsoc.org. Click on the "Grants" tab at the top of the homepage.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am by Erik Shell.

Preliminary CfP: Edited Volume on “Cicero in Greece, Greece in Cicero”

Submissions are invited for an edited volume on “Cicero in Greece, 
Greece in Cicero”.

In 2021 it will be 2100 years since Cicero’s trip to Greece in 79 BCE, 
which was a significant factor in moulding him as an orator, 
philosopher and politician. This provides the opportunity to put 
together new and unpublished material on Cicero’s presence in Greece 
literally, namely for the years he spent in nowadays Modern Greek 
territory, including his aforementioned travel in 79/78 BCE and the 
period of his exile in 58/57 BCE, and metaphorically, that is the 
reception of Cicero in Late Roman, Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Early 
Modern, and Modern Greece through translations, studies, imitations, 
etc. It is also an opportunity to approach from a new point of view 
the presence of Greece in Cicero, namely how the Greek world, people, 
language, civilisation, history, philosophy, politics and political 
theory, religion, geography, etc. appear in his work.

Abstracts for proposed submissions are invited on any of the 
aforementioned topics. Diverse, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary 
and other approaches to the material are welcome and encouraged. Early 
career researchers are also encouraged to apply.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:46am by Erik Shell.

Call for Participants
Veteran Politics and Memory: A Global Perspective

Department of History, University of Warwick
16th and 17th April 2021

From the fields of Gettysburg to the beaches of Normandy, the participation and presence of former soldiers has been an integral part of the memorial culture of many conflicts. As survivors of war, veterans are often portrayed a group imbued with a unique knowledge whose experiences should not be forgotten. Yet while public commemorations have sought to establish consensus about the meaning of the past, veterans’ memories have also been a source of conflict and contestation, engaged in struggles over rights, recognition, and the authority to remember the past and speak for the future.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:35am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in classical scholarship. You can read the full award citations by clicking on the names of the winners below:

Paul J. Kosmin

Kelly Shannon-Henderson

Steven D. Smith

Paul J. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, 2018)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 12:02pm by Helen Cullyer.

Unattainable wishes for the present or past may be entirely reasonable.

– Smyth’s Greek Grammar, “Wishes” §2156.5

Picture the heroine in the sand, wind-lashed and desperate, cursing the hero who left her behind. She’s Medea, she’s Ariadne, she’s Dido. Each of the three make a similar wish:

 

If only that ship had never reached my shores

If only that ship had never sailed

If only that ship had never even been built.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/07/2020 - 10:40am by Hilary Lehmann.

Call for Application and Nominations for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

The current TAPA Editor Andromache Karanika will end her term of service with volume 151 (2021). Therefore, we are now opening a search for the next TAPA Editor, to cover volumes 152-155 (2022-2025), and inviting applications and nominations for the position.

TAPA is the only journal published by the Society for Classical Studies. Though founded as a philological journal, TAPA is now expected to reflect a broad spectrum of topics, sub-fields, and theoretical and methodological approaches within Greek and Roman Studies.

Qualifications:

The Editor must be a member in good standing of the SCS.

Candidates should have some experience and understanding of the journal publication process, but prior journal editing experience is not necessary.

Responsibilities:

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 12:00pm by Erik Shell.

The Classics program at Austin Peay State University is pleased to invite submissions for the fifth volume of Philomathes: An Online Journal of Undergraduate Research in Classics.  This refereed on-line journal publishes original research projects carried out by undergraduate students in any area of Classics.  Submissions are welcome from current undergraduates and those who have recently completed their undergraduate education (within one year of graduation).  The deadline for submissions for the next issue is Monday, November 16, 2020 with an online publication date scheduled for May 2020. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 7:48am by Erik Shell.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways.

How can we continue to encourage engagement with the ancient world as many transition to an online existence? Three Classics Everywhere projects have found creative and innovative ways to continue their work through the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has produced: a feminist adaptation of the Odyssey in the form of a chamber opera; an after-school Latin program in New York City’s Morningside Heights; and the launch of a new site and social media campaign aimed to inspire passion for ancient studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/31/2020 - 4:07pm by .

America and the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception

September 11, 2020, 11 am to 5:30 pm EST

 

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 08/20/2020 - 5:19pm by Erik Shell.

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