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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(Submitted by Mark Possanza)

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Wed, 02/19/2020 - 8:56am by Erik Shell.
Bellum ex altera parte: Social Status, Gender and Ethnicity in Ancient Warfare
(21st UNISA Classics Colloquium)
 
We are pleased to announce our first call for papers, inviting abstracts for the annual Unisa Classics Colloquium, to be held in Pretoria from 15 to 18 October 2020.
 
Ancient artists and writers focused heavily on the role of elite male citizens in their representations of warfare in the ancient world, and this was for the most part also the focus of scholarship on warfare up to the mid-20th century.  But an interest in ideologically excluded groups, often called the ‘other’ or the ‘subaltern’ in scholarship, gained ground in the second half of the 20th century, and in the last decade or two the subject of war itself is now being examined for information on groups that were not at the top of the social hierarchy (although from the 8th century BC to the 5th century CE the composition of these groups was certainly subject to fluctuation). Our theme this year therefore focuses on those who populated these categories within the context of warfare in the ancient world.
 
View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 02/19/2020 - 8:54am by Erik Shell.

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML)

Saint John’s University
Collegeville, Minnesota  56321

Heckman Stipends, made possible by the A.A. Heckman Endowed Fund, are awarded semi-annually. Up to 10 stipends in amounts up to $2,000 are available each year. Funds may be applied toward travel to and from Collegeville, housing and meals at Saint John’s University, and costs related to duplication of HMML’s microfilm or digital resources (up to $250). The Stipend may be supplemented by other sources of funding but may not be held simultaneously with another HMML Stipend or Fellowship. Holders of the Stipend must wait at least two years before applying again.

The program is specifically intended to help scholars who have not yet established themselves professionally and whose research cannot progress satisfactorily without consulting materials to be found in the collections of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.

Applications:
Applications must be submitted by March 15 for residencies between July and December of the same year, or by October 15 for residencies between January and June of the following year.

Applicants are asked to provide:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 02/19/2020 - 8:51am by Erik Shell.

Call for Abstracts: The 2020 meeting of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies in Athens, Greece (June 10-14, 2020), held in conjunction with the American College of Greece.

The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies (ISNS) invites submissions of abstracts for the 2020 meeting in Athens, Greece (June 10-14, 2020).This year’s panels embrace a wide range of themes and topics in the Platonic tradition, spanning from antiquity to the modern period.

People may present in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, or Greek. Speakers presenting in a language other than English are encouraged to give printed copies of their papers.

All abstracts are due by February 24, 2020. Please submit abstracts (a maximum of one page) directly to the panel organizers’ emails, as listed on the official call for abstracts: https://www.isns.us/2020PanelsforAthensConference.pdf. Those presenting must be ISNS members before the meeting.

The ISNS also will be offering travel grants for students and early career scholars to attend this year’s meeting. More information about these awards can be found here: https://preview.tinyurl.com/ISNSTravelGrant.

For more information please visit the ISNS website: https://www.isns.us/.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 02/18/2020 - 11:23am by Erik Shell.

Judith Peller Hallett is Professor of Classics and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Emerita at the University of Maryland, College Park. Judy was born in Chicago, grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and earned her B.A. in Latin from Wellesley College in 1966. She received her M.A. in 1967 and her Ph.D. in Classical Philology in 1971, both from Harvard University. Her research focuses on women, the family, and sexuality in ancient Greece and Rome, particularly in Latin literature. She is also an expert on Classical education and reception in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her publications include Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family (1984) and a special edition of the journal The Classical World, entitled “Six North American Women Classicists,” with William M. Calder III (1996-1997). A lifelong feminist, she has edited or contributed to numerous collections that focus on women in the ancient world and in the discipline of Classics, such as Roman Sexualities (1997), the Blackwell Companion to Women in the Ancient World (2012), and Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly (2016).

CC: How did you come to Classics?

View full article. | Posted in on Tue, 02/18/2020 - 6:10am by Claire Catenaccio.

Greek vases, with their distinctive red and black, are one of the most recognizable faces of ancient Greece. Their decorative scenes of deities, myth, and everyday life offer a beautiful and informative window into classical culture. With the Panoply Vase Animation Project we’re encouraging people to enjoy and learn about ancient vases and society by placing the artifacts center-stage in short, lively animations made from the vase-scenes themselves. The animations keep as close as possible to the original artwork, using the existing figures and decoration and drawing on existing iconography. But the figures can now move, and the animations explore the possibilities within the vase scenes: runners can sprint past, dice are thrown, and those poised to strike can use their weapons. The tone of the animations varies. The Cheat is a light-hearted romp; Hoplites! Greeks at War will send shivers down your spine.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 02/14/2020 - 6:06am by .

The Classical Association of the Atlantic States
Call for Papers: 2020 Annual Meeting, October 8-10, 2020

Hotel DuPont, Wilmington, DE

We invite individual and group proposals on all aspects of the classical world and classical reception, and on new strategies and resources for improved teaching.  Especially welcome are presentations that aim at maximum audience participation and integrate the concerns of K-12 and college faculty, that consider ways of communicating about ancient Greece and Rome beyond our discipline and profession, and that reflect on the past, present, and future of classical studies in the CAAS region.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 02/13/2020 - 8:44am by Erik Shell.

Hybrid Epicenters: Peripheral Adaptation in Flavian Literature

With a response by Antony Augoustakis

Adaptation and change in Imperial Rome tend to aggregate on the margins and at the edges of things, in extremis as it were. In Flavian literature, various dynamic changes have been observed, in the textual space as well as in the socio-political background under which this literature is being produced. One example is the sudden transition between books 11 and 12 in Statius’ Thebaid wherein the fraternas acies of the first 11 books gives way to (attempted) reconciliation. Or from a geographical stance, one example is Scipio Africanus’ rapid rise to power as he pushes Rome’s military might to her future imperial edges in Spain and North Africa in books 16 and 17 of the Punica; from a sociocultural angle, the complex dynamics in the Silvae between Campania and Rome causes difficulties in recognizing which location is central and which peripheral in Statius’ conceptualization of the geography of Roman power in Italy.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 02/11/2020 - 2:13pm by Erik Shell.

The following was approved by the SCS board of directors on February 7, 2020.

The Society for Classical Studies joins the Society of Architectural Historians in opposing the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  As students and scholars of the ancient Greco-Roman world and its ongoing cultural impact, we recognize that classical antiquity provided some of the many traditions that have shaped this nation, and we appreciate the examples of neo-classical architecture, both public and private, to be found throughout the United States.  But we firmly believe that the architectural style of public buildings should not be dictated in advance, but rather freely and deliberately chosen in view of all relevant considerations, and we reject the supposition that a style derived from classical models is necessarily better suited than any other to express the history, values, and aspirations of the American people.

Please see the letter below from the Society of Architectural Historians and a number of other scholarly societies, including SCS.

February 10, 2020

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Opposition to proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

Dear Mr. President,

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 02/10/2020 - 11:49am by Helen Cullyer.

The deadline to apply for Classics Everywhere is February 14, 2020.

Applications can be submitted through the above link by filling out the application form linked half way down the page.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 02/10/2020 - 8:29am by Erik Shell.

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