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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April, 2021

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

  • James Given (Yale Divinity School) - "The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, between Forgery and Fiction"
  • Maddalena Rumor (Case Western Reserve University) - "Dreckapotheke' in Ancient Mesopotamia and the Graeco-Roman World"
  • Hallie Meredith (Washington State University) - "Fragmentary and Unfinished Art: Documenting Undocumented Late Roman Art and Process"
  • Jennifer Bryan (Oberlin College) - "Chaucer's Ovidian Arts: Poetic Influence and Innovation at the Beginning of English Literature"
  • Jacqueline Meier (University of North Florida) - "Animals of a Late Bronze Age Household at Mycenae, Greece"
  • Peter Meineck (Aquila Theatre Company, Inc.) - "Warrior Chorus: American Democracy"
  • Yelena Baraz (Society for Classical Studies) - "SCS/NEH Fellowship at the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae"
View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 04/21/2021 - 2:23pm by Erik Shell.
Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century AD. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When I came back to the classroom in 2016, after an interlude career as a mental health counselor, I noticed systemic problems in the field of Classics that I had previously normalized. At the pre-collegiate level, Classics is not only elitist, but also exclusive in a way that has made it a racialized space. Mock slave auctions, for example, were held as fundraisers under the Junior Classical League brand as late as 2019 and still have not been formally banned. Instructional materials present slavery with the same rhetoric as Lost Cause white supremacists. At the JCL convention this year, the piece for the boys’ dramatic oration was a selection from Ars Amatoria, and the theme for the “couples costume” contest regularly involved rapist-victim dyads.

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 04/21/2021 - 10:01am by Danielle Bostick.

The Classics Program of Hunter College (CUNY) announces the rescheduled conference on Theognis and the Theognidea. The conference will now be virtual. It will run from April 28th (Wednesday) through April 30th (Friday) from 12-3:30 PM. (NB, the first day starts at 11:45AM and the last day runs to 4PM.) The conference is open and free. Registration is required.

 

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 04/19/2021 - 9:43am by Erik Shell.

Howard University is the only HBCU in the United States with a Classics Department, which has been a part of the institution since its inception in 1867. SCS has recently received the following news from the Department:

"Howard University has decided to close the Department of Classics as part of its prioritization efforts and is currently negotiating with the faculty of Classics and with other units in the College as to how they might best reposition and repurpose our programs and personnel. These discussions have been cordial, and the faculty remains hopeful that the department can be kept intact at some level, with its faculty and programs still in place." 

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Fri, 04/16/2021 - 8:52am by Helen Cullyer.
Relief found in Neumagen near Trier, a teacher with three discipuli (180-185 AD). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

As a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin this spring, working on a book on Roman diversity, I've been wondering how German classicists are experiencing current debates about diversifying our field. To find out, I spoke with Dr. Katharina Wesselmann, a professor in the Northern German city of Kiel who has also taught high school and university in Basel, Switzerland. The fact that she specializes in “didactics” — the teaching of ancient Greek and Latin — is one mark of the differences between our two national classics traditions. In Germany, Latin and Greek are regularly offered at the advanced secondary schools known as Gymnasiums. So more Germans than Americans are familiar with the classical languages, and those who pursue university degrees in classics can find employment teaching high school.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 04/15/2021 - 11:12am by Nandini Pandey.
Funerary relief of a priest of Magna Mater (gallus) from Lavinium. Rome, Capitoline Museums (mid-second century AD). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Dialogue: Trans Studies and Classics works to bring some of the insights and lived experiences found in transgender studies into conversation with the Classics, in the hope that bringing these into dialogue with each other will enrich our pedagogy, deepen our understanding of what gender as an identity category even means, and help critique the various ways gender has been used as an instrument of power throughout history, while also creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for our students. If you’d like to contribute to this column or have ideas that could add to this conversation, email Ky Merkley.

Photo courtesy of Michael Goyette 
Dr. Michael Goyette (he/him/his) is Instructor of Classics and Ancient Studies at Eckerd College. His teaching and research focus on ancient medicine, ancient science, gender, ancient drama, pedagogy, and reception. The question of embodiment unites these various interests. Being at a teaching college with a high number of STEM majors, he is always looking for ways to illuminate the intersections between the sciences and humanities.

This transcript has been lightly edited.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 04/12/2021 - 10:07am by .
Header Image: Etruscan Alabaster Cinerary Urn with bas-relief that represents Odysseus and the Sirens. 3rd-2nd Cent. BCE. Museo Guarnacci, Volterra, Italy.

The Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiativeby the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiative, supports projects that seek to engage broader publics — individuals, groups, and communities — in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 98 projects, ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. Awardees are selected by the SCS Committee on Classics in the Community. The initiative welcomes applications from all over the world. To date, it has funded projects in 25 states and 10 countries, including Canada, UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and most recently, India.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/09/2021 - 9:58am by .
Emerging Scholars NYU Center for Ancient Studies images of landscape, statues, manuscripts
The NYU Center for Ancient Studies is seeking to engage the work of current PhD candidates as part of a new Emerging Scholars video presentation series, beginning in spring 2021. In this series, we aim to showcase research that takes innovative approaches to the study of the ancient world or that incorporates non-traditional materials and/or methods. We are also especially interested in highlighting the work of scholars from groups that are and have historically been marginalized and underrepresented in the fields of ancient studies and the academy at large.

The presentation format of the videos will feature individual PhD candidates who briefly describe their research and then engage in conversation with an NYU faculty member that positions this work in relationship to broader scholarship. These videos will be advertised as part of the Center's academic program and highlighted on our website.  

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 04/08/2021 - 9:21pm by Helen Cullyer.

CfP: Affect, Intensity, Antiquity (Online Conference)

Organizers: Chiara Graf and Adrian Gramps (St Andrews)

Confirmed Speakers: Aaron Kachuck (Trinity College, Cambridge / UCLouvain), Alex Purves (UCLA), Ben Radcliffe (Loyola Marymount), Mario Telò (UC Berkeley)

sed cur heu, Ligurine, cur
manat rara meas lacrima per genas?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 04/07/2021 - 2:26pm by Erik Shell.
The homepage of Alpheios

Alpheios Reading Tools (henceforth Alpheios) is an open-source web extension that allows users to access information about Greek, Latin, Classical Arabic, or Persian text on any web page. After enabling the extension in Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, you simply double-click on any word on any page to see definitions, morphology, usages, and grammatical information. 

Figure 1: Alpheios Reading Tools integrates fluidly with the online Loeb Classical Library.
Figure 1: Alpheios Reading Tools integrates fluidly with the online Loeb Classical Library.

As an avid user of Alpheios in my capacities as both a Ph.D. student and instructor, I jumped at the chance to speak with Harry Diakoff and Bridget Almas, two of the founding members of Alpheios. Harry Diakoff is currently the president of the board of The Alpheios Project, Ltd., which is a registered 501(c); Bridget Almas is the Executive director and Chief Software Architect for the project.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 04/05/2021 - 10:18am by .

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