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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Making Classics Public

A panel with Prof. Sarah Bond (University of Iowa) and Dr. Donna Zuckerberg (Editor-in-Chief, Eidolon)

Friday October 18
3:30-5:00 PM | Kresge 1515

Northwestern University,1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 

Part of #ClassicsNow: The Urgency of Re-Imagining Antiquity series

Making Classics Public is co-sponsored by the Society for Classical Studies

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(Photo from Northwestern University, used with permission)

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 09/19/2019 - 8:38am by Erik Shell.
The Society for Ancient Studies (SAS)—an interdisciplinary graduate student organization at New York University —is hosting its second-annual one-day undergraduate conference on the ancient world on Friday, February 7th, 2020 in Manhattan. This conference, organized and moderated by graduate students for talented and motivated undergraduates, will offer participants the opportunity to present their scholarship in the engaged professional setting of an academic conference. 

Participants will be expected to present a 15-minute paper to a forum of their undergraduate peers, graduate students, and NYU faculty. Submissions may be a condensed version, or a particularly strong chapter, of an undergraduate thesis, an exceptional course paper, or an independent research project. We welcome work informed by any and all theories and methodologies, and encourage submission from students working in any discipline (e.g. Classical Philology, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, etc.) or geo-temporal focus (e.g. Mediterranean and Atlantic Studies; Egyptology; Pre-Columbian, Near East, and East Asian Civilizations).

Food will be provided to all participants, and any audio-visual necessities will be arranged. Some local travel reimbursements will also be available.

ABSTRACT DEADLINE: Friday, November 22nd, 2019

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/17/2019 - 10:03am by Erik Shell.

The Classical Association of Ghana

2nd International Classics Conference in Ghana (ICCG)
8th to 11th October 2020

University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

Theme: Global Classics and Africa: Past, Present, and Future

The late 1950s and early 1960s ushered in a period when many African countries were gaining political independence. Immediately, there was an agenda to unite African nations, and a policy of Africanization began to gain ground. In the area of education, this Africanization process was vigorously pursued. In Ghana the Institute of African Studies was established, and an Encyclopaedia Africana project, originally conceived by W. E. B. DuBois, was revived. In Nigeria, new universities were established to counter the colonial-based education that was present at the University of Ibadan, and in some East African countries there were fears that foreign university teachers would not be able to further the Africanization of university education.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/16/2019 - 1:52pm by Erik Shell.

Honor and Shame in Classical Antiquity

Thirteenth Annual Graduate Conference in Classics
Friday, March 20, 2020
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Keynote Speaker: Margaret Graver, Dartmouth College

Virtue, Cicero argues, seeks no other reward for its labors and dangers beyond that of praise and glory. From the earliest days of the ancient Mediterranean, the pursuit of honor and avoidance of shame have shaped societies’ value systems. Achilles wages war according to a strict honor code, while Hesiod’s personified goddess, Shame, is the last to depart the earth as a rebuke of humanity’s wickedness. Far from belonging to the static code of an aristocratic warrior class, as was once understood, honor and shame are increasingly seen as part of a complex and polyvalent ethical system. They manifest themselves not only in the heroic self-assertion of ancient epic but also in a variety of other arenas, such as, for example, philosophical treatises, gender relations and sexual mores, the lives of enslaved peoples, Athenian law and politics, the performance of Roman state identity, and religious belief.  Thus they are pervasive throughout literature, thought, and society in the ancient world.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/16/2019 - 9:57am by Erik Shell.

High school Latin programs (along with Classics programs at the college or university level) are in perpetual peril, and keeping any program alive contributes to the ongoing effort to keep our field afloat and relevant, while also continuing to provide students with all of the benefits that we know that Latin offers. Monmouth College’s Classics Department spearheaded a successful, broad-based effort to resist the proposed elimination of the thriving Latin program at Monmouth-Roseville (IL) High School (MRHS) in Spring 2019.

This reflection is meant as a case study for understanding and then addressing the issue of threatened Latin programs across the country. I will lay out the factors and steps that led to the initial decision to drop the program, those that we discovered were critical in the eventual success of the resistance effort, and roles that a college or university Classics programs can play to retain their comrade programs, which cultivate many eventual Classics students and majors. 


Figure 1: Monmouth-Roseville High School in Monmouth, IL. Photo Credit: Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Background on the situation at Monmouth-Roseville 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/12/2019 - 8:49pm by Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Sailing with the Gods: Religion and Maritime Mobility in the Ancient World

           Sponsored by: The Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions

           Location: Grand Hotel Excelsior, Floriana, Malta

           Dates: June 17-21, 2020

           Ritual practices dedicated to maritime success appear across a wide span of human cultural history, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, Southeast Asia across the Pacific to the west coast of the Americas. Culturally-constructed seafaring rituals could be seen as spiritual or superstitious, and respond to the combination of risk and profit endemic in even short voyages by water. Maritime religion infuses all water-borne contact across cultural boundaries; the crafts of those who build rafts, canoes, and sailing vessels; navigational skills which may reach back to ancestors who have faded into cultural legend; and myriad mnemonic and naming strategies extending to littoral markers and celestial patterns. Mythic and ritual responses are accordingly complex, ranging from apotropaia to the divine authorization of civic structures, shipboard shrines and functional epithets which could link divinities, heroes and nearly-deified rulers to the control of the waves and winds.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/09/2019 - 2:33pm by Erik Shell.

Please find a list of award and fellowship deadlines for this Fall:

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/09/2019 - 9:09am by Erik Shell.

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (from now on: Orbis) is an interactive scholarly web application that provides a simulation model of travel and transport cost in the Roman Empire around 200 CE. Walter Scheidel and his team at Stanford University designed and launched the site in 2011–12, and the project saw a significant upgrade in 2014 (the old version is still available). The project is currently concluded.

The aim of Orbis is to allow investigation of the concrete conditions of travel in the ancient world, with a particular focus on the 3rd-century Roman route and transportation network. Orbis is a response to the long-standing scholarly debate about visual representations and study of “spatial practice” in the premodern world: traditional mapping approaches fail to convey the complexity of the variables involved in travel practices and provide a flat view of phenomena that are strongly connected with space and movement, such as trade, economic control, and imperialism. Orbis was conceived to respond to the specific question of how travel and transport constraints affected the expansion of the Roman Empire.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:02pm by Chiara Palladino.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is now accepting applications for the Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty program and the Career Enhancement Adjunct Faculty Fellowship. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation administers these fellowships through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, along with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows Dissertation Grants, which opens in mid-September.
 
View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:55am by Erik Shell.

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