Trends in Teaching the Classics to Undergraduates

by Mary Pendergraft, Wake Forest University

This paper was delivered as part of "The Future of Classical Education: A Dialogue," a panel organized by the SCS Program Committee at the 147th annual meeting of the SCS in San Francisco, January 8, 2016.

The economic volatility of the last decade has taken a toll on education at every level; the humanities in general and language studies in particular have suffered far more than STEM subjects; and among languages, Greek and Latin, which offer no immediately profitable benefits, feel especially vulnerable. Many of us feel this concern instinctively and find that anecdotes from around the country reinforce our concerns. In addition, three national organizations have published large-scale reports that each offer a different snapshot on the state of undergraduate education.Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University

AAAS

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has published two national departmental surveys of humanities departments in four-year institutions, in 2008 and 2013; only the second looked specifically at Classics departments. It tells us that

  • 276 institutions had departments of classics in 2012–13, with an average of 7 faculty members, for a total of 1,920 faculty members.
  • 4,770 juniors and seniors had a declared major in classics at the beginning of fall semester 2012, an average of 17 per department. The average number of majors was highest (32.1) for schools where the highest degree offered is the Master’s. The average number of majors in baccalaureate institutions was 13.6, and in doctorate-granting programs 23.7.
  • 2,240 Bachelor’s degrees in classics were awarded in 2012–13, an average of 8.1 per department.

For comparison, Philosophy departments were also first surveyed in 2012–13; they number 754, with a total of 7,830 faculty members. They average 27 junior and senior majors per department, and the greatest concentration is in research universities (18 majors per department); Baccalaureate and Master’s-degree institutions averaged 8 and 9 majors per department, respectively. 9,850 Philosophy Bachelor’s degrees were completed in that year, with an average of 13.1 per department.

SCS

Second, the SCS surveyed departments during Academic Year 2013–14; this study showed that approximately 190 majors graduated, a fact that suggests that the number of departments responding was smaller than the number in the AAAS survey. The average number of graduates per department in that year, however, was very close to the AAAS number: eight. There were somewhat more women than men, and on average fewer than two minority students, a disturbingly small number and an ongoing concern in every aspect of our discipline.

MLA

Both of these studies are interesting, but it is the annual survey of enrollments by the Modern Language Association where we find the most longitudinal data, stretching back to 1958. Their periodic surveys of language enrollments first included Latin and Greek in 1968; surveys of the twenty-first century, in 2002, 2006, 2009, 2013, show that Latin enrollments reached a high of 32,444, reported in 2009, and fell to a low of 27,000 in 2013. The latter number is comparable to the numbers for each survey in the 1990s. Greek, on the other hand, had the highest enrollments during the years surveyed—22,800—in 2006, only to plummet to fewer than 13,000 in 2013.

The SCS survey includes numbers for various courses in classical studies; there is no long term data for comparison, but the enrollments seem relatively healthy—something that my own observation supports. It seems that, while we can’t be complacent about Latin or Classics enrollments, it is Greek where we have good reason for concern.    

Pedagogy

With that background, I’d like to look at ways that course offerings and pedagogical approaches have undergone changes in the last decade or so, and I’ll tackle course offerings first. The SCS census asks about Ancient Art & Archaeology, Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy, Classical Civilization, Literature in Translation, Mythology, and Etymology—all titles, at least, that are familiar since my own undergraduate days. Two newer areas of focus appear as well, the Classical Tradition and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Where twenty years ago, for instance, a forward-thinking department would offer “Women in the Ancient World,” focusing on texts and inscriptions, say, today such a course reflects a theoretical sophistication that we would also find in a department of Gender and Sexuality. Similarly, as Classical Reception has emerged as a field of study, at the same time Classics courses that look at the afterlife of ancient models become more sophisticated as well.

Under even familiar headings, too, it’s very likely that the emphases and pedagogical strategies are new ones, and the same is true in language courses. I will simply call attention to some examples. Perhaps a dozen or more programs use Latin as the language of instruction—in whole or in part.1 And summer opportunities for practicing the active use of Latin are flourishing (see below for a list of Conventicula). Comparable programs for Greek are emerging more slowly.

Distance learning opportunities make it possible for programs to address larger audiences and in turn draw on a larger pool of offerings for their students: Synoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs, is one very successful example.

Role-playing and gaming as instructional strategies can assume a variety of forms; in 2015 the SCS meeting included a panel of instructors who employ an array of such techniques. The Reacting to the Past project consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Classicists have been involved in this project almost since its inception.

Challenges for Greek

The importance of new teaching strategies, especially for Greek, was a lively topic on the Classics list earlier in January, prompted by James Romm’s article in last Sunday’s NY Times: “Beginning Greek, Again and Again.” His reflections on the inevitable frustrations that attend the joy of teaching Greek struck a nerve with many of us. At the same time, all the numbers we looked at above tell us that we need desperately to address declining Greek enrollments. Two themes emerge in discussions of that decline. One arose in that recent online conversation: the need to improve pedagogy in Greek. While examples of the innovative practices more widely adopted among our high school colleagues appear in some college Latin programs—the use of Latin in instruction, for instance—they are far less frequent in Greek. A strategy cited for its potential benefit is the use Comprehensible Input, that is, providing students with readings that are readily intelligible in order to increase their fluency. Again, far more materials are available for Latin than for Greek.

A second challenge facing Greek teachers has been raised by Willy Major of the Committee for the Promotion of Greek, and is echoed by others: As student demographics change, the study of Greek once again—still?—is perceived as a bastion of privilege removed from and absolutely unrelated to current concerns, and this perception persists to an extent that is not the case with Latin. This fact argues not only for new teaching but also for new entry points, perhaps, into its study. Students of engineering can be introduced to Archimedes, for instances; students whose tradition focuses on the Ottoman Empire need to know who founded Byzantium.

As an example of the kinds of changes that are taking place in teaching strategies and in content, I’ll take my own department at Wake Forest, the one I know best. From 1988 to 2008, there were four of us, good teachers all, but not, in general, engaged in pedagogical innovation. Since then three retirements have made us a department of teachers from a generation who have been engaged in questions of pedagogy in ways my age mates and I never were. My colleague Michael Sloan, for instance, is developing a repository of online Latin drills that can provide the out-of-class backbone for one kind of flipped class, where class time focuses on reading at sight.

My colleague Ted Gellar-Goad turned a required course for Latin majors—Advanced Grammar and Composition—into an elaborate role-playing game. His First Year Seminar combines two Reacting to the Past games, one set in Athens in 403 and the other in Rome immediately after Caesar’s assassination. John Oksanish developed an FYS called “Ancient STEM Societies.” Selena Witzke is designing digital portfolios for her course on women in the ancient world.

One of our most ambitious initiatives is still in the planning stage. Like many institutions, we see a growing number of students who are exempted from the language requirement for reasons of ability; large numbers of them are student athletes, first generation college students, and new Americans. In the case of some students, their disabilities are insurmountable, but perhaps that is not true for all of them. We hope to pilot an alternative Greek sequence that will be open only by recommendation from the dean’s office or the learning center and that will teach not only the Greek language but study skills, linguistic awareness, and more. At the same time, we hope that these students will gain confidence in their ability as learners. We’re very excited.

Conventicula:

Dickinson College

Paideia Institute

Polis: The Jerusalem Institute for Languages and Humanities

SALVI

University of Kentucky

University of Massachusetts-Boston

Wyoming Catholic College

Photo: Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University 


1. University of Kentucky; Davidson College; Ave Maria University; Washington University St. Louis; University of Houston; Christendom College; New Saint Andrews College; University of Massachusetts at Boston; Temple University; Western Washington University; Wyoming Catholic College; Cornell College.

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In last year’s introductory Greek class, I watched a student rejoice when asked to give a (partial) synopsis of the verb ‘λύω.’ While synopses are rarely met with enthusiastic responses, this student knew that the synopsis, if correctly produced, would make him stronger. My class was playing Olympus, a term-length board game played in one-hour instalments throughout the quarter, and he had just drawn the Agōgē card.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/21/2020 - 4:04pm by Joshua J. Hartman.
NEH Logo

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 .

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