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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The 2021 season of the Digital Classicist London seminar is on the theme of world classics: we have put together a programme of speakers who are working with digital humanities and digital classics methods to the study of antiquity—whether language, corpora, archaeology—from across the world. All sessions are streamed live on Youtube, and will also be available to watch there afterwards.

All seminars at 17:00 (UK time).

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 05/11/2021 - 5:27pm by Erik Shell.

(Sent on behalf of Lawrence Kowerski)

Dear friends of the Classics Program at Hunter College,

Please join us Friday, May 14, at 5pm for the 83rd Josephine Earle Memorial Lecture (see the attached poster). The lecture is taking place virtually over Zoom, and pre-registration is required at the link below. In addition to the lecture, the event will begin with a student award ceremony and a celebration of recent graduates from the Classics Program at Hunter.

83rd Josephine Earle Memorial Lecture, Friday, May 14, 5-7pm

"What did the Romans want from their law?"

Michael Peachin, Professor of Classics (New York University)

Register at this link:

https://huntercollege.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwodu2prDwjHd0KuXntHJFFpwQ8YOY6WivN

(If the link doesn't take you to a registration screen when you click on it, please try cutting and pasting it manually into your browser. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.)

We hope to see many of you there!

Lawrence Kowerski
Associate Professor in Classics (Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center)

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 05/11/2021 - 4:41pm by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

THE WINNER OF THE 2020 LONDON HELLENIC PRIZE  -- PRESS RELEASE

The LHP adjudicating committee met by teleconference on May 7th to discuss the Shortlist of candidates for books published in 2020 and select the winner. The committee was chaired by A.G. Leventis Professor emeritus Paul Cartledge (Clare College, University of Cambridge) and also included Professor Peter Frankopan (Worcester College, Oxford), Mr Robin Lane Fox (New College, Oxford), Dr Nick Lowe (Royal Holloway, University of London), Professor emeritus Michael Paschalis (University of Crete), and Dr Jennifer Wallace (Peterhouse, University of Cambridge).

The five books shortlisted by the committee were:

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Tue, 05/11/2021 - 12:52pm by Erik Shell.

Statius – author of a coherent œuvre?

Newcastle University, 26-28 May 2022

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 05/10/2021 - 1:55pm by Erik Shell.

(A message from Dennis Looney, MLA)

I hope the semester/quarter is ending up well. Come celebrate at the 2021 MLA Leadership Institute: Why Humanities Now: https://www.adfl.mla.org/Seminars/MLA-Academic-Program-Services-Leadership-Institute-Why-Humanities-Now

In addition to a robust set of plenaries and discussion groups (full program is online), there are three workshops that will be of interest: one for chairs, one for directors of graduate studies, and one for department leaders interested in using data for advocacy. 

See below for brief descriptions.  Use the link above for access to the full program and registration.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 05/10/2021 - 10:14am by Erik Shell.

Wood and Ceramic: Introducing digital methods with Classics Library special collections

A public event of the ICS/Hellenic and Roman Library

Thursday July 1, 2021. 17:00 UK time/UTC+1

Free but booking required: https://ics.sas.ac.uk/events/event/24399

The Combined Classics Library holds over 150,000 volumes on Greco-Roman antiquity, including a number of special collections. One is the Wood Archive, a collection of diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks and published works relating to a tour of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, made by between May 1750 and June 1751 by the classical scholar Robert Wood, the archaeologists John Bouverie (who died during the tour) and James Dawkins, and the draughtsman Giovanni Battista Borra. Another is the Ehrenberg Bequest, a collection of antiquities, mostly ceramics, bequeathed to the Institute of Classical Studies in 1976 by Victor Ehrenberg, on the understanding that the collection was to be used for teaching and handling.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 05/10/2021 - 6:29am by Erik Shell.

Guidelines for the 2021 Erich S. Gruen Prize have been updated.

The Erich S. Gruen Prize Committee invites all graduate students in North America to enter the second annual competition for the best graduate research paper on multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean. This year the prize will be a cash award of $500. 

The prize is intended to honor Erich S. Gruen, renowned ancient historian and long-time Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Gruen was born in Vienna in 1935 and came to the United States in 1939. One of the most respected and beloved scholars in the field, he has made lasting contributions to our understanding of ethnicity, identity, and exchange in the multicultural ancient Mediterranean world.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 05/07/2021 - 6:57am by Erik Shell.

Cartledge Title and Abstract

Learning from the Past: Classics and the Contemporary World

Prof. Paul Cartledge (University of Cambridge)

Tuesday May 25, 2021 at 5pm GMT

Abstract: This webinar explores contemporary political and social issues, including the nature of populism and authoritarianism and the treatment of disenfranchised groups, through the lens of ancient Athens and its extraordinary democracy with Prof. Paul Cartledge, emeritus A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge.

Paul Cartledge is a world-renowned Classicist and expert on ancient Greece, whose recent books include Democracy: A Life (2018) and Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece (2020). In 2021, he received the Commander of the Order of Honor from the Greek government for enhancing the reputation of Greece abroad.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 05/03/2021 - 10:25am by Erik Shell.

The SCS, consistent with its Statement on Professional Ethics, which addresses discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity, stands fully in support of transgender classicists. It condemms any harassment and bullying of anyone who is transgender or who advocates for transgender rights.

approved by the SCS Board, 4/30/21

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Fri, 04/30/2021 - 12:52pm by Helen Cullyer.

The Department of Latin at the University of Basel, in collaboration with the foundation PLuS, is pleased to invite applications for the new round of the Basel Fellowships in Latin Literature. The fellowship programme offers an opportunity for early career researchers as well as established scholars to pursue their research in the framework of a fully funded visit of up to three months at the Departement Altertumswissenschaften of the University of Basel. During their stay Fellows are entitled to make full use of the excellent resources of the University Library as well as the departmental library, Bibliothek Altertumswissenschaften, one of the world’s leading research libraries for the study of the ancient Mediterranean civilisations.

Closing date for applications for spring and autumn 2022 (full term: 21 Feb until 03 June 2022 or 19 Sept until 23 Dec 2022 respectively) is 01 September 2021.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 04/27/2021 - 1:09pm by Erik Shell.

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