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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Like many others, I'm trying to funnel the anger and frustration that I felt at our panel on the "Future of Classics" at the Annual Meeting in San Diego toward taking action that can make a difference, even on a small scale.  At the panel Professor Sarah Bond and Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta promptly condemned the comments a speaker from the audience made about Dan-el as well as her intellectually and politically regressive defense of classical studies.   My thoughts here are intended to carry forward their energetic advocacy. 

To combat racist attitudes and assumptions that persist not only at the margins of the field but among and around us, we must act now on our home campuses and schools.  Here are five ideas to get us started.  There are many more.  It’s important to note that at some schools, faculty and students are already acting on these ideas or better versions of them.  They arise from my experience as a university administrator, where I've seen countless discussions about diversity go in circles until faculty, students, and staff commit together to do specific things within a short time frame.  They are designed for use at college and university campuses, the world I know best, but K-12 teachers and scholars are included here, and I welcome ideas from this crucially important sector of our field. 

Ideas for action in the coming 30-60 days 
 

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 02/15/2019 - 7:16am by Joy Connolly.

We have now reviewed the video of the Panel on the Future of Classics, which will be disseminated online today, February 14, 2019. 

The video makes it clear that what was said to Prof. Padilla Peralta was: “You may have got your job because you’re black, but I would prefer to think you got your job because of merit.”

Despite this factual correction to Presidential letter of 1/10/19, the SCS leadership stands by the substance of the Presidential letter and the actions taken onsite in San Diego, which have been reviewed by the Professional Ethics Committee. We repeat here that the future of classical studies depends on expansion, inclusion, and focused attention on and action to remedy the under-representation of people of color in Classics.

Mary T. Boatwright

SCS President

(Update: the Future of Classics video is now available on the SCS YouTube Channel)

View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:27am by Helen Cullyer.

Celebrating the Divine — Roman Festivals in Art, Religion, and Literature

University of Virginia, 30–31 August 2019

Festivals are ubiquitous in the life of the Roman world, and so are their depictions in ancient art and texts. Reliefs, mosaics and paintings, but also coins all show scenes of festivity. Very often, these images reflect on the relationship of humans and gods and the special encounter between both spheres that takes place in a festive context. In literary texts, feast days often occupy a prominent position: they are crucial for the preservation of memory and identity, but they also mark fateful beginnings or momentous endings in a narrative and act as privileged sites of self-definition for individuals or the community.

This interdisciplinary conference aims to bring together scholars of literature, art, and religion to examine how Roman festivals are represented in different media and to explore the functions of such representations.

Possible questions include, but are by no means limited to the following:

How does one depict the particular type of event that is the festival? Is there a typical ‘festive scenery,’ and what are its elements? What are the techniques used for depicting the festive encounter of mortals and gods? How can the secret rites of the Mysteries be represented?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 02/11/2019 - 10:06am by Erik Shell.

The conference is organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Science of Montenegro and will be held in Herceg Novi, an ancient town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and an intersecting point of different cultures during ancient and medieval times.

As one of the institutions participating in the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action entitled Reappraising Intellectual Debates on Civic Rights and Democracy in Europe, the Center for Hellenic Studies organized a series of lectures, presentations and round tables, participated by eminent experts in philosophy, history, political theory, theology, classics, and other disciplines. As the final phase of the project, the Center deemed opportune to initiate a debate on the achievements, values and guide marks that Hellenic political philosophy can have for contemporary Europe, in which the apprehension of the political is chiefly reduced to the interests of powers and corporations, being thus exclusively linked to the technique of conquering and maintaining dominance.

Ancient Hellenic conception, that gave birth to notions like freedom, democracy, parrhesia, publicity and other, reminds us that ancient Greeks understood politics not only as a fundamental designation of human beings – as, according to Aristotle, anyone who does not partake of society is either a beast or a god – but also as inseparably linked to ethics.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 02/11/2019 - 10:02am by Erik Shell.

The program submission system is now open and accepting proposals.

You can visit the main page at https://program.classicalstudies.org/

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 02/11/2019 - 9:31am by Erik Shell.

The Odyssey: A Staged Reading and Discussion
Date/Time: March 15th, 7.30pm
Venue: Fishman Space, BAM Fisher (321 Ashland Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11217)

A distant war, a long-awaited return, a journey back, a homecoming, a wife and husband, and revenge: the arc of Homer’s Odyssey comes to life in Emily Wilson’s translation that is both contemporary and faithful to the musicality and physicality of the ancient Greek epic. Join the Aquila Theatre and Emily Wilson for a staged reading of an abbreviated version of Wilson’s translation; and a post-show discussion with the translator, an actor and veteran from Aquila’s Warrior Chorus, and a veteran’s partner. What does the Odyssey mean today to veterans and their families? What does Wilson’s new translation in iambic pentameter bring to the text that others have missed? How does performance help us to experience the Odyssey in new ways?

Ticket Price: FREE

PLEASE RESERVE TICKETS AThttps://odysseystagedreading.brownpapertickets.com

Rental Disclaimer:

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 12:59pm by Erik Shell.
Apadana Hall, 5th century BC carving of Persian and Median soldiers in traditional costume. CC BY-SA 3.0.

'Addressing the Divide' is a new column that looks at the ways in which the modern field of Classics was constructed and then explores ways to identify, modify, or simply abolish the lines between fields in order to embrace broader ideas of what Classics was, is, and could be. This month, Prof. Catherine Bonesho, an Assistant Professor at UCLA who specializes in the ancient history of Judaism and the Near East, speaks to classicist and Herodotus scholar Prof. Rachel Hart. 

Where you work—and who you work with—can make a world of difference. A good chair, a charged computer, and my books were at one point all I thought I needed in my research. However, while still a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realized that it’s not just where you work or what your work is, but the colleagues you work with. 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 02/07/2019 - 8:15pm by Catherine Bonesho.

Resolution approved by the Board of Directors of the SCS, Jan. 6, 2019

The SCS Board of Directors approved the following recommendation at its meeting on January 6, 2019. It will be communicated to journal editors and to classics editors at relevant presses, that is, those whose publications fall under the responsibility of the American Office. We will also investigate whether the recommendation can be more widely discussed and adopted.

Board Resolution

In view of the ever-growing number of articles and chapters in collective volumes that the American Office for L’Année philologique is responsible for processing, it is the strong recommendation of the SCS that journal and volume editors regard it as a best practice and a routine adjunct of the publication process that each article or chapter be accompanied by a brief abstract and a list of keywords.

To ensure the utility of abstracts and keywords for the efficient compilation of data for APh, please take note of the following guidelines:

1. The abstract should give a concise but informative summary of the article’s or chapter’s content, indicating important points of argumentation and main conclusions.

2. The abstract should refer to the types of evidence adduced in drawing these conclusions, and give specific information about the most important items.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 02/04/2019 - 2:03pm by Erik Shell.

Classical Charleston 2019: Diversifying Classics

The Department of Classics at the College of Charleston is pleased to announce the eighth annual colloquium of the Theodore B. Guérard Lecture Series, Classical Charleston: “Diversifying Classics.”

This colloquium focuses upon the ways in which Classics opens a window into a diverse and multicultural world, and how this diversity allows for a variety of methodological approaches and applications for cross-comparative cultural study. Discussion also turns to the structural elements that historically have constrained these approaches, and a wider discussion on how to move the discipline (and the perception of the discipline) forward into a redefinition of Classics for the 21st century.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 02/04/2019 - 9:11am by Erik Shell.
The Classical Association of New England Summer Institute
July 8-13, 2019 / Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

E Pluribus Unum

The organizers of the 2019 CANE Summer Institute invite you to join us for a weeklong examination of peoples and cultures that comprised the Classical Greek and Roman worlds.  We will not only look at the various components of the ancient world, but we will also consider what it meant for those components to be unum.  The institute’s events and discussions will also consider modern and contemporary reflections of nationhood. 

Whether you are a high school or college teacher of Latin and/or Greek, History, English, the Arts, or other related disciplines, an undergraduate or graduate student, or a devoted lifelong learner, you will enjoy a thoughtful and enriching experience that includes a wide variety of mini-courses, lectures, workshops, reading groups, and special events while also offering many opportunities for conversation and collegial interaction among participants. CE credits available.

For more information www.caneweb.org

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View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 02/01/2019 - 8:08am by Erik Shell.

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