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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Pennsylvania Circle of Ancient Philosophy
Annual Conference
 
Villanova University
Friday March 22 – Sunday March 24, 2019
Call for Papers: Due Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Keynote Speakers: Dr. Aryeh Kosman, Haverford College

Dr. Grace Ledbetter, Swarthmore College  

Scholars, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates are encouraged to submit their work in any area of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and cognate fields (e.g., rhetoric, political theory, medicine, history). Special consideration will be given to authors working or living in Pennsylvania. We especially welcome submissions from members of underrepresented populations within philosophy.This year the conference will be hosted at Villanova University.

About PCAP:

The Pennsylvania Circle of Ancient Philosophy (PCAP) aims to foster a community of scholars committed to the study of ancient philosophy. To this end, PCAP provides the opportunity for Pennsylvania graduate students and faculty to meet and present papers at its annual conference. Additionally, PCAP organizes other events throughout the year, including workshops, intensive seminars, and group translation projects.

Guide for the submission abstracts:

There are four types of submissions accepted for this conference: 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 10/23/2018 - 10:47am by Erik Shell.

2019 Ohio State Classics Graduate Colloquium

A Crucible of Cultures: Cultural Exchange in the Ancient Mediterranean

In the wake of Hordern and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea, there has been a renewed interest in studying the cultures of the Mediterranean as part of an integrated whole rather than in isolation. The annual OSU Classics Graduate Colloquium invites papers on a range of topics that explore the interconnections between peoples in and around the Mediterranean in the ancient world broadly conceived (Bronze Age to Byzantium/Carolingian Renaissance). Since most research has focused on relatively narrow archaeological concerns, we encourage papers that attempt to tackle big picture questions. Broad categories might include:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 10/23/2018 - 9:04am by Erik Shell.

This is a final reminder to check the preliminary program for our upcoming Annual meeting.

If you are presenting at the meeting please check to see if your institutional affiliation, name, and paper title are all properly represented.

Please email any corrections to info@classicalstudies.org by end-of-day, October 26th.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 10/23/2018 - 8:16am by Erik Shell.

Classics in the Anthropocene 

University of Toronto, Department of Classics, Graduate Conference 
April 19-20, 2019 

Keynote Speakers: Brooke Holmes (Princeton), Katherine Blouin (Toronto) 

The recent popularity of the notion of “the Anthropocene” reflects a growing recognition that human societies and their natural environments radically and reciprocally shape and influence one another. Additionally, there is a looming sense that the ecological conditions under which humankind has thrived for millennia are about to undergo a set of epochal transformations. Speculations about the near-future range from optimistic to pessimistic extremes. Will there be a collective and self-conscious effort to re-shape civilization as we have known it, or a total extinction of life on earth? In either case, humanity faces an unprecedented crisis. 

This crisis provides a novel horizon of meaning for the interpretation of human society and culture, past as well as present. The task of rethinking traditional categories such as history, culture, individuality, and nature, has become both possible and necessary. In many disciplines this work is already underway. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/18/2018 - 10:16am by Erik Shell.
The Popular in Classical Antiquity
 
Graduate Student Conference, University of Pennsylvania, April 26, 2019
Keynote speaker: Jeremy Lefkowitz, Swarthmore College

What is popular culture in the ancient world? How can we study it? Why should we study it? In recent years the discipline of Classical Studies has sought to move away from its traditionally elite bias and broaden investigation of the ancient world to include popular culture. From Johann Gottfried Herder’s work on folk songs in the 18th century to Lucy’s Grig’s recent edited volume, the “popular” has been variously defined: as folk culture located in the rural tradition; as mass culture in urbanized centers; as the opposite of “high” or “literate” culture; and as unauthorized culture expressed as resistance. One of the aims of this conference is to discuss the validity of such definitions for the Classical world.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/18/2018 - 9:32am by Erik Shell.
Lapis SatricanusIscrizione latina arcaica, VI secolo a.C. EDR 078476. Photo by Giulia Sarullo - Own work, via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0.

EAGLE, the Electronic Archive of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, was conceived in 1997 by the Italian Epigrapher Silvio Panciera (1933–2016). Based at Sapienza — Università di Roma, it appeared under the aegis of the Association Internationale d’Épigraphie Grecque et Latine (AIEGL) and an international steering committee. The site launched in 2003, with the goal of providing a gateway for the search of all Greek and Latin inscriptions.

It began with a collaboration of four major databases of Roman inscriptions. Briefly:

View full article. | Posted in on Sun, 10/14/2018 - 11:28am by Charles Hedrick.

Mediterranean Connections – How the Sea Links People and Transforms Identities

Session 7 of the International Open Workshop: Socio-Environmental Dynamics VI (organized by the  Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” and the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 “Scales of Transformation”)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 10/12/2018 - 2:45pm by Erik Shell.
“Ways of Seeing, Ways of Reading, 2”
The Aesthetics and Anthropology of Arms and Armor
 
Columbia University, Schermerhorn Hall 612
1180 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027
 
 
- PROGRAM -

Friday, October 19: morning (Columbia University, Schermerhorn Hall 612)

1. Weapons, Good to Think With (9:30-11 am)

- Christine Mauduit (ENS), “Around the Sword: Some Thoughts about Ajax’s Suicide”

- Deborah Steiner (Columbia), "Arms and the Symposion”

- Camille Rambourg (ENS), "Exploring the Question of Responsibility: The Javelin of Antiphon's Second Tetralogy"

- Peter van Alfen (ANS), "Arms and Armor in archaic coins" 

Coffee Break (11-11:30 am)

2. Arms, Culture, Religion (11.30 am-1 pm)

- Ellen Morris (Barnard), "Daggers, Militarism, and the Evolving Culture of Death on the Nile in the Second Millennium BCE"

- Cléo Carastro (EHESS), "Greek Trophies: War and its Dead"

- Christophe Goddard (CNRS), "Arms in Religion, Religions in Arms in Late Antiquity"

- Pierre Terjanian (MMA), "Armor as Votive Gift: Devotion and Self-Representation in Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe”

Lunch Break (1-2:30 pm)

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 10/12/2018 - 11:01am by Erik Shell.
Infant Hercules Strangling Two Serpents, late 15th–early 16th century. Bronze. Metropolitan Museum of Art. CC0 1.0.

What is the role of graphic novels in teaching the ancient world to students? Prof. Chris Trinacty addresses this question and reviews two recent additions to the genre: Rome West and The Hero (Book Two). 

Two recent graphic novels touch upon the ancient world in fascinating ways. The first, Rome West, by Justin Giampaoli, Brian Wood, and Andrea Mutti provides an alternative history of the world predicated on the idea that a lost legion of Roman soldiers make landfall in North America in the year 323 CE. The second, The Hero, published by Dark Horse Comics in two volumes is a creative take on Heracles’ Twelve Labors that offers a mash-up of modern celebrity culture, science fiction tropes, ancient archetypes of heroism, and the visual iconography of Heracles especially from Greece vase painting.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 10/11/2018 - 8:43pm by Christopher Trinacty.
The Annual Ancient Philosophy Workshop (42nd in the series inaugurated and periodically sponsored by The University of Texas at Austin) will be held March 8-9, 2019, at Trinity University, San Antonio, TX. This workshop is sponsored by the Trinity Philosophy Department and Trinity University Academic Affairs. Proposals are invited for papers on any problem, figure, or issue in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, from the Presocratics to late antiquity. Each paper will be allotted forty-five minutes for oral presentation and will be followed by a response and open discussion.
 
Our keynote speaker will be Verity Harte, Yale University.
 
To propose a paper, send a 1-page abstract of 300-500 words to ancientphilworkshop@trinity.edu under the subject heading “Workshop Proposal.” Please provide contact information in the email but no identifying info in the abstract itself. Proposals are due no later than Friday, December 14, 2018. Proposers will be notified of selections by Friday, January 4, 2019.
 
Complete papers will be due to session chairs and respondents by Friday, February 15, 2019.
 
Questions and Contact
 
Damian Caluori, Associate Professor (dcaluori@trinity.edu)
 
View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/11/2018 - 1:41pm by Erik Shell.

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