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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Chères et chers collègues,

L’appel à communication pour les sections parallèles du prochain congrès international d’épigraphie grecque et latine est toujours en cours, jusqu’au 30 mars 2021. Vous trouverez sur le site du congrès (https://ciegl2022.sciencesconf.org/) la liste de ces sections. Nous rappelons que l’appel à communications ne vaut que pour les sections parallèles et en aucun cas pour les sessions plénières, qui seront constituées d’un rapport et n’accueillent pas de communications.

Les propositions de communications doivent être envoyées à cette adresse : ciegl2022@sciencesconf.org. L’argumentaire les accompagnant peut être formulé dans une des cinq langues du congrès, allemand, anglais, français, espagnol et italien.

Vous pouvez toujours vous abonner à la liste de diffusion :

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 03/29/2021 - 2:09pm by Erik Shell.
Dr. Rock-McCutcheon and the cast of Antigone for Arts Day 2019 at Wilson College. Image courtesy of Bonnie Rock-McCutcheon.

Our fourth interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is a virtual conversation between Joshua Nudell and Dr. Bonnie Rock-McCutcheon. Dr. Rock-McCutcheon received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, where she wrote a dissertation on the role of spectacle in gifts to Delian Apollo in the Archaic period, before becoming a Lecturer of Classics at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. Her current research focuses on sociality with the gods, the role of gender in myth, and the use of graphic novels in the classroom. She was recently featured in an episode of the Creators Unite podcast, talking about her experiences using comic books and graphic novels in the classroom. When not teaching a wide range of courses for both the history and classics programs, Dr. Rock-McCutcheon spends time with her three cats and quilting.

Joshua Nudell: When we talk career pathways, there is, at least in theory, a formula for how one lands a tenure-track job, but less discussion of how one makes a path as a contingent faculty member. What was your journey into your current position?

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 03/29/2021 - 11:41am by .
Header image: Gold death-mask, known as the ‘mask of Agamemnon’. Mycenae, Grave Circle A, Grave V, 16th cent. BC. National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, in March 2021 has been renamed and reimagined as the Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative. Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities supports projects that seek to engage broader publics—individuals, groups, and communities—in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 98 projects ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. Awardees are selected by the SCS Committee on Classics in the Community.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/26/2021 - 10:01am by .

Last week, several members of the SCS Board of Directors participated in a powerful and important solidarity event organized by the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) and Asian and Asian American Classical Caucus (AAACC) after the shootings in Atlanta that resulted in the deaths of eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women. After this event, we reached out to AAACC to ask what actions SCS could meaningfully take to support the AAACC community and AAPI communities more broadly. As a result, the SCS Board of Directors has approved donations to the Asian Counseling and Referring Service and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. SCS will also be working with AAACC on data collection in order to understand better the demographics and needs of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander classicists.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 03/26/2021 - 8:45am by Helen Cullyer.

Awards and Fellowships: Spring 2021

We congratulate the following award and fellowship winners for 2021:

Frank M. Snowden Scholarships

  • Cayle Diefenbach
  • Maia Lee-Chin
  • Niles Marthone
  • Luis Rodriguez Perez
  • Coffin Fellowship
  • Robert Amstutz

Pearson Fellowship

  • Uwade Akhere

TLL Fellowship

  • Adam Trettel

Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities Awards (formerly Classics Everywhere)

  • New Atlantis: A Journey into the Classicism of W.E.B. Du Bois – Pennsylvania

                Divya Nair

  • Classics as Pedagogical Tool: An Interactive/Multimedia E-Book – online

                Marcus Bell and Nancy Rabinowitz

  • A Musical Adaptation of The Bacchae – online

                J. Landon Marcus

  • All BAME Medea: A Short Film – U.K.

                Shivaike Shah

  • The Ozymandias Project: A New Podcast – Illinois, online

                Lexie Henning

  • The Laodamiad at the Center for Hellenic Studies – Washington, DC, online

                Chas LiBretto

  • Society for Ancient Medicine Blog Series: “The Best Doctor is also a Historian” – online

                Colin Webster

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 03/23/2021 - 11:26am by Erik Shell.

The Inaugural SAIG/GSC Dissertation Lecture

The AIA’s Student Affairs Interest Group (SAIG) and SCS’s Graduate Student Committee (GSC) are pleased to announce the 2021 SAIG/GSC Dissertation Lecture! This annual talk is a collaborative effort intended to highlight the work of a senior doctoral candidate whose research features interdisciplinary work between the fields of archaeology and classical philology, and to support the student networks between these related fields.

As the first SAIG/GSC Dissertation Lecturer, Elizabeth Heintges, doctoral candidate at Columbia University, will present “Forgetting Sextus Pompey: the bellum Siculum and Vergil’s Aeneid,” integrating both literary and material evidence into an analysis of two major moments in Roman Republican history. Please see the poster and abstract below for more details.

The lecture will be held virtually on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 5:00 pm EST.
Please register here in advance of this Zoom webinar.
Any questions? Please don’t hesitate to reach out via email (studentaffairsaia@gmail.com).

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 03/23/2021 - 10:50am by Erik Shell.

The past few weeks, and indeed the past few months and the past year, have been incredibly difficult in so many ways. The pandemic, the increasingly uncertain financial state of higher education and the humanities in particular, and the persistence of hate and racism are resulting in serious practical and emotional impacts. As SCS strives to address all these challenges and to serve its members, we are introducing a new experimental program of "office hours" that will provide members with short confidential Zoom appointments with the Executive Director to air concerns and make requests. At the current time, appointments are limited to members who are students, contingent faculty, and anyone with precarious or no employment. You can find the link to schedule an appointment in the body of the March email newsletter and on our Members Only page accessible via our Membership menu (login is required to access that page).

View full article. | Posted in Executive Director Letters on Mon, 03/22/2021 - 11:38am by Helen Cullyer.
Pleiades front page.

Pleiades is an online database of spatial information modeled on the long tradition of gazetteers. It is most useful to people interested in Greek and Roman material but also includes a growing amount of information concerning other ancient cultures.

The user interface is simple and intuitive. First, type the name of a place into the search bar. Then, if Pleiades recognizes the name, it provides a selection of peer-reviewed information about that place: for example, alternate names, relevant citations, and chronological periods during which the place was active.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 10:01am by .

A message from the National Humanities Alliance:

"Advocates from all 50 states and Washington D.C. will be meeting virtually with their Members of Congress and congressional staff to discuss federal funding for the humanities. They will be thanking Members of Congress for the funding in the American Rescue Plan and pushing for increased funding for a wide range of humanities programs in FY 2022!

Help bolster their efforts by writing to your Members of Congress today!

We’ve won incremental increases for the NEH in each of the past 6 years, but given the needs of the humanities community and the crucial role they have to play in the current moment, we are urging a far more robust increase this year. Take action for the NEH!

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Wed, 03/10/2021 - 9:14am by Helen Cullyer.
Logo of the Women's Classical Caucus

In Part 3 of our guest series for the SCS Blog, the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) invites you to celebrate the winner of its 2020-21 Public Scholarship Award: Peopling the Past, a grassroots group of Canadian archaeologists and art historians of the ancient Mediterranean who have created resources accessible to audiences of all ages.

View full article. | Posted in on Tue, 03/09/2021 - 2:08pm by Caroline Cheung.

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