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 2020 the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) will again award the David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship for study and travel in classical lands.

The Fellowship is intended to recognize secondary-school teachers of Greek or Latin who are as dedicated to their students as the Coffins themselves by giving them the opportunity to enrich their teaching and their lives through direct acquaintance with the classical world.  It will support study in classical lands (not limited to Greece and Italy); the recipient may use it to attend an educational program in (e.g. American Academy, American School) or to undertake an individual plan of study or research. It may be used either for summer study or during a sabbatical leave, and it may be used to supplement other awards or prizes.

For full details and instructions please visit the David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship page. Materials must be received no later than February 27, 2020.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 02/04/2020 - 12:35pm by Erik Shell.

Cultural Identity in Political Rhetoric: Past and Present

Society for Classical Studies 2021 Annual Meeting – January 7-10, Chicago, IL

Organizer: Tedd A. Wimperis (twimperis@elon.edu)

Rhetorical appeals to ethnic or civic identity were a mainstay of political discourse in the ancient Mediterranean. Arguments from cultural heritage and mythical kinship between peoples supported diplomatic negotiation; orators invoked values and traditions inherited from past generations to sway audiences; autocrats wove their personal iconography into the fabric of the “national story” to legitimize and authorize their power. Politically-guided ideations of identity were promoted through literature, art, architecture, coinage, and various forms of performance, and relied on effective appropriations of cultural symbolism and myth. Here and now in our own modern world, these kinds of discourse remain entrenched in political communication, from the extremes of ethno-nationalism to the commonplaces of campaign rhetoric, where appeals to “who we are” and “what our values are” appear explicitly and subtly in televised debates and hearings, tweets, billboards, and bumper stickers.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 02/04/2020 - 8:47am by Erik Shell.

“Koinonia” in Plato’s Philosophy

March 8-12, 2021
Pontifical Catholic University of Peru
Lima, Peru

Plato uses the term “Koinonia” in a wide variety of important ways.  It signifies the relation of the forms with each other as well as the relation we can have with them, but also both relations between individual people and between individuals and the community as a whole.  Although this term has been the object of intense scholarly scrutiny, many issues remain to be explored.  We will consider abstracts on any aspect of the subject, including the metaphysical, epistemological, social, and ethical dimensions of koinonia.

Submission guidelines:

1. Please submit titles and abstracts of 500 words (maximum), double-spaced, 12 point type, formatted for anonymous review

2. Name, Paper Title, Affiliation, Postal Address, Email Address included as an attachment in the email to which the abstract is sent

3. Abstracts can be in any of the IPS’s official languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, French

4. Abstracts Submission Deadline: July 31, 2020.

5. All abstracts must be sent with the subject "IPS Mid-Term Meeting" to the following address: cef@pucp.edu.pe

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 01/31/2020 - 8:58am by Erik Shell.

On January 5, 2020, the SCS Board of Directors approved a name change for the Minority Scholarship in Classics and Classics Archaeology. The scholarships will now be known as the Frank M. Snowden Jr. Undergraduate Scholarships. The name change was recommended by President-Elect Shelley P. Haley and the SCS Committee on Diversity in the Profession.

The new name honors Frank M. Snowden Jr., the renowned black classicist, chair for many years of the Howard Classics Department, and author of Blacks in Antiquity, which won the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit in 1973. Prof. Snowden was also a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and was elected by the SCS (then APA) membership to the position of second Vice President, serving in that role in 1983-84. According to the cursus honorum at the time, Prof. Snowden should have become President in 1986. However, he had to step down owing to poor health, which was a huge loss to the organization and the profession. You can read a full biography of Professor Snowden here.   

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 01/30/2020 - 9:49am by Helen Cullyer.

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has long been a popular myth in music, drama, literature, and film. Anais Mitchell’s recent musical sensation Hadestown (which was workshopped from 2006 and had an off-Broadway debut during the 2017-18 season) is but one example of the reworking of the legendary love story. Although Mitchell’s musical is broadly defined as a folk opera, it is just the latest instance amongst many pop culture reinterpretations of the Orpheus myth across different musical genres. The tragic tale of a famed musician who traveled to the underworld to retrieve his love from the grips of death has inspired several musicians during the 1990s and the 2000s. Many of these retellings have engaged with one of the most important themes of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth: the power of music and art to provide salvation.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 01/30/2020 - 9:29am by .

Please see our 2021 Annual Meeting page for a number of calls for abstracts from our affiliated groups, organizers of organizer-refereed panels, the Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance, and the Committee on Translations of Classical Authors.

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(Photo: "Handwritten" by A. Birkan, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 5:45pm by Helen Cullyer.

Call for Abstracts: Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy

Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting, Jan 7–10, 2021

Curtis Dozier, director of Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics (pharosclassics.vassar.edu), invites the submission of abstracts on any aspect of the relationship of Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy. Selected abstracts will form a proposal for a panel on the topic to be held at the 2021 Society for Classical Studies annual meeting in Chicago, IL (Jan 7–10, 2021). If the SCS Program committee accepts our proposed panel, the Vassar College Department of Greek and Roman Studies will offer panelists who do not have tenured or tenure-track positions a $500 stipend toward the cost of attending the conference. Pharos is also offering a research service for those interested in preparing abstracts but who prefer not to visit White Supremacist websites (on which see below).

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 11:46am by Erik Shell.

Flavian Sicily: An Academic Conference and Tour of Ancient Sites

Organizers: Antony Augoustakis and Joy Littlewood

Exedra Mediterranean Center
Syracuse, Sicily, 22-27 October 2020

Southern Italy and Sicily (including nearby islands) are featured in Flavian literature, most prominently Silius Italicus’ Punica among others, as places with a rich Greco-Roman history, exceptional fertility, and idyllic landscapes. This conference builds on many recent conferences on Flavian literature and published volumes (e.g., Campania in the Flavian Poetic Imagination, Oxford 2019) and aims to explore the representation and significance of the region in the literature of the period (69-96 CE). The goal of this conference is to bring scholars to Siracusa to discuss these works of literature and visit the sites mentioned and celebrated in our sources. Our conference will take place at the Exedra Mediterranean Center, adjacent to the Piazza Duomo on Ortigia. It will include academic presentations as well as visits to the archeological park and museum and various other sites in the city. We will also enjoy traditional Sicilian hospitality, with group dinners and catered lunches featuring local specialties.  At the conclusion of the conference, an optional tour of relevant sites will include Enna and Piazza Armerina, Agrigento, and Selinunte.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 8:39am by Erik Shell.

In addition to presenting the latest research on Greco-Roman antiquity and the ancient Mediterranean, attendees at the SCS annual meeting have increasingly had the opportunity to discuss other important issues such as the history of Classics as a field; systemic concerns and directions for the future; and ways to make the field more accessible to people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. The SCS has recently also incorporated into the annual meeting lectures by influential artists and writers whose work draws on, adapts, and interprets ancient Greek and Roman texts for the broad public. Luis Alfaro, the Chicano playwright and performance artist, spoke about his adaptations of Greek tragedy during the 2019 annual meeting in San Diego, while this year in Washington, D.C., Madeline Miller, writer of best-selling novels Circe (2018) and Song of Achilles (2012), discussed imaginative takes on Homer’s epics. Their contributions to the field indicate the value in seeking out conversations with those who engage with the Greek and Roman worlds outside the Classics classroom.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 11:00pm by .
The Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs is launching a partnership with the Institute for International Education. This is part of a broader effort to boost the extroversion of the Greek education system and Greek universities specifically.
 
The partnership aims at bringing a delegation from selected US institutions to visit Greece for a week at the end of March to meet Greek rectors and visit Greek universities. The purpose of the partnership is to establish contact between US institutions and their Greek counterparts. 
 
More information and the application form can be found at:

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 2:13pm by Erik Shell.

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