Graduate Education in Classics: A Continuing Conversation....

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Does Graduate Education in Classics Need Reform?

Anticipated Developments

Christine Perkell expressed the opinion that the future could not depend on the teaching of Greek and Latin in the original, but that any large and as yet untapped markets of students could only be reached by courses taught in translation and that these courses could not be confined to standard texts and authors. Richard Thomas countered that in the Boston area the market for traditional courses in Greek and Latin had actually grown in recent years: he cited, among other groups, the example of local schoolteachers taking courses in the evening college, and noted that phenomena such as the growth of a large Hispanic middle class, particularly in states like California, seemed likely to provide local markets in other areas. He expressed concern that a decision to focus our efforts on creating new courses in translation would involve a significant opportunity cost by diverting FTEs from language courses, which would cause an important market to dry up and would take the profession farther away from its real area of expertise, forcing it to compete on unfavorable terms with disciplines better suited to teach courses in politics, sociology, and so on. Bernie Frischer noted privately that the increase in majors at UCLA was fueled by the institution of a Classical Civilization major that requires little course work in Greek or Latin, but which has caused the traditional major in classical languages to grow just as large as the new one (there are about thirty-five to forty-five majors in each stream).

Bridget Murnaghan challenged the notion that a classicist's area of professional expertise is confined to Greek and Latin and that professional growth or survival strategies should be based on this assumption. In particular, she stated that there is no reason to think that professors of (e.g.) English are better able to teach classical literature in translation than are professors of classics. Rather, since there clearly is a market for such courses, classicists should work both at training our own graduate students to teach them and also at helping colleagues in other fields to teach (e.g.) classical literature in translation with due awareness of the factors that distinguish it from (e.g.) English literature.

Jim O'Donnell came at the problem from a slightly different angle by asking early in the discussion who "we" are: do the issues being addressed in these discussions concern students of the Greek and Latin languages and literatures (philologists), or also historians, archaeologists, and others? Alessandro Schiessaro later returned to this point, asking whether classics should define itself as a "discipline" (e.g. "classical philology") or a "field" or "area study" (e.g. something akin to the totalizing model of "klassische Altertumswissenschaft" encompassing literature, material culture, history, philosophy, etc.)?

Along these lines, some participants felt that the field should not be defined merely as a collectivity of specialists in widely differing areas, but should insist on breadth of expertise in individual scholars. Judy Hallett asked why, given that field originally defined itself as an extremely broad interdisciplinary pursuit, is it now commonly perceived as the preserve of specialists who are not open to input from other fields. Richard Thomas remarked that classicists need to be willing to teach subjects other than their own research and to teach introductory courses. Jim Halporn spoke of his early experience teaching T. S. Eliot despite having no formal graduate training in English, but noted that such experiences seemed to be less common nowadays. Julia Gaisser agreed, and suggested that classicists needed to remember one of the ideals of liberal education, namely that it trains the individual not in any specific craft, but to assess situations, define tasks, and perform them well on one's own resources. Christine Perkell spoke of the need for classicists not only to be broadly trained, but to be able to address non- specialist as well as specialist audiences, including non-academic ones.

[To proceed to section 2.1, click here.]