Graduate Education in Classics: A Continuing Conversation...

"Wir Philologen?" The Boundaries and Structures of "Classics" as a Professional Discipline

Archaeology and Philology in the Contemporary Classics Department

Stephen L. Dyson, SUNY Buffalo



Any discussion must begin with the acknowledgment of the historical and present scholarly and pedagogical equality of archaeology and philology within the field of Classics. Both branches arose in the Renaissance. The archaeologists have their Raphael, while the philologists have their Poggio and Erasmus. While the archaeologists themselves have often implicitly or even explicitly accepted a subordinate status to philology, this mentality has to be rejected by all parties, if we are going to have a healthy Classics undergraduate and graduate curriculum in the late twentieth century.

A central question is the relative role of archaeology and ancient languages in the graduate curriculum. In terms of both research and teaching, I argue that, while it is a good idea that all classicists know some archaeology and some ancient languages, that the current expectation is tilted too heavily towards language and especially Greek.

Research Preparation

There are some research fields where a classical archaeologist is going to need a good knowledge of a relevant ancient language or languages. However, in many areas (including most of the cutting edge areas of the discipline of archaeology) this is not the case. While it is nice to know everything, the reality is that in modern archaeology much has to be left to experts. This applies to both the animal bones and the Greek ostraka.

One of the reasons that classical archaeology has lagged behind the rest of the archaeological discipline is that we have let too much of our intellectual agenda and graduate education curriculum be determined by forces extraneous to the research needs of modern archaeology. The reading of material culture texts is as complicated as the reading of written texts, but it largely requires a very different range of skills. Those differences are going to increase rather than decrease during the coming years. Graduate study time is going to be increasingly limited, especially in most contemporary universities, where financial pressures are going to make less feasible the long, leisurely graduate programs of the past. Some things are going to have to go. In the area of research training, this is going to mean less language and more archaeology for archaeologists.

Teaching Preparation

It is generally stated that the archaeologists are going to need to be able to teach the languages, if they are going to be able to meet the needs of a Classics Department. Therefore, they must have mastery of both Greek and Latin at an advanced level. I would argue that these statements do not represent present and future curricular reality, especially in the area of Greek. There is an odd contradiction between the statement that archaeologists must really know Greek and the current laments on the part of philologists that Greek is going the way of Sanskrit in the Classics curriculum. The reality of student interests and background and decanal enrollment pressures is that Greek beyond the elementary level is going to become more and more a marginal part of the curriculum, especially in the undergraduate oriented colleges and universities, where most of our students will get positions. In an increasing number of situations the philologists, let alone the archaeologists, will not teach Greek in regular courses. The situation will be somewhat better for Latin, but it is also probable that Latin beyond the intermediate level will become more and more a world of tutorials and overloads.

In contrast archaeology courses generally draw very healthy enrollments. They become a means of keeping deans off the back of the department. When the classical archaeologists are allowed to develop coherent curricula, they usually attract significant numbers of majors. Even in the more general education area of classical civilization, Western Civilization, and World Civilization, archaeologists with their understanding of monuments can do very effective and popular courses aimed at an increasingly visually oriented generation. If Classics Departments hope to survive in the current academic climate and culture, the philologists, who politically still tend to dominate departments, are going to have to forget the old slogans and stereotypes and welcome the archaeologists and their ability to attract students and enhance curricula. That reception has to increasingly come on the archaeologists' own terms.

Classics, Archaeology, Philology, and the General Public

Both philologists and archaeologists are constantly extracting new meaning and information from the existing texts. However, only archaeology is expanding its corpus of texts to a significant degree. Archaeology is also the major link between the public and our profession. While, in our conservative age, some may think Latin and Greek are good things, it is generally the discoveries of the archaeologists which make the news media. Archaeology magazine has a circulation of 200,000, more I suspect than all of the classical philological journals in the world combined! Classics is going to have to harness this interest created in large parts by the archaeologists, if the discipline is going to survive in anything like its present form.

The Future of the Classics Graduate Curriculum

Our current graduate education is based on a German model designed for an era when classics was at the center of the curriculum. We need to produce an American educational model for a discipline that is still attractive, but basically marginal. I would argue that most classics graduate programs are going to have to produce classroom generalists, who can teach courses which combine ancient literature in translation, ancient history, and archaeology. We need to provide the students with the knowledge needed for such courses and teach them how to develop them and present them. These courses can operate on various levels of sophistication, but few will have a significant language component. This type of pedagogical training till require increased cooperation among the branches of our discipline. Research training is going to have to operate with a higher level of ruthless efficiency without the deference to sentiment or outmoded tradition. For philological researchers, that means limited archaeology. For archaeologists that will mean less language.

I would be happy to discuss any of these points with colleagues over the Internet.