Classics was the curriculum for European higher education from the founding of the first universities through the nineteenth century. Although the twentieth century has seen a proliferation of university offerings, the introduction, separation, or renaming of academic disciplines, Classics remains the core of a liberal education. Institutions without departments of Classics cannot dispense with Greco-Roman contributions to their curricula in art, European languages, history, law, literature, mathematics, political science, philosophy, religion, theatre. Yet those institutions may not have one person on the faculty who can access the ancient world in its own languages, although language, with its cultural baggage, is the essence of human thought. By analogy, what would we think of a German university where English literature was available only as a selection of works taught in German translation, where the person who taught Shakespeare could not read Shakespeare in English? [Disclaimer: we know of no German university where this situation actually obtains.]
The past, for better and worse, informs the present. The permeation of our society by Greco-Roman culture is so complete that we are unaware of it, just as the average person does not know the source or nature of the genetic information that she carries in her body. This person's physician (who will have taken the Hippocratic oath, in memory of the first scientific physicians in the western world) will request a medical history, the better to make diagnoses and prognoses. In the same way, we who are touched by western culture need to understand where we came from if we are to proceed not blindly toward the future. Our understanding of physics surpasses the ancients', yet Stephen Hawking writes of time's arrow because the Greeks and Romans could only conceive of time as a line. Western law grew out of Roman law. European literature would not exist as we know it without the influence of Greek and Latin classics. The idea of a united Europe is a legacy of the Roman empire. Democracy is both a Greek idea and a Greek word: if we removed all Greco-Roman elements from English, we would speak a limited dialect of German without the additions which modern German itself has taken from the Romans and Greeks.
The Department of Classics provides access to a cultural continuum spanning over three millennia. Our small faculty teaches 450-550 students a year; our curriculum includes the study of Greek and Latin language and literature, the history of Greece, Rome, the ancient Middle East, and an array of English-language courses in literature and civilization. Students who study Greek or Latin come mostly from the College of Arts and Sciences, while about a third of those in Classics courses are from other Colleges. Greek and Latin courses prepare students to read a unique body of literature in the original; those in fourth-semester Greek read serious quantities of Homer's Iliad. Language instruction has valuable side effects: our students learn, most for the first time, how their own language works and how to write more cogent English. Attention to detail and to logical structures enables them to succeed in mathematics. Imagining another world-view to grasp a thought first written down twenty-five hundred years ago teaches them to open their minds to different ways of thinking. Although some students who try foreign languages find them 'too hard', those who persist attain not only knowledge of the subject with its attendant benefits, but self-realization from the achievement of trying something they thought was beyond their grasp or perseverance, and succeeding. We spend many hours a week with language students outside of class, in individual tutorials or remedial sessions, doing extra reading with very good students who want to learn more, in advising sessions which become long and thoughtful conversations.
The department also serves well a large number of undergraduates who do not wish to expend the effort which Greek and Latin require. Most Classics courses are a combination of lecture and seminar, in which we emphasize writing in many forms: in addition to the obligatory research papers, tests and quizzes are always in essay format, carefully read and corrected by a faculty member, not a student reader or a machine. We offer students questions to ponder at a safe distance: Does civil war involve class war (and vice versa)? What is the comfort of an afterlife if heaven is a place where nothing ever happens? Why are 'cold war' and 'newspeak' very old concepts? Why and how did all of the Greeks except the Spartans practice birth control and why did Spartan law remove that decision from the parents' control? What makes comedy and satire funny? How can a politician who knows how to use language manipulate those who are not paying careful attention? To what extent did the ancients grasp atomic theory correctly, and how could they do it at all without technology? What lessons do tragedies hold for the modern world? Can there be such a thing as an 'economy' without economic theory to describe it? What is racism or any idea of otherness? What were the levels of air pollution during the height of the Roman empire? Why is an agrarian society of small freeholders inimical to irresponsible government? Why did some regard slavery as a path of upward mobility in the Roman empire? If you were a woman, would you rather have the franchise without power or power without the franchise, and how many women have or ever have had both? Is the unexamined life really not worth living?
We have a small graduate program offering two degrees, an MAT in Latin and an MA in Greek and Latin. MAT students, who are preparing to teach in secondary schools, complete half of their hours in Classics and half in the College of Education. We find placements for their internships with the area's most successful teachers, many of whom are our former students. Our concern for and interaction with Vermont schools is a central part of the department's mission. Most of those who have completed an MA in Greek and Latin come to UVM to learn the languages better before proceeding to PhD programs. All graduate students have an opportunity to engage in supervised teaching experiences in elementary language instruction, etymology, and/or mythology. We have given details of our graduate students' careers in reports for the Graduate College; the department's program received a high rating in the GTF study in 1996.
It may not be a stated part of the University's mission, but we believe it is important to let students find a home in an academic department, and to regard faculty as mentorsoeor temporary parentsoewhom they can seek out for advice or companionship. The faculty and students in Classics, majors and graduate students as well as non-majors, are like an extended family.
Although the trend data cannot reflect students' evaluations of our teaching, the department keeps all evidence of this sort. Students consistently applaud the quality of instruction in and the content of our courses; majors who go on to PhD programs bring great credit to UVM because their preparation is superior to that of students from more prestigious schools (we can document this assertion). We are just as happy about the success of students who are non-majors, but who have been able to find their own best nature. In short, we love our students, and they know it.
All members of the faculty are active scholars in their field, and at least two are also known for work outside of Classics: Philip Ambrose has completed the J.S. Bach web site, which major search engines have made a primary link for inquiries about Bach; Robert Rodgers, editor of and frequent contributor to Vermont Genealogy, has published the first tome of a multi-volume work on Middlesex County (MA) probate records for the New England Historical Genealogical Society. Other publications and presentations by our faculty in 1998 include an on-line book project, 5 print articles, 4 major book reviews, and invited lectures in Montreal (in French) and Augsburg (in German) as well as several others (in English) in the United States. We expand our knowledge as students (and set an example of life-long learning): Ambrose, Bailly, Rodgers and Saylor Rodgers have taken courses in Italian, advanced French and German, math, physics, geology, economics, statistics, computer science.
Our introduction of a greater variety of upper- and lower-division courses in translation (literature, civilization, history) has made Classics accessible to and useful for a much wider audience. The substantial student interest in Classics and ancient history courses counterbalances the lower interest in Greek and Latin. The average class size of a Classics course from 1992-1999 is 37, and this number includes the effects of limiting enrollment in TAP courses to 20 or fewer. Since average size of a Greek class for the same period is 6, and of Latin is 10, it is clear that the Classics courses compensate for the relative inefficiency of the Greek and Latin curriculum.