We’re constantly hearing about the uselessness of what we do in the real world and I’m always on the lookout, as can be seen from the page in our header bar, looking for folks who have had success with a Classics degree in the real world. But I have to admit I was gobsmacked in a major way when this item from Newsweek crossed my email box … it’s entitled “The 13 Most Useful College Majors (as Determined by Science) ” … it gets better … they gloss “useful” as:
*Useful, for our purposes, is defined by majors most likely to lead to less unemployment and higher earnings, and which are in industries projected to grow in the next decade according to research from Georgetown University and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Anyhoo, here’s the list … check out #10!
The 13 Most Useful* College Majors (As Determined By Science)
2. Mechanical Engineering
3. Electrical Engineering
4. Civil Engineering
5. Computer Science
7. Marketing and Marketing Research
10. French, German, Latin, and other Common Foreign Languages
11. General Business
12. Elementary Education
- via: The 13 Most Useful* College Majors (As Determined By Science) (Newsweek)
All the things link to a slideshowish thing at the Daily Beast, which has some interesting stats for the 10 category:
10. French, German, Latin, and other Common Foreign Languages
Unemployment, recent grad: 7.9%
Unemployment, experienced grad: 4.8%
Earnings, recent grad: $32,000
Earnings, experienced grad: $50,000
Projected growth, 2010-2020: 42%
Related occupation: Interpreters and Translators
I expect to see this clipped and posted on every departmental bulletin board and a link on every departmental website within, say, the next hour.
UPDATE (a few minutes later) ... just to curb our enthusiasm a bit, their previous entry (The 13 Most Useless College Majors (As Determined By Science)) includes History and Archaeology … oh well, small victories (or better: stress the languages when you’re applying for a job!)
Interesting oped piece by Michael Sloan (who is an assistant professor of Classical Languages at Wake Forest) in response to yet another governor suggesting funding liberal arts courses in university is a waste of money:
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s comments on national radio suggest that taxpayer dollars supporting women’s and gender studies and philosophy classes is wasted money. Those programs, along with many others perceived as academic pursuits “that have no chance of getting people jobs,” are headed for the fiscal chopping block. According to McCrory, liberal arts studies do not lead to employment. The problem is, he’s wrong.
In fact, 95 percent of survey respondents from Wake Forest University’s class of 2012 reported either being employed or in graduate school six months after graduation. Nearly 31 percent of them remain in North Carolina. If history and philosophy and classics majors can’t find success after college, how can a liberal arts university such as Wake Forest account for these numbers?
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently published its Job Outlook 2013 Survey, which identifies the core competencies employers seek in college graduates. These skills correspond very strongly with the content and skills acquired through a liberal arts education. The survey identifies communication, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and organization. Communication, which includes the ability to listen to others and articulate one’s own thoughts, rated first in nine out of the last 10 years.
As a classics professor, I come to class every day preparing my students for good jobs, but perhaps more importantly, equipping them with the necessary tools for creative and broad thinking — the type of intellectual training that does not merely fill available jobs but creates new ones.
Classics, a field all too familiar with the chopping block — and the one I know best — is primarily the study of Greek and Latin languages and their literatures. In the classroom, students learn to translate Greek or Latin into spoken and/or written English. After conceptually organizing its wider historical context, they critically examine and interpret the material. Finally, they integrate the lessons with their own perceptions and observations. What we do every day, in every class, hones the very skills the NACE reports that employers want.
Let us not forget the lesson offered by Sophocles’ “Ajax,” a canonical work of the classics. Ajax, a mountain of a man, was a mighty hero with a limited set of skills, however, the burgeoning Greek democracy required a new type of hero: one who was articulate, creative and a good leader. Greece required people like Odysseus; the strength of Ajax was of lesser value, and his demise was tragic.
“Liberal arts” is a phrase taken from the Latin, artes liberales , which means “the skills of a free person.” Pursuing the liberal arts in depth broadens our moral and intellectual horizons. Should we be as narrow-minded as our immediate surroundings? No. We must explore the thoughts, deeds and actions of others who have come before us, so as to forge a broader road on which we all may travel with a greater sense of identity and promise for the future. Martin Luther King Jr. (religion), J.K. Rowling (classics), David Packard of HP (classics) and Condoleezza Rice (political science) became great not through narrow skill but liberal training. Do we not realize that job creation is the work of creative minds, wise leaders and broad thinkers? Do we seek to fill only those jobs that currently exist and effectively inhibit new avenues for greater job creation?
What the governor, who is himself a liberal arts graduate, proposes is not higher education but lower.
Classics and other disciplines in a liberal arts curriculum offer students a rare opportunity to listen to the minds of their ancestors, wrestle with profound questions and better understand human behavior. Global leaders recognize that students from a liberal arts environment emerge with nimble and adaptable minds trained to wrestle with complex ideas and discover innovative solutions — essential in our uncertain world. Why should North Carolina be any different? North Carolina citizens should hope Homer and Odysseus are not headed out to sea.
The governor’s assessment is wrong. Classics and other liberal arts studies help students develop skills that are transferable to the career opportunities of the 21st century. Industry and technology change quickly and, for the most part, humans do not.
In his interview with Bill Bennett, McCrory said, “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
Depriving students in North Carolina’s public university system the opportunity to develop employers’ sought-after skills is at best short-sighted, but in reality, counterproductive. We don’t need less study of the disciplines named and implied, we need more. A complex world requires versatile and visionary leaders. That’s why liberal arts programs have been — and will continue to be — the natural breeding ground for our future leaders.
- via: Michael Sloan writes in defense of liberal arts (Winston Salem Journal)
I’ve suggested this before and I’ll suggest it again … it would probably be a very good thing for Classics if departments started tracking the employment status of their graduating students (after six months, one year, whatever). Of course, the chowderheads will reply “sure, what kind of jobs”, but I think that can be said about a lot of just-out-of-university types, no matter what the discipline. Perhaps the info could be centralized by the major organizations and put online for in-your-face purposes.
In case you don’t notice it, there’s a new ‘page’ up there … it’s essentially a consolidation of my Delicious bookmarks on folks in the ‘real world’ who have/had Classics degrees. I know it’s incomplete and welcome suggestions for additions!
Excerpts from the LA Times, which really plays up the Classics angle:
Khaled Holmes earned a degree in classics, so USC’s senior center is well versed in the tragedy and heroism found in ancient Greek and Roman literature.
Ask him which character he most identifies with and the bearded, bespectacled Holmes pauses.
“Most of them are pretty tragic,” he says, laughing. “So I don’t know if I identify with any of them.”
When pressed, Holmes ponders Odysseus. He considers Achilles. Finally, he chooses Hercules.
“With everything thrown at him,” he says, “he found a way to just conquer it somehow.”
But like Hercules, who maneuvered through 12 labors in one of Holmes’ favorite childhood stories, the team captain overcame his early trials, neutralized Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei — a top NFL prospect — and helped lead then-No. 13 USC to victory.
When Holmes is not identifying defenses and calling out blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage, he’s designing a mobile application for his master’s degree program in communications management. Last December, he vibrantly played the role of King Theseus in a group reading in the classics department.
The Holmes siblings — Alex, 31, sister Theodora, 29 and Khaled, 22 — were exposed to classical literature by their mother, Katina, a classicist who when it came to bedtime stories had no time for Dr. Seuss. Instead, it was Plato, Aeschylus and Homer.
- via: USC’s Khaled Holmes knows tragedy and heroism (LA Times)
You’ve probably seen this mentioned already, but it’s useful to keep getting the word out … the APA has updated its Careers for Classicists ‘brochure’, and it’s now available online:
… if you’re making a resume, you might want to alert prospective employers to this document as well in case they’re not aware of what skills a Classicist might bring to the table.
A video from the Classics for All folks, showing the benefits of Latin (amongst other things) at the grade school level … perhaps it might inspire folks on this side of the pond:
… the Classics for All website …
Very interesting interview in Fast Company … Jessica Goldfin has some really good advice in this one for those with a Classics-related degree who are hitting the job market:
As an undergraduate student of art and classical civilizations at Florida State University, Jessica Goldfin helped excavate ruins. Today, as special assistant to the president at the Knight Foundation and an advisor at the nonprofit Games for Change, she’s helping not only create the future of media but building better communities, too. Here, she explains how she’s spun internships and an eclectic resume into a career where innovation is the only constant.
FAST COMPANY: You have an undergrad degree in Art History and Classical Civilizations–how did you end up working at the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that supports journalism and media innovation?
JESSICA GOLDFIN: When I finished undergrad, I wanted to be a career archaeologist. I like being in the dirt. After school, I got an internship at the Art Institute of Chicago in their publications department, which was the only way I could get in there. At the end of the internship, I was offered a job that was below the poverty line. Instead I went to the University of Miami and started a master’s program in communications studies. I realized that if you can’t communicate what you’re doing, it doesn’t really matter how great the work is–people won’t understand it.
At the end of my first year, I thought I should get an internship in communications stuff. This was 2007–before the market crash; Twitter was barely a twinkle in somebody’s eye, and journalism hadn’t completely gone through the revolution it has now. I saw an internship for the journalism program at the Knight Foundation, which is in Miami. I’d taken a class on qualitative research methods, looking at technological convergence in newsrooms, and I went in to the interview and told them all about convergence. Afterwards, Eric Newton, who was then the VP of the journalism program, told me, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, but you’re plucky.” But no one then knew what they were talking about. Two weeks into this filing internship, I was already so into it.
When my internship ended, I went on a dig in Petra, Jordan. When I came back Knight hired me part-time, and then I got a position as a program assistant, making grants and driving various foundation initiatives. After three and half years, the president of the foundation, Alberto Ibarguen, offered me a job working for him. There was no job description–I still don’t really have one. I said “Okay, let’s do it.” It took about five or six months to just understand the new position and get a grip on it. There were growing pains, but at 27 I felt a foot taller than I was at 26. I’m sort of a chief of staff–kind of connecting, aligning opportunities with people and resources better. Seeing the dotted lines between the dots.
What gets you so excited about the work that Knight is doing?
The Knight Foundation gives out $110 million a year for projects that support informed and engaged communities. We work across several areas, at the cusp of the future, trying to find people and innovators in whatever sector that can help pull journalism and arts forward. Every day there’s something different. How do you train your mind to see connections and overlap? All of us here are a bunch of workaholics driven by passion–we just kind of want to do stuff that’s progressive, not necessarily in the political sense but in the sense of, how do we move forward?
You were also passionate about archaeology–what did you learn from working on digs?
I fell into archaeology from art history, when I got hooked on Etruscan art. The first dig I went on was a summer in Chianti, Italy, with my mentor Nancy de Grummond at Florida State. I was the only undergrad invited to the dig. I was always the first one up, ready to do what Nancy needed to do. That was unfiltered time with her. I think you can learn any language, skill, or industry, but you can’t learn enthusiasm.
It wasn’t Indiana Jones stuff. You’d work 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. in trenches, going meter by meter. It’s organized deconstruction–like in maker culture, you’re taking something apart to understand how it works. You have to be organized and make sure everything goes in the right bag, note and measure any changes in soil color. Then when you’re out of the trench and back in the lab, you have to go back and make sense of the pieces.
You have to be well-versed in the history and context of the site you’re working on–while knowing that that’s less than 1% of the reality of what that civilization was. You’re constantly triangulating, comparing what you’re finding to what you think you know. The most depressing thing is to dig for weeks and months and then find Snickers wrappers and realize everything you thought isn’t true! It teaches you openness. You have to be completely open to new pieces of information. The best archaeologists are the ones who want to question, not just confirm a set theory or hypothesis.
You’re also on the board of advisors at Games for Change, a nonprofit that promotes games for social impact. How did you get into that?
In 2007, our president created the Knight News Challenge–an open innovation prize. Three of the first six winners were game-related. That was interesting to us. People were starting to explore socially oriented uses of games. In 2008, Knight sent me to the Games for Change conference. Like I think happens with a lot of young people in organizations, I got sent because I was the youngest person at the foundation. We were thinking maybe we could fund a game about the First Amendment. Now I know that was a horrible idea. But within the first hour at the conference, I remember thinking that if we were ignoring games we were doing a disservice to our mission.
Everyone in the world has played games since the beginning of civilization–they are a way of making sense of the world around us and of socializing. Think of how many people play Monopoly or World of Warcraft. Or Angry Birds–the cumulative time of people playing that adds up to 300,000 years! Games are compelling and fun, with these nonmonetary rewards that get people to do stuff. The Knight Foundation thought we could do something with using games as a tool to solve community problems or create more community engagement around particular places, and we started working with a game company called Area/Code [since acquired by Zynga] to think about some ideas.
So, what kind of “social impact games” did you come up with?
We knew when we started out that we wanted to explore the ways in which games engage players and how that might translate to real-world places and community engagement–but that was about it! We first worked with our program directors in five communities to identify issues that were topical and relevant. Before we even started thinking about what a game might look like, we first needed to understand the audiences we hoped to reach and the context on the ground to begin defining our design constraints. In the end we worked with Area/Code, the game designers, to create two very different games, designed with our partners, not for them. The trick was balancing the different areas of expertise. We knew we couldn’t just give a grant to Area/Code, because they didn’t necessarily know anything about what really made these communities tick. We also knew that we couldn’t just work with the community organizations on the ground, because they didn’t necessarily have the talent to design a game themselves, or the funding needed to create a good one.
The result was a game called Battlestorm in the Biloxi Gulf Coast region, which was designed to increase youth awareness and empowerment around hurricane preparation, through a real-world battle-game competition. In Macon, Georgia, we created a game called Macon Money, which focused on economic revitalization and creative place-making within the mile and a half College Hill Corridor connecting the local university to the downtown district. Macon Money really captured the community’s imagination–people were genuinely excited about this relatively simple game, which used an alternative form of local currency to encourage residents to connect with each other and support local businesses. People got half of a bond and had to find the person who had the other half in order to spend the money. And the coolest part is I got to take Otis Redding’s daughter out to breakfast to talk about why we want wanted to put her father’s likeness on the Macon Money bill–since Otis is from Macon–and she agreed!
So, how does someone like you define such a diverse skill set for a potential employer?
It’s a good question, because I’m actually leaving Knight this summer or fall. I told everyone early on–I wanted transparency, and my boss and colleagues have been very supportive in encouraging this next step in my career trajectory.
I wouldn’t trade my eclectic resume for anything, but I think the problem for a lot of intellectually curious people with eclectic backgrounds is thinking about careers by content areas of the places we’ve worked–as opposed to a skill set that kind of cuts across. I wear an ampersand around my neck that I got at a flea market–it’s a constant reminder to be open and remember to keep looking for connections at the intersections of things. You can learn the “language” of any job. The question is are you going to wake up and be excited about what you’re going to do that day.
I’ve had five offers–four of them for positions that I invented and pushed to make happen. Each is in a really different area–the thread is what I can bring to the table. I think my skills are in strategic operations–part strategy, part organizational development. How can you connect ideas, people, and resources? How do you enable people to be their best selves? That’s what interests me. In my job at the Knight Foundation, I’ve learned that leadership can be a lot of things. One is like a hammer–saying, here’s what we’re doing. But maybe power is in understanding others’ strengths, aligning them with the right projects, and enabling them to be their best selves. I don’t need to be the one with the idea. Who cares who makes the idea?–let’s keep it going and see what we can do with it.
… or at least guys who like Classics and major social media? Check out this incipit of a piece from
In Russia, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces stiff competition for the role of number one news-making internet wunderkind. His name is Pavel Durov.
Durov, 27, is the founder and CEO of VKontakte (“In Contact”), a Russian social network most easily described as a Facebook clone. Started in 2006, VKontakte has closely mimicked the American trendsetter in terms of design and functionality. With a natively Russian-language interface and a marked disregard for copyright laws — users can freely share music and movies — VKontakte has won a large following among users younger and less sophisticated than those of Russian Facebook. As of April, it had 16.2 million Russian users every day, compared with Facebook’s 2.3 million, according to research firm TNS. [...]
… then later:
But it is Durov’s political activities, rather than his business dealings, that have put him in the spotlight. He has emerged as an unlikely star of the protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It all started in December, when the Federal Security Service demanded that VKontakte close down several anti-Putin groups on the site, claiming that they threatened state security. Durov responded with a cheeky tweet that included a picture of a hoodie-wearing German shepherd with its tongue sticking out. The groups remained operative. No reprisals followed, and Durov’s firmness earned him accolades in the blogosphere.
… which makes me immediately like this guy. Then it gets better:
Durov’s background and radical position play into the hands of Putin’s propaganda machine, which is doing its best to convince Russians that mass protests in Moscow and other big cities are the work of decadent intellectuals with no connection to the heartland and no regard for traditional national values. To Durov, the son of a prominent St. Petersburg classicist, contempt for these values comes easily, and he makes no secret of it.
- via: Mark Zuckerberg’s Alter Ego Makes Trouble in Russia (Bloomberg)
So I try to find out more about his father and I come to another page which includes:
Pavel Durov was born in St. Petersburg, but spent most of his childhood in Italy, in the city of Turin. His father Valery Durov (who holds a Ph. D. in Philology) was working there. He went to an Italian elementary school, and after returning to Russia attended the Academy Gymnasium in St. Petersburg.
After school, Durov followed in his father’s footsteps. He attended the philological department of St. Petersburg State University and was preparing to become a translator. While studying, he created an online-library for his fellow students to help them share books and notes. All of a sudden, his invention became popular all over the University. Encouraged by this success Durov expanded by launching a University forum. Maintaining and developing it, he came up with the concept of a student social network.
… so perhaps even the younger Durov might be considered a Classicist of some sort. So I guess now when people ask “What can you do with Classics?” we can respond “become a social media giant.” QED.
This one’s been lurking in my email box for a while … tip o’ the pileus to Dr Stephen Glass (emeritus, Pitzer College) who sent this along fom The Princeton Review: Guide to College Majors: 2004
“A classics major offers the opportunity to explore the beliefs and achievements of antiquity, and to learn just how profoundly they still affect contemporary civilization.
If you major in classics, you’ll learn Greek or Latin (or both). You’ll also read the great literary and philosophical works composed in these languages. Be forewarned, though: reading The Odyssey in the original Greek is a little on the demanding side. You’ll study ancient art, architecture, and technology too, and you’ll learn about Greek and Roman legal systems, social institutions, religious practices, and class distinctions.
We can’t overstate the value of a classics major. Check this out: According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, students who have a major or a double major in classics have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of science. Crazy huh? Furthermore, according to Harvard Magazine, classics majors (and math majors) have the highest success rates of any majors in law school. Believe it or not, political science, economics and pre-law majors lag fairly far behind. Furthermore, classics majors consistently have some of the highest scores on the GRE of all undergraduates.
Shocked? Don’t be. One reason classics majors are so successful is that they completely master grammar. Medical terminology, legal terminology, and all those ridiculously worthless vocabulary words on the GRE (and the SAT) have their roots in Greek and Latin. Ultimately, though, classics majors get on well in life because they develop intellectual rigor, communications skills, analytical skills, the ability to handle complex information, and above all, a breadth of view which few other disciplines can provide.
… I think this (or something similar) is what was causing a kerfuffle back in December: Why Study Classics? Does It Get You Into Med School?. Whatever the case, I tend to think that last sentence is probably the best summing up of the benefits of Classics for the so-called ‘real world’ that I’ve read in a long time.
Tip o’ the pileus to Rose Williams for alerting us to this piece in USA Today:
When college-targeted publications feature articles on topics like the highest-paying college majors or the college majors that are most likely to land you a job, things do not always look too good for people studying the humanities.
Humanities departments face budget cuts now more than ever, and for small subdivisions of humanities, like classics, the future is even grimmer. Even at top departments like the one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, budget decreases affect the number of courses that can be offered each semester and the number of faculty the department hires.
Sometimes, when I tell someone I’m a classics major, they don’t even understand what the department is. Classics as in classical music? Classics as in 18th century British literature? (No and no.) Classics as in Greek and Roman history? “Oh, so you want to be a teacher.”
People who hear someone is a classics major usually assume that person wants to be a high school Latin teacher or a college professor. While many classics majors choose to earn graduate degrees in classics and become teachers and professors, there are many other fields that undergraduates can enter with a classics degree. But more importantly, there’s a lot to be learned from classics, regardless of your profession.
Classics is a popular undergraduate major for law school students, because it teaches you to think critically and formulate arguments. There’s nothing like the speeches of the fifth century logographer Lysias to get the legal mindset started! Many students who major in classics also choose to work in libraries or museums.
Even if you’re not planning to enter one of these fields, classics is still a great field to study. Yes, Latin is a dead language, and ancient Greek is tremendously different from modern Greek. Yes, these societies ultimately collapsed. No, people don’t have dinner parties and discuss the meaning of love, Symposium-style. But the influence of classics on modern culture is still prevalent today.
Take the Percy Jackson young adult book series, for example. The novels have been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 200 weeks, not to mention being made into a blockbuster movie franchise. The novels are based on Greek mythology, and their author, Rick Riordan, completed a Roman-inspired series following Percy Jackson’s success and an Egyptian-inspired series after that.
In cult classics that aren’t based in classical themes, the classical influence is still apparent. Harry Potter’s spells are a sort of Latin mash-up, and the names of many Pokémon derive from Latin roots.
Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has stated in multiple interviews that the games in the series were based on the idea of the Roman gladiatorial games, and more than a few Hunger Games characters have classically inspired names. For example, the emperor Nero forced Seneca the younger to commit suicide for alleged participation in a conspiracy; President Snow forced the Hunger Games’ Seneca to commit suicide when he allowed tributes from a district other than the Capitol’s to win the games.
Even if classics departments are shrinking and students are moving toward more economically favorable fields of study, series like these show that people today are still very much interested in the classical world. And who wouldn’t be? The cultures are fascinating, from Roman feasts to Greek vase painting.
People say they study history because history repeats itself, but studying classics is so much more than that. The classical world heavily shaped the western one, and much of America’s founding was based in how the Roman Republic was run. Classical influences are everywhere, from Greek columns on government buildings to Philadelphia’s city layout, which was loosely inspired by the Roman road system.
The argument that classical studies are no longer relevant really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, we don’t deal with the issues that characters in Greek tragedy faced. (Has anyone you know murdered his father and married his mother lately?) But the works of great tragedians reach something deeper, issues that afflict humanity as a whole. In Euripides’ Hecuba, the titular character suffers because of her willingness to trust people, eventually becoming extremely cynical. If you read the tragedy, her character transformation is remarkably similar to Taylor Momsen’s Gossip Girl character Jenny Humphrey’s change from innocent and trusting to high school queen in the show’s first two seasons.
The times and settings change, but human issues don’t. And classics, more than any other field (aside from philosophy), deals with these issues in a way that’s still relevant today, and will still be relevant in the future.
The bottom line is, you should choose a major you love, even if you’re not sure how it will help you in your career search. If you can defend what you’re passionate about (and still have the skills to do they jobs you’re applying for), your employer will see that passion. I’m not a journalism major, but my studies in classics have given me a different perspective in my editorial experiences and have never hindered my job search. So do what you love — and take a course in your school’s classics department if you’ve got some extra room in your schedule.
- via: Majoring in the classics gives students an edge (USA Today)
From the Gothamist:
An immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who has worked as a janitor for Columbia University for 20 years has finally earned his bachelor’s degree in classics, with honors. The Daily News reports that while you were concerned with catching up on Boardwalk Empire and content to remain in the same, midlevel job because “the economy just isn’t right yet,” Gac Filipaj toiled day and night, first taking classes to learn English then courses in the classics department at the Ivy League university. “Only half my dream come true,” Filipaj says, with an earnestness that kills a million photos of cats drawn in steamed milk. “Today, one ought to have a master’s or a Ph.D.”
Filipaj took advantage of Columbia’s tuition benefit for its employees and took classes in the morning then cleaned the school from 2:30 to 11 p.m., hitting the books right around when you usually finished your last jalepeno popper and drained a BL Lime at trivia night at some bar whose name you’ll forget in 8 months. “He just loves what he’s learning,” dean of students Phil Mendoza says.
“I think I’m going to stay at Columbia,” Filipaj says of his future. The janitor took two days vacation to celebrate his achievement, which is the same amount of time you took off to “recuperate” from your eight-day trip to Cabo. “If I can get a job better than cleaning, good. If not, there is nothing shameful about that work.”
As for whether his story is unique, Filipaj seems sheepish.“If my story and the fact at this age I am graduating helps people to think about getting an education, it’s for a good cause.”
- via: Janitor Works 20 Years To Earn Columbia Classics Degree For Free (Gothamist)
In a followup article in the same paper (which also includes a video interview) Filipaj notes:
Asked what the most difficult part of his academic and professional journey has been, Filipaj declines to mention the pressure of financially supporting his family back home while he betters himself with highly refined, esoteric knowledge, or the bizarre duality of cleaning bathrooms and studying while his classmates were playing Halo and overdrafting into their parents’ checking accounts. “The most difficult thing is ancient Greek—it’s just a killer! Latin is a little bit easier, at least for me.
- via: Janitor Who Earned Columbia BA Says Hardest Part Was “Ancient Greek” (Gothamist)
… I can sympathize with a lot of that …
It’s interesting how many authors of juvenile fiction (it seems) have a Classics background … here’s the latest one to keep an eye on, from the Daily Record:
MEET writer Daniela Sacerdoti – who has swapped Italy for Scotland to keep our teenagers up all night.
The mum-of-two’s new novel – Dreams, a demonic, paranormal thriller – is being tipped as the next teenage blockbuster after the Twilight trilogy.
Some young reviewers are even claiming it is better than Stephenie Meyer’s acclaimed vampire saga as the expectation around its release reaches fever pitch.
The book, the first of a trilogy about demon-hunting schoolgirl Sarah Midnight, is also attracting interest from around the world.
The former primary school teacher yesterday told how she based her bewitching main character on an anonymous schoolgirl standing at a bus stop near her home in Barrhead, Renfrewshire.
Daniela, 38, admits she is dumbstruck about the hype building around the novel. She said: “The book is not out yet but I’ve already had lots of positive feedback from young people reviewing it.
“I’m blown away by the response to the novel in Britain and around the world. It’s an exciting time.
“Paranormal thrillers have become very popular in the last few years, thanks to the Twilight books and movies.
“I came up with the idea for Sarah Midnight long before the trend for the genre began. After seeing the reaction Stephenie Meyer’s novels got, I thought it was time to put pen to paper and bring my character to life.”
Daniela, who was born in the village of Caravino, near Naples, added: “Sarah Midnight is based on a schoolgirl I spotted at a bus stop in Barrhead seven years ago.
“She was around 15 and had gorgeous, long, black hair and a charismatic expression. She had a face that told a story and I decided it was up to me to tell that tale. Sarah was born.
“A few years later I went to visit a friend in Glasgow who lives in an old Victorian villa. Her house became the Midnights’ home.” The book is set in Edinburgh and follows Sarah’s battle to survive in a world of demons after her parents are mysteriously killed.
Although her world is shattered, the 17-year-old has no choice but to embrace her role as a demon hunter. Her nightmares come true and she has to learn fast that death waits for no one.
Daniela, whose great-uncle was renowned Italian writer Carlo Levi, would love her trilogy to be made into movies or TV dramas.
The Twilight Saga movies, starring Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, smashed box office records all over the world.
The Dreams author said: “I would love Sarah Midnight to make it on to TV or the big screen. I think the trilogy would make a brilliant BBC drama.
“If it ever got made into a movie, I would love Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games to play Sarah.”
Daniela, who used to teach at Annette Street Primary in Govanhill, Glasgow, gave up teaching to raise her sons Sorley, seven and Luca, four – and concentrate on writing.
Her debut book Watch Over Me, an adult novel about love and loss, was an instant hit and her second, a children’s book called The Really Weird Removal Company, was shortlisted for the 2011 Kelpie Prize.
Daniela, who is married to mental health worker Ross Walker, 40, said: “I always have a couple of books on the go and another two or three in my head.
“The first draft of the second Sarah Midnight novel is finished and hopefully will be published in January.
“I’m also working on a sequel to my kids’ book and a paranormal thriller for adults.
Daniela, who studied Classics at Turin University and Irish medieval history at University College Dublin, says she finds it easier to write in English than her native Italian.
She said: “English is my second language but it’s the language I always choose to write in.
“As a child I would always write my diary in English so no one else could read them.
“I remember my English teacher getting us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I put ‘righter’, which makes me laugh, when I think back on it.
“All my books are set in Scotland because I am in love with this country I now call home and feel it is the perfect setting for all types of stories, especially thrillers.”
Daniela has inherited her parents’ love of books and their thirst for knowledge and self-improvement.
She said: “My family have always loved the arts and sciences. My dad studied physics at university and became a brilliant businessman.
“Sadly, he died three years before my first book came out. I know he would have been very proud of me.
“My mum still lives in Italy but comes to Scotland once a year for a visit. She doesn’t speak English and can’t wait for me to translate Sarah Midnight into Italian – she is also a lover of literature.”
Daniela admits she sees a bit of herself in the character of Sarah Midnight.
She said: “Every teenager goes through emotional turmoil and that is what I wanted to capture in
“The demons in the book are both physical and metaphorical as we all have demons to fight in our lives. We all want to be empowered and we all have to battle to know who to trust.”
via: Scots author ‘blown away’ by response to book tipped to be the new Twilight (Daily Record)
Looks like another Classicist got drafted last weekend … an excerpt from the Boston Herald:
[...] The Dolphins need to do a better job keeping their quarterbacks up, so
they took Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin in the second round. They’ll need to coach up University of Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon, whose college production doesn’t exactly match his third-round selection. They took tight end Michael Egnew, a 6-5 former high jumper and basketball player, in search of another player who can go up over defenders.
The Dolphins picked up an extra draft pick when they traded out of the No. 73 spot back to the No. 78 spot held by San Diego and picked up a sixth-round pick from the Chargers in the process. Though Martin couldn’t say what career he would be headed for if not for football — “I haven’t really thought about that. My goal all along has been to get to the NFL.” — he doesn’t break the Stanford mold of actual student-athletes. Martin majored in “Classics,” as in ancient Greek and Roman history. Martin’s maternal great-grandfather graduated from Harvard in 1924.
Both of Martin’s parents, Gus Martin and Jane Howard-Martin, graduated from Harvard. [...]
Love the quotation marks around “Classics”, as if that were a subject they ‘made up’ …
Some previous related coverage:
The incipit of a feature in Trinity College Magazine … always fun to read about a Canadian who studied Classics and had subsequent success (he currently is with the Globe and Mail, I believe):
John Allemang ’74 is a journalist, rather than someone for whom journalism is a job. His newsroom experiences date back to the days of newsmen smoking at their desks, filing stories by phone and couriering a cockroach from bureau to bureau in a cassette-tape case on a “Tour of the Bureaus,” making light of the travels of a managing editor.
Allemang is not the guy who produces follow-the-formula stories; he listens to his editors and works with them, but he lets his stories speak for themselves, rather than allowing editorial edict to dictate. Like so many writerly quirks, his intuitive independence likely stems from his upbringing. The eldest of four, he was often left to his own devices, enjoying a childhood spent exploring local drainage ditches, breaking bones and, according to one oft-quoted report card, doing his classmates’ work for them.
He attended University of Toronto Schools – where he excelled and flailed academically, dominated at sports from hockey to gymnastics, took dubious hitchhiking trips across North America in the summers, and cut class to go look at art and hear poetry.
He went on to Trinity, completing a specialty degree in Classics. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship (much to his surprise) and left for Oxford, where he studied Classics at Wadham College. While there, he sated a hunger for gastronomic knowledge.
“I spent a lot of free time in Soho studying the markets, stores, bakeries, dim sum restaurants, cafés,” he recalls. He would buy ingredients, like a pig’s head, and figure out what to do with them, turning his flat into a makeshift rendering plant.
And in those batches of DIY head cheese lie journalistic origins: Allemang began filing reports to The Good Food Guide, a British publication he describes as “a more literate pre-Zagat amalgam of people’s real dining experiences channelled through an intellectually sophisticated, allusive editorial sensibility.”
Following Oxford, he applied to the Canadian diplomatic services but was notified of a hiring freeze. He briefly considered a career as a hockey player in rural France, but chose to enter U of T’s law school instead, which he soon decided wasn’t for him. Eventually, he came back to writing. He contacted two publications, hoping they would hire him to write about food. [...]
- via: A Rare Approach to Journalism (Trinity College Magazine)
From a brief item in Boston Globe Magazine:
My mom used to read the Greek myths, particularly The Iliad, to me when I was a little girl, and I absolutely loved them. AT BROWN, I MAJORED IN LATIN and Greek, and then I stayed and got my master’s, also in the classics. I had always loved writing, modern stories mostly, but I never thought about connecting my writing with the classics.
Then, in my senior year, I directed a production of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s version of the Trojan War. That experience, directing Achilles how to stand and telling Agamemnon what his costume should be, made me realize I could tell these stories myself. I ESPECIALLY LOVED ACHILLES and Patroclus and was moved at Achilles’ grief over losing Patroclus. After the play ended, I sat down at the computer and started writing. Working on the novel on the side was like MY DIRTY SECRET. I went to graduate school and then got a job teaching, and the book was the thing I did on weekends and summer vacations.
I ended up writing an entire first draft by about year five. I thought maybe this is ready for publication, but it really wasn’t. I ended up completely REWRITING THE NOVEL FROM SCRATCH. By the time year 10 came around, I had a finished manuscript I felt good about. Within two weeks after my agent submitted the novel to publishers, multiple editors were interested, which just blew me over.
The book came out March 6, and the most exciting thing is seeing the story reach other people. Doing events initially made me a little nervous, but I’m grateful for my classroom experience. If I can face teenagers who maybe don’t want to learn what I’m teaching them, I can do anything.
We’ll start with the tweet (thanks Sylvia!):
… and then we might as well include the incipit of the post from the Gmailblog to have it on record in case it moves:
In this month’s Faces of Gmail we’re profiling Sarah Price, our history-loving, lindy-hopping community manager.
What do you do on the Gmail team?
I’m the Community Manager for Gmail. That means that I watch over Gmail’s user forum and talk with Gmail users in other places. For example, I’m one of the people behind @gmail on Twitter and Facebook. If you use Google+, you can follow me there, too!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Gmail users have high expectations for us. They think of Gmail as their own and have great ideas about how to make it better. I love this about our users. Sometimes, though, we make a change that some people love and some people don’t like as much. For the people who don’t like the change, it can be hard to help them understand why we made it, and that we are still listening to their feedback.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love that I get to work with such an amazing product, and I love meeting Gmail users from all over the world, including the “Top Contributors” in our Help Forum. I also love helping people get to know each other. It’s very powerful when people come together over a common interest in Gmail.
What did you do before coming to Google?
I studied Latin Literature at Yale and Ancient History at Oxford. You are probably wondering how I ended up at Google! While I was a student, I also worked as a computer repair technician. I enjoy solving problems and teaching people about technology.
… just noticed the photo of Sarah has her clutching a Loeb … a few other Classics-looking tomes in front of her as well.
UPDATE (a few hours later): I asked Sarah on google+ about the Loeb and she said it was Suetonius; there’s also a copy of Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia in the stack, and assorted others …
Just came across this while looking for something for my kid … Colby Devitt (Classics Major!) talks about how Helene Foley talked her into going after a grant to direct a drama in Greek and all that was involved:
… this has ‘What to do with a Classics degree’ potential too …
From Charlotte Higgins, inter alia:
Asked about connections between his education and his current role, he replied: “MI5 needs people with good intellectual skills, the ability to spot connections, the ability to absorb and assess a variety of material. Natural ground for a classicist.” He added: “There has been something of a classical tradition in the intelligence world. The retired officer who first interviewed me for a job in MI5 was a classicist.” Evans also revealed he once even received a note from his boss written “in perfect ancient Greek”. I do believe the makers of Spooks are missing a trick here: I long to see Lucas and Harry communicate by way of perfectly formed Greek hendecasyllables.
One of the potential ‘career areas’ I don’t think we stress enough in the Classics world is conservation, so here’s a piece from UD Daily wherein a student describes her experiences:
This summer I am working in the conservation lab at the archaeological site of Poggio Colla in the Mugello Valley of Tuscany, Italy. Poggio Colla has been annually excavated for the past 17 seasons by Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College and the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
The site is an active field school where students learn the techniques of archaeological excavation. Additionally, conservation activities, illustration, zooarchaeology, cataloguing and research are carried out at two lab facilities.
Poggio Colla is an Etruscan settlement site with habitation dating from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE. It is also believed that the site may have functioned as a sanctuary for ritual purposes during the later period.
As an intern in the conservation lab, I work with one other graduate intern, Nicole Ledoux, from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, and supervising conservators Ariel O’Connor and Allison Lewis. In the lab, we examine and document the finds before cleaning and stabilizing them so that they can be safely handled and studied by archaeologists and students. We have also been working on rehousing some of the important bronze finds from past seasons.
This season, five new trenches have been opened and the finds so far are predominantly ceramics, bronze, iron and bone. I am working on cleaning and excavating the interior of a large impasto holmos, a large ceramic base for a vessel. After cleaning is completed, I will be stabilizing cracks and joining fragments to reconstruct the remaining portions.
Since the site is an active field school, we have given tours of the lab to current students and taught them about the field of conservation and the differences between archaeological site work and museum work. We gave a conservation workshop on methods of ceramic reconstruction where they learned to reassemble broken ceramics using facsimile terracotta pots and conservation adhesives.
It has been a wonderful experience to work hands-on with such a variety of archaeological materials and to collaborate with specialists from many fields. I have enjoyed sharing our work in the conservation lab with other students and staff. Additionally, working in Italy has given me the opportunity to travel to museums and archaeological sites to compare conservation methods with those I have been studying at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
The incipit and a bit of an item in the Guardian:
As experts warn the ongoing cuts in the public sector could result in record levels of graduate unemployment; despondent graduate jobseekers may find comfort in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Of course, Nietzsche was a great philosopher, but not many people know he originally studied classics; it was only after a book he authored on the subject was rubbished by a rival that he switched disciplines.
For today’s classics graduates, Nietzsche’s famous quote may be particularly relevant. Six months after leaving university, only 51.6% of 2008 classics graduates were in employment compared with 61.5% of graduates in other subjects. However, the subject is held in high regard by employers, and graduates in the subject often acknowledge its indirect importance; as London mayor (and classics graduate) Boris Johnson, has said: “I’m hugely grateful to my degree. The mere possession has been of no assistance at all – what’s invaluable has been the philosophy.”
So if you do initially struggle to find a niche, you should at least, like Johnson, be able to remain philosophical about life’s hardships.
What skills have you gained?
Studying classics will highlight your ability to learn and comprehend challenging subjects. You will also develop your ability to research, collate and analyse materials and learn to critically evaluate resources in order to formulate arguments, which you can present competently. You will be able to work alone or within a team and to think imaginatively, a talent Harry Potter creator and classics graduate JK Rowling (pictured) has in abundance. Perhaps she also found studying different societies, cultures and civilisations helped her create a completely new fictitious one. Classics graduates therefore enter the jobs market with specific, practical, intellectual and theoretical skills.
What jobs can you do?
“Careers can vary from those that use historical knowledge, in roles such as museum education or exhibitions officer or archivist, historic buildings inspector or conservation officer to those that use the classics graduate’s understanding of language in roles within advertising, editorial work or public relations,” says Margaret Holbrough, a careers adviser at Graduate Prospects.
About 11% of classics graduates entering full-time work found professional roles as private and public-sector managers, while almost 15% entered retail, catering and bar work. Other clerical occupations accounted for the most number of classics graduates (22.2%) who entered employment, possibly a reflection that administrative roles tend to be the entry-level route for graduates wanting to work in creative, cultural and heritage-related positions. Teaching is an option – there is currently a shortage of classics teachers in the UK. As a classics graduate, you are attractive to recruiters from all sectors, including law, finance and consultancy.
The article goes on to mention ‘graduate’ opportunities. Not sure the exempla provided are useful or encouraging. I have created a delicious link (which I update as I find examples) to a pile of bios etc of famous folks who had/have Classics degrees which are probably more encouraging than the somewhat ‘sketchy’ connection of JK Rowling, but the variety of fields folks end up in after taking a Classics degree is incredibly interesting. We have, e.g., recently mentioned the anonymous ‘Hedge Fund Manager’ … not long before that, the Psychology Today blog was also listing a pile of things available for those with Classics training. A followup piece in the same source had some useful advice on how to sell yourself as a Classicist in a non-Classical job market. One of the great things about the existence of the web is that it does allow you to find plenty of examples of folks who have ‘survived’ getting a Classics degree, should you have to convince your parents …
A financial blog called FINS has an interview with “HFM” who is described:
Meet “HFM,” an anonymous hedge fund manager who sat down for multiple interviews on the financial crisis from 2007 through 2009 with the literary magazine n+1. Those interviews have been collected and released as a book “Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager.”
Here’s the beginning of the interview:
Julie Steinberg: How you become a hedge-fund manager?
Anonymous HFM: My academic background was, strangely enough, in classics (i.e., Latin and Greek). Not the most useful preparation for finance, except that I can attest with the certainty of a credentialed classicist that “vega” is not a Greek letter.
I was working at a strategy-consulting firm and was looking to move back to New York City. A college roommate had gone to work as a quant for a hedge fund. His firm had just opened a New York office and was looking for someone to assist him in building the emerging markets business.
This book just came out last month (not to be confused with a similarly-named novel by J. Coetzee), and the visual side of me can’t resist posting the thing Harper-Collins put together to hype it:
… who said Classicists were boring?
Liana Lupas stands out in New York, even by the standards of a city that defines itself with superlatives and seems to have world-class specialists in every conceivable discipline. She calls herself “the only librarian in the world who takes care of one book.”
Of course, that book is “the” Book, the Bible. And in two decades with the American Bible Society and the Museum of Biblical Art, Lupas has been responsible for a collection that includes more than 45,000 books of Scripture printed in more than 2,000 languages during six centuries.
“Each and every one is important to me, whether it was a pamphlet printed last month or a first edition printed before 1500. They are part of the same story and should be treated with respect,” Lupas said.
Lupas trained as a classicist in her native Romania, where she earned her doctorate in Greek and Latin. She worked at the University of Bucharest for 21 years before joining her husband in New York in 1984.
“I came as a refugee from the communists,” Lupas told Catholic News Service. Her husband spent many years in labor camps in Romania and the Soviet Union, and the couple was determined to live in freedom with their young daughter, she said.
With a small child at home, Lupas took a job as a library assistant, shelving books at the New York University law library and studied for her master’s in library science at Columbia University. A research project for her studies brought her to the American Bible Society, a venerable 193-year-old institution dedicated to making the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford.
“I had seen the place as a tourist and knew they had an extraordinary collection,” Lupas said. “I was also conscious of my accent and figured that ABS was a Christian organization and they might be polite, even kind, to me.”
As it turned out, she had a great experience with the head of the American Bible Society archive and earned an “A” in the course she took. Two years after she completed her master’s degree, she became a cataloger at the society. Within a year, she was the curator.
The society’s Scripture collection is immense and some of the holdings are more rare than others. Lupas said most of its acquisitions are new translations, given by publishers to the organization that serves as a depository library. She is able to buy rare books for the collection with donations from a Friends of the Library organization.
She said that Bibles considered rare might include anything printed before 1700, the earliest translation in a language or geographic area, regardless of age, and Bibles belonging to historic figures, among other criteria.
In 2005, the Museum of Biblical Art opened in the Manhattan building that houses the American Bible Society. Its two galleries and learning center draw tourists, scholars and church-sponsored field trips, according to Lupas. In January, the society loaned 2,200 of its rare volumes to the museum for public exhibits over a 10-year period. Lupas was included in the loan and is now curator of the museum’s rare Bible collection.
About 4,400 people visited the inaugural exhibit, entitled “Pearl of Great Price,” for which Lupas chose 20 items she said “suggest the breadth and depth of the collection.” She included significant translations in English, Japanese and Bengali; Bibles with prominent publishers; those with unique marketing campaigns; and several with famous owners, such as Helen Keller, or intended readers, including Pony Express riders and World War II sailors and airmen.
The latter were New Testaments supplied by the American Bible Society, wrapped in waterproof covers and placed in survival kits on ships and planes. Frank H. Mann, the organization’s general secretary, said in 1943 that it was the first time in the group’s history that it was distributing Scripture he hoped no one would read.
Lupas said she does not have a personal collection of Bibles, because she has unlimited access to the books she calls her friends. But if she could own any one of the rare volumes she curates, Lupas said it would be the Complutensian Polyglot, a Spanish Bible printed in 1514 in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Aramaic. “It’s an extraordinary book, the pinnacle of Catholic biblical scholarship,” Lupas said. She called it the first great polyglot Bible, or Bible printed in more than one language.
Raised Greek Orthodox, Lupas said she fulfilled a long-held dream to become a Catholic after she settled in New York. She belongs to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Ridgewood in the Queens borough of New York.
Lupas’ daughter, Maria Cristina, has followed somewhat in her mother’s footsteps. She majored in classics at Georgetown University, graduating with honors in 2000. Her faith journey led to Notre Dame de Vie, a French Carmelite secular institute, which has members in Washington. On Aug. 14 in France, Maria Cristina will profess final vows as a lay Carmelite. Her mother will be at her side.
Seen in the New York Times:
I couldn’t help noticing a theme running through the Book Review for Jan. 24. The lead review treated books by Garry Wills, whose primary academic training was in classics (Latin and Greek), and John Yoo, whose teachers at the Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania, where I teach Latin and Greek, remember him as a stellar high school Latin student. (He graduated the year before I arrived.) There was a letter to the editor from Ralph Hexter, the Hampshire College president, one of many classical scholars now running colleges or universities. Later in the issue, Steve Coates reviewed David Malouf’s “Ransom,” a novel about King Priam of Troy.
Can we draw the obvious conclusion? If you want to make legal arguments from the right, or analyze politics from the left, or lead a college, or simply find a good story, spending a little time with Latin and Greek can’t hurt.
LEE T. PEARCY
We can add the author of the recently-released The Last Ember to the list … from the Courier-Journal:
New York author Daniel Levin has garnered rave reviews for his debut suspense novel, “The Last Ember” — a fictional thriller set in Rome and the Middle East.
Jonathan Marcus, the book’s protagonist, and Dr. Emili Travia, an Italian U.N. preservationist, become the targets of murderous historical revisionists as they race from the labyrinth beneath the Roman Coliseum to the biblical-era tunnels of Jerusalem in search of Jerusalem’s most precious artifact, the Tabernacle Menorah.
Levin, who will meet the public and talk about “The Last Ember” (Riverhead Books, $25.95) at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Jewish Community Center, acknowledged a fascination with ancient espionage of the Roman world while a student at the University of Michigan where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Roman and Greek civilizations.
“Here’s a thriller set in Jerusalem where archaeology is politics and history is more fragile than you think. While the novel is fiction, the illegal archaeological excavations beneath the Temple Mount are not,” Levin said.
Some excerpts from a lengthy piece in the Boston Globe:
When Harvard was founded nearly four centuries ago, all students read and spoke Latin. They had to: Lectures were delivered primarily in the ancient tongue, and the classics was pretty much all they could study.
Today, the number of students conversant in Cicero and Plato has dwindled, with only 42 – less than 1 percent of Harvard’s 6,640 undergraduates – choosing classics as a major. Then there’s Sanskrit and Indian studies, which has three students, and astronomy and astrophysics, with five starry-eyed souls.
To entice students to explore such subjects, Harvard has more than tripled the number of small freshman seminars taught by star professors. Among the 132 diverse classes: “The Beasts of Antiquity and their Natural History.”
Whether Harvard can sell Latin and Byzantine Greek as marketable undergraduate degrees remains to be seen. More than 700 students major – or concentrate, in Harvard parlance – in economics each year, making it the most popular field, followed by government, with nearly 500 students.
“For students, there’s an increasing need to think of one’s education as economically viable and productive and useful,” said Anne Monius, a South Asian religions professor.
While most students think of government and economics as more practical majors, leading to careers in politics and business, said classics major Veronica Koven-Matasy, “Classics is something you just want to do for its own sake.”
Koven-Matasy, president of the Harvard Classical Club, began studying Latin in seventh grade at Boston Latin School and wants to teach. Many other classics majors, though, go on to become investment bankers, doctors, and lawyers, said Mark Schiefsky, director of undergraduate studies in classics.
The classics department, where enrollment has hovered between 40 and 50 in the last eight years, is drawing up plans to preserve, perhaps even brighten, its future. Professors agreed this month to make the language-intensive field more accessible by introducing a classical civilization focus that requires four instead of eight language courses. Princeton and Yale have already taken similar steps.
Starting next year, Harvard also plans to do away with a rigorous six-hour comprehensive classics exam for seniors majoring in the subject.
“We had such Draconian requirements that really did date from another era,” said Schiefsky, who pushed for the changes, the first overhaul of the department’s requirements in about 40 years.
At Yale, where just 17 students are majoring in classics, the department offers unusual courses like “Food and Diet in Greco-Roman Antiquity” to draw undergraduates. Princeton has introduced “turbo” language courses that cram a year of Greek and Latin into one semester. The move has attracted students who are impatient to read and translate Homer without wading through an entire year of fundamental language instruction, said Denis Feeney, chairman of the classics department there.
Princeton has also embraced a decadelong university-wide effort to encourage students to be more adventurous in their choice of majors. That has lead to growth in interest in several small departments, including classics, where the number of majors has risen from 21 to 37 over the last 10 years.
“We’re really thrilled, but we still want more students,” Feeney said. “We’re empire builders here in the classics.”