Classical Studies on the Rise at BU

in Arts, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine Arts, Humanities/Social Science, News Releases
May 22nd, 2000

Contact: Sarah Godbout, 617-358-1240 | sgodbout@bu.edu

(Boston, Mass.) — Latin and Greek may be dead languages, but interest in them is not — at least not at Boston University, where classical studies are actually on the rise. Scholarships, journals, plays, an undergraduate association, special dormitories, and general intellectual interest all contribute to the increase in students taking classics courses.

“Initially, I took Greek mythology just to satisfy a requirement,” says Corey

(l-to-r) Gregory Stringer, Letta Christianson, and Bart Timilty are “urning” their BU degrees in Classical Studies
(photo credit: BU Photo Services)

Kinger, a sophomore studying Public Relations, “but I soon realized that the subject was worth much more than a few credits. The stories and myths I studied were educational, interesting, and entertaining — and a refreshing change from the topics I hear every day in my PR classes. I’m definitely going to take several more ‘classicals’ before I graduate.”

Corey’s feelings are typical of the 1,700 students taking classics courses yearly at BU. That figure has more than doubled in the last decade, as has the number of majors and minors, which currently stands at 90. Many of these students opt for a double major, studying the classics in addition to their principal majors, which range from biology to marketing, for personal interest, for linguistic rigor, or to broaden their intellectual horizons.

“As the foundation of Western culture and modern society, the classics are interwoven throughout our world,” says Jeffrey Henderson, Chairman and Professor of Classical Studies at BU, “so that study of them educates students on the roots of Western societies and languages and improves their sense of taste and culture. And the combination of coursework in the classics and other fields offers students a balanced education by developing their skills in writing, reading and argumentation.

“Educated people in other countries seem to have greater familiarity with the classics than their American counterparts, even in non-Western countries. Japanese businessmen, for instance, can discuss Virgil or Plato in social conversations. I’ve spoken with several U.S.-bred MBA’s who tell me they often find themselves at a loss in such situations. Study of the classics, quite apart from their perennial vitality as great art, not only makes you more cultured, but also increases your understanding of how our society functions.”

In addition to the academic benefits of studying the classics, there are numerous cultural and social activities in which students can participate. The Undergraduate Classics Association sponsors lectures, field trips, productions of classical plays, and even a successful intramural basketball team. The University also offers specialty housing for its classics majors. Two adjoining brownstone residences provide elegant and charming views of tree-lined Bay State Road and the Charles River. “Living with fellow majors fosters productive studying and scholarly discussions,” says Kinger.

Other ongoing activities include publication of Arion: A Journal of Classics and the Humanities; translation projects with commercial and university presses; study-abroad programs in Athens and Rome; and the International Society for the Classical Tradition, which publishes monographs and a journal, and holds biennial meetings in Boston and Tübingen.

The Department also offers scholarships in Greek and Latin, and the competition is fierce. Annually, four or more high-school seniors are awarded full-tuition grants; another six receive half-tuition awards. The two-stage scholarship contest is open to all of New England, New York, and New Jersey. Only 100 applicants can qualify for the final test, but high demand and excellent student quality sometimes persuade the University to recognize high achievement with a few extra awards.

Boston University’s Classical Studies Department has been chaired by Professor Jeffrey Henderson for nine years and comprises Latin, Ancient and Modern Greek, Greek and Roman history, literature and culture, and the classical tradition. The University is the fourth largest independent university in the United States, with an enrollment of nearly 30,000 students in its 15 schools and colleges. Located in the heart of a city rich in cultural, historical, and intellectual attractions, Boston University is one of the nation’s preeminent institutions of higher learning.

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