Classical studies have always been at the heart of a liberal education, because they afford unmatched perspectives from which to understand our own time. Our curriculum covers 3,500 years of human experience in the Greco-Roman world, from the beginnings of Western civilization through the Christianization of Europe. We encourage our students to consider Greco-Roman influences upon countless aspects of modern culture, and a number of courses offered in other departments also count towards our major and minor programs, including Philosophy, Jewish Studies, Political Science, and especially History of Art.
Three major programs are offered: Classical Civilization, Classical Languages and Classics. Students majoring in classical languages approach the ancient world primarily through its literature, read in the original language. Students majoring in classics integrate the ancient texts with other kinds of evidence (sociology, religion, art, etc.). Students majoring in classical civilization receive the broadest introduction to the ancient world, and they read the primary sources in translation. We also offer two minor programs, in Classics and Classical Civilization – as with the major programs, the main difference is the classical language requirement, but all of our courses count towards either program. Our students are encouraged to spend a semester at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome or to enroll in a Maymester session in Greece or Rome led by one of our own professors, for which the Department can generally provide some amount of financial support. A summer program at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens is also available.
Each year we offer courses in Latin and Greek language at all levels; introductory surveys of Greek and Roman Civilization and Mythology; and broad overviews of Greek and Roman History and Art. We also offer more focused explorations of an aspect of classical culture that aligns with a faculty member’s areas of specialization; some recent examples include Ancient Warfare, Greek Sanctuaries, Roman Law, Late Antiquity, and Alexander the Great. There are no prerequisites for our Classics courses; unless otherwise indicated, they are open to beginners and majors alike.
Our honors program enables our most accomplished and ambitious Classical Languages and Classics majors to spend their senior year writing an Honors Thesis and then presenting it to the Department. Honors candidates must have completed a set number of courses in classical language, history, and art, and they must meet minimum grade point averages in both the Department and in their University courses, as outlined in The Undergraduate Catalog. In the Spring semester of their junior year, they identify a faculty member whose areas of specialization apply to the proposed thesis topic, and in consultation with this adviser they present a brief prospectus to the Department (examples are available in our Departmental office upon request); only upon Departmental approval of the prospectus are candidates recommended to the Associate Dean for Special Programs for admission to our Honors program, either in Classics or Classical Languages. Candidates will meet with their adviser regularly over two semesters, and they will generally consult with a second reader within the Department as well. This project thus provides an unparalleled opportunity to conduct independent research in Classical Studies at a graduate level.
Vanderbilt has been a member of the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, now sponsored through Duke University, since its inception in the late 1960's. Courses at the ICCS count for direct Vanderbilt credit, and students may use Vanderbilt scholarships for study there.
The Department sponsors numerous lectures and other opportunities for students. Several undergraduate scholarships are available for majors in classical studies. Every year we organize a contest in Latin declamation, in which students learn to recite a set passage in Latin prose and another in Latin poetry.
Students who major in classical studies are unlimited in their post-undergraduate opportunities. Our programs have traditionally provided a thorough preparation for the rigor of medical and law schools. But our students have entered every possible type of career, often seemingly far removed from their major, from medical illustration to journalism to accounting. The linguistic, analytical, and interpretive skills taught and refined in studying the classics are useful in all areas of life; and classics students, having explored the ever-changing world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, are fully able to adapt to the ever-changing world in which we live today. In addition, a few of our majors have entered teaching and thus relieved the national shortage of Latin teachers, and others have gone on into graduate studies in classics, archaeology, or anthropology, as well as other areas.
The seven full-time faculty members of our Department are committed to the interdisciplinary study of Mediterranean antiquity, integrating the ancient texts with material and visual culture, both in their teaching and in their research. Faculty members have recently published books on race and ethnicity in the classical world, the Roman law of obligations, and on Roman and Byzantine graves; they lead summer programs for students overseas; and one colleague directs the Kenchreai Excavations, a long-term archaeological project in southern Greece.
The faculty has gained a widespread reputation for consistently inspired and inspiring teaching, confirmed by excellent teaching evaluations and numerous University teaching awards. Furthermore, not only do we all serve as major advisers, we also allow our majors to choose their adviser, thus giving our students even more opportunities to discuss questions outside class and to develop professional relationships with their teachers.