I applaud the Classics Department at Princeton for expanding their major. I graduated in 1999, with a major in history, and certificates in Hellenic studies and visual arts. I was especially glad to be able to continue my high school study of Latin and Ancient Greek in the Classics Department with the advanced introductory one-semester Ancient Greek class taught by Professor Andrew Ford, and then continue with fantastic classics courses in Ancient Greek language taught by Professors John Keaney (Plato’s Apology), Froma Zeitlin (Euripides’ Medea) and Ruth Webb (Homer’s Iliad). I also loved my non-ancient-language-requiring Freshman Seminar, “Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church,” with Professor Brent Shaw. I chose to major in history, and especially Hellenic studies, because that major also accepted my (Ancient and Medieval) history classes with Professors Peter Brown, Josiah Ober, Anthony Grafton, and Suzanne Marchand, as well as cognate or cross-listed courses I took in religion, Near Eastern studies, art and archaeology and especially Hellenic studies.
I now teach and research, with tenure (“continuing appointment'), in a Classics and Ancient History “Discipline” (once Department) in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. We are a large public university, and the only university in the state to offer degrees at the B.A., B.A. Honours, M.Phil. and Ph.D. levels in Classics or Ancient History. It has been the practice of my department for many decades now to offer two majors, one in Classics (Classical Languages, Greek and/or Latin) and one in Ancient History (where only one semester of ancient language study is required). This is a wonderful program of study, and I am proud to teach in it, both in Advanced Ancient Greek language classes of five, and in introductory Ancient Greek History classes of 200-plus.
As a proud alumna of Princeton, however, and a classical scholar, historian and archaeologist, I consider myself in a position to write this letter, and to offer two pieces of advice to anyone at Princeton who would like to read it. First, any institution offering a bachelor of arts degree should have a strong classics program which spans the expertise of the staff — ancient languages, literature, art, archaeology, history, religions and many more areas of interest in the ancient Mediterranean world, and its reception in the medieval and modern ages of the West, East, and South, the Americas, Australasia, and globally. The courses, and major(s), of such a program should always be evolving with scholarship, but they must also continue to graduate students who know something more about the ancient world than they did before they started their classical studies. This means that the study of ancient languages, and especially Greek and Latin, must come into their studies at some point in the curriculum, if only late in the B.A., or in postgraduate study. Only these languages can offer access into epigraphy or numismatics, ancient poetry from Spain to Syria, the Septuagint or the editing of newly-discovered papyri.
Second, as an alumna of Princeton, and a proud feminist, I was disappointed during my time as a student at Princeton that three of my best professors, including the advisers of my history junior paper (Ruth Webb) and my senior thesis (Tia Kolbaba), were all female scholars of great expertise and wisdom and wonderful mentors, and all were denied tenure and thus forced to leave Princeton. They are all still fantastic scholars at other universities today, but they could have remained great scholars, teachers, and contributors to Princeton classics, history, and other programs of study.
I’m frankly shocked when I read the statistics about female faculty numbers, and about the small and falling numbers of students both male and female in history, religion, classics, art and archaeology, or other humanities majors.
I hope that students in the nation’s service, and the service of all nations, will be encouraged by Princeton and their own passions to learn together from an unparalleled faculty about history, archaeology, and classics. It is at least as important to know what human beings are capable of, for better and worse, as it is to know about our own cells, or the stars overhead.
Thanks for listening, and a wonderful education, which I hope can be expanded for future generations.