As the Chair of a (small) Classics department at a (small) liberal arts college, I tend to chuckle when I hear my peers at similar institutions lament that they have to make do with four, or five, or three faculty lines. This is not only because they have—from my perspective—a wealth of human resources, but also because one of the benefits of being small is the discovery of how much a Classics program can do with less. While I would love to have more human-power on our teaching side, I when I jokingly refer to Agnes Scott Classics as small but mighty, I mean it.
When I say small, I mean a usual tenure-track complement of two. As we prepare to hire in the second line vacated by the death of my colleague in Spring of 2012, I am reflecting on the unanticipated benefits of being small. Specifically, a department of two allows for a focus of purpose and a curricular unity that is extremely rare. Having only one course in English at each level (100, 200, 300) each year permits a clarity of purpose and a progression of skills that is easy to keep track of, assess, and communicate—and yet is still flexible and open to innovation, both by individual instructors and the faculty working in tandem.
Our 100-level courses, for example, are respectively Greek and Roman History, in which the main goal is to introduce students to historical method—especially how to use primary sources— alongside historical content. In 200-level courses, Mythology on the literature side and Gender and Sexuality on the civilization side, primary source engagement is still paramount, but secondary sources also come into play. Here students have a specific assignment for reading articles critically, and another on “theory and practice” in which they choose a methodological approach from an article the class has read and apply it to a different primary source. These courses take as their final project not an exam or research paper, but a topic proposal and oral presentation that requires them to combine a theory-and-practice approach with secondary source research methods. By the time students arrive at a 300-level course, the topics for which change with each offering, they are able practitioners of primary and secondary source analysis, have experience crafting research proposals, and are ready to write a full research paper and present it to their peers, aware of all the steps they must take along the way. When they revise such a paper or develop a previous proposal in their senior seminar, our students have the practice they need to make the experience the capstone it is meant to be.
The same is true for Latin and Greek, which are of course the backbone of any Classics program. The introductory sequence (101-102) lays the grammatical groundwork. The third semester (LAT 201, GRE 211) introduces primary and secondary source analysis on a small scale. The fourth (LAT 202, GRE 212) progresses to either more in-depth primary source criticism or a theory-and-practice assignment. Students in our combined advanced/ advanced intermediate Latin classes similarly conclude either with a research paper (advanced) or topic proposal (advanced intermediate). While in an ideal world this would include advanced/ advanced intermediate Greek, the reality is simply that our institution is too small, at around 850 students, to support those courses on a regular basis. However, I can rest assured that students who choose to study third-year Greek at Emory or in an independent study are prepared for the challenge.
Communicability is also key, not least in explaining to students why it is they are doing what they are doing, and how we expect it to prepare them for the “real world” beyond Agnes Scott— no matter what course they are in or what their post-collegiate plans may be. Our students know the what, why, and how of the Classics program, and thus can develop a clear sense of their strengths and of where they can work to improve: critical skills for leadership, both of one’s self and others. It’s a mighty claim for a small program, but I stand behind it.