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Statement to Community - Undergraduate Concentration

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Published Date

June 1, 2021


Changes to the Princeton Classics undergraduate concentration requirements have recently generated a good deal of discussion. Most of this is connected to our decision to move to a flexible language requirement, which allows students to tailor the program to their interests and goals. We are heartened by the interest of the community in these decisions, and wish to make three points by way of responding to questions:

  1. Princeton Classics remains profoundly committed to the teaching of ancient languages. The Department is proud of its commitment to language instruction at all levels from beginners to advanced literature courses. This is done – at all levels – by faculty who consider it a core aspect of their intellectual contribution. We have not reduced our commitment to teaching the ancient languages by a single hour, nor do we envisage doing so in future. We have recently added regular instruction in Akkadian and Modern Greek; this is done in the conviction that ancient Greece and Rome are best studied, not in isolation, but in their interactions with other ancient cultures and in relation to the many modern cultures they contributed to shaping. These expanded offerings reflect the understanding that knowledge of ancient and modern languages remains central to what we do as a department and a discipline.
  1. Our conversations with undergraduates have revealed that a minimum language requirement acts primarily as a deterrent to potential concentrators, and is not effective as a means of inducing students to embark on the study of Ancient Greek or Latin. We believe that an approach based on inclusion and persuasion will be more effective in encouraging language study than one based on compulsion. We are confident in the appeal and excitement that the study of Ancient Greek and Latin hold, and see our changes as a means of growing the field (including the study of languages) by removing barriers to entry.
  1. We see it as a strength that Classics is an interdisciplinary field that includes not just the study of Ancient Greek and Roman language and literature, but these cultures’ history, material culture, interaction with other ancient societies, resonance in later ages, and continued vitality today. Students are able to complete original independent research employing a range of competencies beyond the linguistic. A flexible language requirement encourages students to develop the knowledge and skills needed for their own course of study (while concentration requirements ensure they are exposed to a range of methods and approaches). The Department’s commitment to rigorous study of the classical world in all its facets remains, and is only strengthened, by this wider field of inquiry.

The language of our new requirements is below. We are grateful for conversations with all members of our community, broadly conceived: students, alumni, classics teachers, colleagues, and all who have an interest in antiquity and its relationship to the present and future.

Information and Departmental Plan of Study

The Classics concentration is a flexible, interdisciplinary program that affords students a range of opportunities to study the cultures, languages, history, politics, and intellectual traditions of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, their contacts with other civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean, resonances in later ages, and continued vitality today. The Department offers two rigorous and highly flexible concentration tracks, in which students chart their own paths within broad areas of study, and are encouraged to develop innovative research projects, working closely with world-leading faculty, graduate students engaged in exciting scholarship, and highly motivated undergraduate peers within the Department. Because of the diversity of the topics studied by the faculty, ranging from Proto-Indo-European linguistics to medieval manuscripts to the cultural politics of the modern Caribbean, the Department is able to support students exploring a wide range of subjects, and pursuing independent work involving humanistic and social-scientific analysis, creative projects, and experimental research. The unusually broad and diverse intellectual range of our program is matched by an intimate, supportive environment in which faculty and students work closely together.

Concentrators acquire, in the course of their studies, the language skills appropriate to their interests and research plans, either through departmental language courses or summer study (which the Department has resources to fund). The relevant competencies will vary substantially depending on interest, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies can advise on the appropriate course of study in order to realize a student’s intellectual and personal ambitions. The Department regularly commits substantial funds to enable students to pursue their learning goals through domestic and international summer programs, including language courses, archaeological digs, and independent research projects.


One course on classical culture, broadly defined: any departmental course, a freshman seminar taught by Classics faculty, HUM 216-217, HUM 247, or other course approved by the DUS.

Program of Study

Program 1. Classical Studies

The Classical Studies program offers the opportunity for sustained and focused inquiry into the history, literature, and culture of the ancient Mediterranean, as well as the impact of classical antiquity on later periods by using a variety of interpretative methods. The program offers students maximum flexibility to chart their course through departmental and related offerings. The particular program for each student is determined in collaboration with the DUS, and should be coherent and lead to viable research projects. Whatever the individual focus, each student’s program must contain eight courses at the 200-level or above (with limited exceptions as described below), including two at the 300-level, plus the Junior Seminar.

Five of the eight courses counted toward requirements must be taught by Department of Classics faculty (in general, these courses will have CLA, CLG, or LAT as the first course code listing; the DUS can approve exceptions for courses taught by affiliated faculty). Three elective courses may be counted toward the concentration that are either cross-listed by Classics or approved by the DUS as relevant to the student’s program of study. Of the eight courses, one must deal primarily with ancient literature, whether read in the original or in translation; the sequence of CLG/LAT 105-108 may be counted as a single departmental course and used to fulfill this requirement. One course must deal primarily with ancient history; this requirement may be fulfilled by taking any of CLA 216-219 (the Greek and Roman history surveys) or an approved alternative. One course must deal substantially with classical reception or comparative approaches to the ancient world; this requirement may also be fulfilled by study of another language relevant to the student’s interests (Akkadian, Modern Greek, etc., at any course level). Students are otherwise free, in consultation with the DUS, to chart their own path through the Department’s offerings.

Program 2. Ancient History

The program offers students a pathway to explore the history of ancient Greece and Rome and their relationships with the neighboring cultures of the Near East, Europe, and Africa. It is also ideal for students interested in acquiring training in the academic discipline of history while concentrating on the period spanning the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1700 B.C.E.) to the early medieval and Byzantine worlds (ca. 600 C.E.). Although students may specialize in a particular field of history (political, social, economic, cultural), geographic area, or historical period of antiquity, the aim of the program is to provide a well-rounded training in the field of history, with a focus on ancient history. Each student’s program must contain eight courses at the 200-level or above (with limited exceptions as described below), including two at the 300-level, plus the Junior Seminar.

The eight courses taken toward the Ancient History track must include: one survey course on ancient Greek history (CLA 216 or 217) and one survey course on Roman history (CLA 218 or 219); one course substantially dealing with ancient material culture; and one course on premodern (i.e., pre-1789) history or non-industrial societies beyond Greece and Rome. An additional course that introduces students to the main methods, theories, and/or philosophies of history is also strongly encouraged. The remaining elective courses should follow a coherent plan that prepares the student for independent research; ordinarily any course listed as CLA, CLG, or LAT at the 200-level or above will count, and other courses may be approved for concentration credit by the DUS.  One of the courses may be fulfilled by the sequence of CLG/LAT 105-108 or study of another language relevant to the student’s interests at any level.