Classical studies: back to basics and on to new frontiers
Understanding ‘modern society’ may seem like an insurmountable task. But like any daunting challenge, what you really need to do is focus on the basics. Study in the Classics Department at Queen’s University does just that, and can also lead to some intriguing new discoveries.
Classical Studies, which includes the study of Greek and Roman Civilization understood through archaeology, history, literature, drama, mythology, philosophy, science and ancient Greek and Latin, was one of the original subjects offered at Queen’s when the institution first opened its doors in 1842.
The university is also one of a select group of academic centres that currently offers study at the graduate level in ancient science, a specialized field that examines how humanity’s understanding of the natural world, and the ability to manipulate it, has changed over the millennia.
“Within the Classics, ancient science is growing in importance and interest,” explains Associate Professor Daryn Lehoux, who joined the university’s Classics Department in 2008 through the Queen’s National Scholar Program. The university is always looking for good people able to establish strong programs and Daryn’s expertise in ancient history and science was a great addition.
“European classicists are starting to pay more attention to the field,” explains Daryn. “Historical figures like Virgil have been studied for thousands of years. With the ancient scientists, like Seneca, Cicero and Aristotle, there is still plenty to be discovered.”
Just ask Chris Carswell. As the first graduate to write a Master’s thesis on a topic in ancient science, Chris explains how the multidisciplinary studies provide a solid foundation in logic and analytical reasoning, but also unique learning opportunities that can be applied to a variety of professional activities.
“Now is an exciting time to be involved in Classics,” says Chris. “Technology is being used to recover documents and artifacts that we never thought could be recovered before.”
Chris is referring to artifacts such as the Antikythera Mechanism. Advances in visual diagnosis and document recovery are now allowing researchers’ access to ancient archeological artifacts previously undecipherable due to the wears of time, accidents or catastrophic events. (To listen to Daryn’s interview on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks about the Antikythera Mechanism, go to http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/09-10/qq-2009-10-24.html.)
The benefits of studying in a smaller, intimate department have been rewarding for Chris.
“The professors in the Classics program are always accessible and have been a true inspiration,” says Chris, who received his M.A. in the fall of 2009. Though he still intends to complete a PhD in Classics eventually, Chris is currently pursuing his goal to foster an interest in Classics at the secondary level, thus passing on the inspiration his professors at Queen’s gave him.
Though most Classics students do go on to pursue research opportunities and PhDs in the field, there is a wealth of opportunities, including careers as archaeologists, teachers, archivists, civil servants, and a variety of jobs in research for history/education/entertainment programming.
The Classics Department also offers students opportunities for exposure to unique cultural experiences, such as the archaeological dig Chris participated in at a site in Southern Italy to earn one of his graduate-level course credits (run by Dr. Fabio Colivicchi). The Department also runs an excavation in Jordan directed by Dr. Barbara Reeves.
“The experience gave me a huge advantage through the first-hand experience of exploring and working on an active archaeological site that I otherwise would not have had.”