Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.6.06


RESPONSE: Vasaly on Beye on Hanson/Heath

"Message from a 'Beleaguered Outpost'" (or: "Shouldn't Someone Check the Pulse before Pronouncing Him Dead?")


By Ann Vasaly, Acting Chair, Classics, Boston University.

In his review of Hanson and Heath's Who Killed Homer? Charles Beye states that before the arrival of John Silber (in 1971) the BU Classics Department "had approximately a hundred undergraduate majors sixty or seventy percent of whom were in the languages." He continues, "Sixty students routinely studied Beginning Greek each year." Later, according to Professor Beye, "enrollments plummeted, and within a few years the program became the kind of beleaguered outpost that characterizes most classics departments in this country."

It may be that the lapse of time has caused Professor Beye to misremember the numbers of students involved, at least for 1970. The registrar tells me that in Fall of that year Beginning Greek enrolled only twenty-two students. And in the same year there were thirty-four declared Classics majors, the majority of whom were concentrating in Classical Civilization. In those days classical and archaeological studies were combined within the Classics Department. Currently Archaeology alone has twelve full-time faculty members, between eighty-five and one hundred majors, and regularly enrolls 2000 students per year in its courses. Classics is somewhat smaller with ten full-time faculty members, approximately sixty majors, and this year an enrollment of 1670 students. These figures do not include the hundreds of students who choose to participate yearly in the Core Curriculum Program, a key component of which is study of ancient literature.

Looking beyond undergraduate enrollments and majors, there is still more evidence for expansion rather than contraction. Since 1970 the university has revived the journal Arion and created the Institute for the Classical Tradition, with its own society and journal. The Archaeological Institute of America and the American Journal of Archaeology are housed at BU, as is the Journal of Field Archaeology. In 1970 there was no graduate program in Classical Studies at BU. Today we have twenty graduate students, six of whom are now writing dissertations with four others at or near the prospectus stage.

While it's true that Beginning Greek is smaller than it was thirty years ago (sixteen in Fall semester of this year compared to twenty-two in 1970), undergraduate Latin is thriving. In fact, judged by practically any measure one might use the department is larger, more active, and enrolls more students at every level than it did back in the "Golden Days."