Exploring the Classics at Duke University

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Psychology Major at Duke

Exploring the Classics at Duke University

Duke University is renowned for its strong commitment to the liberal arts, and few programs exemplify this commitment better than the Classics Department. With a long and illustrious history dating back to the university’s founding in 1838, the department has produced some of the most influential scholars in the field and offers a wealth of educational opportunities for students seeking to explore the roots of human civilization.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of Classics at Duke, exploring the history, key figures, courses, and opportunities that make this program one of the best in the country.

A Brief History of Duke University’s Classics Department

The Classics Department at Duke University has a storied past, dating back to the earliest days of the institution. Originally founded as Trinity College, Duke’s precursor, the department was created in the mid-19th century along with the rest of the college’s academic programs. In the decades that followed, it grew steadily in size and reputation, producing a number of notable scholars who would go on to make significant contributions to the field of Classics.

During the early 20th century, the Classics Department at Duke University underwent a period of significant growth and expansion. Under the leadership of several prominent scholars, the department established itself as a leading center for research and scholarship in the field of Classics. This period saw the creation of new courses and programs, as well as the recruitment of talented faculty members from around the world.

In recent years, the Classics Department at Duke University has continued to thrive, building on its rich history and tradition of excellence. Today, the department offers a wide range of courses and programs, covering topics such as ancient literature, history, philosophy, and art. Its faculty members are recognized as leaders in their respective fields, and its students go on to pursue successful careers in academia, law, medicine, and other fields.

Why Study Classics at Duke University

There are many reasons why students might choose to study Classics at Duke University. For one, the department boasts some of the most distinguished faculty members in the country, including renowned scholars in Greek and Latin literature, philosophy, and history.

Additionally, the department offers a wide range of courses on everything from the mythology of ancient Greece to the politics of the Roman Republic, giving students the opportunity to explore a broad range of topics within the field. And for those who are interested in pursuing graduate studies in Classics, Duke’s program is widely recognized among the top in the country, offering excellent preparation for further academic study.

Front view of the Duke Chapel tower in early fall,

Another reason to study Classics at Duke University is the department’s commitment to interdisciplinary study. Classics is a field that intersects with many other areas of study, including art history, archaeology, and linguistics. Duke’s Classics department encourages students to explore these connections by offering courses that incorporate these other disciplines. This approach not only enriches students’ understanding of the ancient world but also prepares them for careers that require interdisciplinary thinking.

Finally, Duke University’s location in Durham, North Carolina, provides unique opportunities for Classics students. The university is located near the Nasher Museum of Art, which houses a collection of ancient art and artifacts, as well as the Duke Lemur Center, which conducts research on primates and their behavior. These resources allow students to engage with the ancient world in a tangible way and to see how the study of Classics can inform other areas of research and study.

Key Figures in Duke’s Classics Department: Meet the Professors

Within the Classics Department at Duke, there are a number of faculty members who are particularly notable for their contributions to the field. One such individual is Professor Mary T. Boatwright, a renowned scholar of Roman history who has authored several influential books on the subject.

Another is Professor Richard J. Tarrant, considered by many to be one of the leading experts on Greek poetry in the world. Other key figures in the department include Professors Maurizio Bianco, Leslie Kurke, and Deborah Kamen, among others, each of whom brings a unique perspective and expertise to the program.

Professor Maurizio Bianco is a specialist in ancient Greek philosophy and literature. He has published extensively on the works of Plato and Aristotle, and his research focuses on the intersection of philosophy and literature in ancient Greece. Professor Bianco is also known for his innovative teaching methods, which incorporate digital tools and multimedia resources to enhance student learning.

Professor Leslie Kurke is a leading scholar of ancient Greek literature and culture. Her research interests include gender and sexuality in ancient Greece, the reception of classical literature in modern times, and the relationship between literature and politics. Professor Kurke is also a gifted teacher, and her courses on Greek tragedy and epic poetry are among the most popular in the department.

What to Expect in a Duke University Classics Course

Duke’s Classics courses cover a wide range of topics, from the language and literature of ancient Greece and Rome to the culture and politics of the ancient world. Some courses may focus on individual authors or texts, such as Plato’s Republic or Virgil’s Aeneid, while others may explore broader themes and concepts, such as the role of women in ancient society or the ways in which ancient ideas have influenced modern thought.

Regardless of the specific topic, however, students can expect their courses to be rigorous and intellectually stimulating, requiring close engagement with primary texts and in-depth analysis of historical and cultural contexts.

Professor lecturing in a room full of students.


Additionally, Duke’s Classics courses often incorporate interdisciplinary approaches, drawing on fields such as archaeology, art history, philosophy, and political science to provide a comprehensive understanding of the ancient world. Students may also have the opportunity to participate in study abroad programs, allowing them to experience firsthand the sites and artifacts they have studied in class.

Overall, Duke’s Classics courses offer a rich and rewarding exploration of the ancient world, providing students with valuable insights into the foundations of Western civilization and the enduring relevance of ancient ideas and values.

The Importance of Ancient Greek and Latin in Modern Education

While many may assume that studying ancient Greek and Latin is only relevant to those who wish to pursue academic careers in Classics, the reality is that these languages have a broad range of applications in modern education. For one, they provide an excellent foundation for the study of other languages, particularly those derived from Latin, such as Spanish, French, and Italian.

Additionally, the study of ancient languages can help develop critical thinking skills, analytical abilities, and a deep appreciation for the complexities of language and culture. Finally, familiarity with ancient texts and ideas can deepen one’s understanding of contemporary issues and provide a valuable historical perspective on present-day debates.

Moreover, the study of ancient Greek and Latin can also enhance one’s understanding of literature, art, and history. Many of the greatest works of literature and art were created in ancient Greece and Rome, and a knowledge of these languages can provide a deeper understanding of the cultural and historical context in which they were produced. Furthermore, the study of ancient languages can also help students understand the roots of Western civilization and the development of democratic ideals.

Finally, the study of ancient Greek and Latin can also have practical applications in fields such as medicine, law, and science. Many medical terms and scientific names are derived from these languages, and knowledge of them can be invaluable in these fields. Similarly, many legal terms and concepts have their roots in ancient Roman law, and a familiarity with Latin can be helpful for those pursuing careers in law.

The Role of Classics in Shaping Western Culture

The influence of ancient Greek and Roman culture on Western civilization is impossible to overstate. From philosophy and law to literature and art, the legacies of these great civilizations continue to shape our understanding of the world today. Studying Classics allows students to engage with this rich heritage and gain a deeper appreciation for its enduring relevance.

Moreover, by exploring the ways in which these historical traditions have been interpreted and transmitted over the centuries, students can gain a greater awareness of the social and political forces that have shaped the course of Western culture.

View of students sitting on their chair.

Furthermore, studying Classics can also provide valuable insights into the development of language and communication. Many of the words and phrases commonly used in English today have their roots in ancient Greek and Latin, and understanding these origins can enhance one’s ability to communicate effectively.

Additionally, the study of Classics can foster critical thinking skills and an appreciation for the complexities of human thought and behavior, as students grapple with the nuances of ancient texts and ideas.

Opportunities for Undergraduate Research in Classics at Duke

For undergraduate students interested in pursuing research in Classics, Duke offers a number of opportunities to get involved. These include independent study courses, which allow students to work closely with faculty on individual research projects, as well as research assistantships and summer research grants.

Additionally, students can participate in the department’s regular lecture series and academic conferences, which provide opportunities to engage with scholars from around the world.

One unique opportunity for undergraduate research in Classics at Duke is the department’s partnership with the Duke University Libraries. Through this partnership, students have access to a vast array of primary source materials, including rare manuscripts and artifacts, which can be used to support their research projects.

The Libraries also offer workshops and training sessions on research skills and techniques, which can be invaluable for students looking to develop their research skills.

Another exciting opportunity for undergraduate research in Classics at Duke is the department’s study abroad programs. These programs allow students to travel to Greece and Italy, where they can study ancient sites and artifacts firsthand. Students can also participate in archaeological digs and other fieldwork, gaining valuable hands-on experience in the field of Classics. These study abroad programs are highly competitive, but they offer a unique and rewarding experience for students interested in pursuing research in Classics.

Study Abroad Programs for Classics Majors at Duke University

One of the most exciting opportunities available to Classics majors at Duke is the chance to study abroad in countries where Greek and Latin played a significant role in history and culture. Duke offers a number of study abroad programs in Greece, Italy, and other countries, many of which are specifically designed for Classics students.

These programs provide an opportunity to study the language, literature, and art of the ancient world in their original contexts, and to gain a firsthand appreciation for the ways in which ancient traditions continue to influence contemporary societies.

Two students walking in the hallway talking

Additionally, Duke University offers a unique program called “Classics in the Aegean,” which takes place on the Greek island of Samos. This program allows students to study the ancient Greek language and culture while living in a small, traditional village.

Students have the opportunity to participate in archaeological excavations, visit ancient sites, and interact with local residents. This immersive experience provides a deeper understanding of the ancient world and its impact on modern society.

How Studying Classics Can Enhance Your Critical Thinking Skills

Studying Classics can be an excellent way to develop critical thinking skills, as it requires students to engage with complex texts and historical contexts, and to question assumptions and preconceived notions about the world. In particular, the study of ancient Greece and Rome can help students become more adept at analyzing arguments, evaluating evidence, and understanding different perspectives on complex issues.

Additionally, the study of Classics can help students develop their writing and communication skills, as they learn to express themselves clearly and persuasively in written and oral presentations.

Furthermore, studying Classics can also provide students with a deeper understanding of the origins of Western civilization and its impact on contemporary society. By examining the literature, art, and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome, students can gain insights into the development of democracy, the concept of citizenship, and the foundations of modern science and medicine.

Moreover, the study of Classics can foster a sense of cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity. By exploring the beliefs, values, and traditions of ancient civilizations, students can gain a greater understanding of different cultures and perspectives, and develop empathy and respect for others.

The Intersection of Classics and Contemporary Issues

While the study of Classics is often associated with an emphasis on the past, it is also highly relevant to contemporary issues and debates. For example, the study of ancient sources can shed light on issues such as gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and the role of religion in society.

Similarly, the study of Classics can help us understand the historical and cultural roots of contemporary political and economic systems and can provide a valuable perspective on the role of Western culture in the world today. By engaging with these issues through the lens of Classics, students can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the modern world.

Students listening to a professor in a room.

Moreover, the study of Classics can also provide insights into the development of language and literature. Many of the greatest works of Western literature, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, were written in ancient Greek and Latin. By studying these works, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the artistry and complexity of language, as well as the enduring themes and motifs that continue to resonate with readers today.

Finally, the study of Classics can also offer valuable lessons in leadership and ethics. Many of the ancient texts, such as Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, explore questions of justice, virtue, and the nature of the good life. By engaging with these texts, students can develop critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the ethical challenges faced by leaders in all fields, from politics to business to education.

The Future of Classics Education: Trends and Innovations at Duke

As with any discipline, the field of Classics is constantly evolving, and Duke’s program is at the forefront of these changes. In recent years, for example, the department has expanded its focus to include a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches, including the use of digital technologies and data analysis.

Additionally, the department has embraced a more diverse and inclusive perspective, with a particular focus on the contributions of women, people of color, and marginalized communities to the study of Classics. Looking ahead, the department is poised to continue innovating and adapting to new challenges and opportunities.

Job Opportunities for Graduates with a Degree in Classics from Duke

While some students may choose to pursue graduate studies in Classics after completing their undergraduate degrees at Duke, there are also many job opportunities available to graduates with a background in the field. These include positions in education, such as teaching or academic administration, as well as careers in law, business, and the nonprofit sector.

Additionally, many Classics graduates go on to become writers, journalists, or researchers in a variety of fields, using their knowledge of ancient cultures and languages to inform their work.

Student Perspectives: What It’s Like to Study Classics at Duke University

For current students in the Classics Department at Duke, the experience of studying this fascinating field is deeply rewarding. Many appreciate the opportunity to engage with some of the world’s greatest works of literature and philosophy, while others enjoy the challenge of learning ancient languages and exploring the nuances of historical contexts.

a male student sitting inside a classroom and smiling

Regardless of their interests, however, all students agree that the Classics Department at Duke is an intellectually vibrant and supportive community, one that fosters a sense of intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and lifelong learning.

How to Get Involved in the Classics Community at Duke University

If you’re interested in exploring the world of Classics at Duke, there are many ways to get involved. One of the best is to simply enroll in a Classics course and begin studying the subject in depth. Additionally, you can attend department lectures and events, participate in research assistantships or summer grants, or even consider joining a Classics-related student group or organization. With so many opportunities for engagement and learning, there’s never been a better time to explore the rich and rewarding world of Classics at Duke University.

Resources for Learning More About the Classics at Duke

If you’re interested in learning more about the Classics Department at Duke or the study of Classics more broadly, there are many resources available. One excellent place to start is the department’s website, which provides detailed information on courses, faculty, and research opportunities.

Additionally, you can browse the library’s collection of Classics resources, attend departmental lectures or conferences, or explore online databases and archives to deepen your knowledge of the field. Finally, talking to current students or alumni can be a great way to get a firsthand perspective on the value of a Classics education at Duke and beyond.

If you’re set on getting into a world-class college but aren’t sure how to make it happen, we can help! AdmissionSight is a leading college entrance expert with over a decade of experience helping students just like you get into the schools of their dreams.

At AdmissionSight, we focus on offering a wide range of services, all aimed at helping students perfect their applications to catch the attention of admissions officers. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about what we offer.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.