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Exploring the Classics at Princeton University

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a young student reading a book at the library to study about ACT English exam

Exploring the Classics at Princeton University

Princeton University is widely recognized as one of the world’s top institutions of higher learning, particularly in the fields of humanities and social sciences. One department that has a long and prestigious history at Princeton is the Classics Department.

This department is dedicated to the study of classical Greek and Roman culture, history, literature, and language, as well as their influence on subsequent civilizations and cultures. In this article, we will explore the significance of the Classics Department at Princeton University, its history, top professors, popular courses, alumni, benefits of studying classics, challenges, and much more.

Female student studying in a room.

What are the Classics and why are they important?

The term “Classics” refers to the literary, artistic, philosophical, and historical works that constitute the foundational texts of ancient Greece and Rome. They are significant because they have shaped Western civilization’s intellectual and artistic traditions and are among the most influential and enduring works of the last two thousand years. Studying classics provides a vital foundation for understanding contemporary Western culture, literature, and politics. It also fosters critical thinking skills, writing and research skills, and an appreciation of the diversity of human cultures.

Furthermore, the Classics offer a unique insight into the ancient world and the societies that produced them. They provide a window into the beliefs, values, and customs of these civilizations, and allow us to compare and contrast them with our own. This can help us to better understand our own cultural heritage and the ways in which it has been shaped by the past.

Moreover, the study of Classics is not just limited to the ancient world. It also encompasses the reception and interpretation of these works throughout history. From the Renaissance to the present day, the Classics have been a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and thinkers. By studying the reception of these works, we can gain a deeper understanding of their enduring influence and relevance.

The History of Classics at Princeton University

Princeton University has a long tradition of Classics scholarship, dating back to its founding in 1746. The department has produced many eminent scholars, including Moses Hadas, Jacques Barzun, and Robert Fagles, whose epic translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are regarded as classics in their own right. Since the department’s inception, it has maintained a focus on the humanities’ fundamental values and is committed to interdisciplinary inquiry and collaboration.

One of the unique aspects of the Classics department at Princeton is its emphasis on the study of ancient languages. Students are encouraged to learn Greek and Latin, and the department offers a wide range of language courses at all levels. This focus on language study allows students to engage with ancient texts in their original form and gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of the language and culture.

In addition to its strong academic program, the Classics department at Princeton also offers a variety of extracurricular activities for students. These include study abroad programs, archaeological digs, and opportunities to participate in local theater productions of ancient plays. These activities provide students with hands-on experience and a deeper appreciation for the ancient world.

An Overview of the Classics Department at Princeton University

The Classics Department at Princeton University is engaged in the teaching and research of Greek and Roman literature, history, and culture, as well as its reception throughout later centuries. The department is renowned for enabling close study of texts in their original languages, fostering an appreciation of the beauty, nuance, and complexity of ancient literature, and providing a comprehensive understanding of the societies that produced them.

One of the unique features of the Classics Department at Princeton University is its emphasis on interdisciplinary study. Students are encouraged to explore connections between ancient literature and other fields, such as philosophy, art history, and archaeology. This approach allows for a more holistic understanding of the ancient world and its impact on later societies.

multi national students studying together

In addition to its academic programs, the Classics Department at Princeton University also offers a variety of extracurricular activities for students. These include study abroad programs, archaeological excavations, and opportunities to participate in theatrical productions of ancient plays. These experiences provide students with hands-on learning opportunities and a deeper appreciation for the cultural legacy of the ancient world.

Top Professors in Princeton University’s Classics Department

The Princeton University Classics Department has a roster of distinguished faculty members who are experts in their field. Professors include Joshua Billings, who focuses on Greek and Roman poetry, David Cohen, specialist in Greek history, and Brooke Holmes, who is an authority on ancient medicine. These scholars bring years of experience and insight to the department and are known for their innovative scholarship and high-quality teaching.

In addition to these renowned professors, the Classics Department at Princeton University also boasts a number of up-and-coming scholars who are making significant contributions to the field. One such professor is Sarah Johnson, whose research focuses on the intersection of ancient philosophy and literature. Another rising star in the department is Michael Lee, who specializes in the study of ancient religion and mythology.

Students in the Classics Department at Princeton University have the opportunity to work closely with these esteemed faculty members, as well as with their peers, in a rigorous and intellectually stimulating academic environment. Through coursework, research projects, and extracurricular activities, students gain a deep understanding of the ancient world and its relevance to contemporary society.

Popular Courses Offered by the Classics Department at Princeton University

The department at Princeton University offers a broad selection of courses for undergraduate and graduate students. Some popular courses include “Myth and Meaning,” “Greek Drama,” “Roman Epic,” and “From Antiquity to Modernity.” These classes grant students an in-depth understanding of the Classical world, from the literature and art to the mindset and social dynamics. Plus, with a departmental commitment to academic exploration and intellectual curiosity, each course provides a vibrant and lively learning experience

In addition to these popular courses, the Classics Department at Princeton University also offers unique opportunities for students to engage with the ancient world outside of the classroom. For example, students can participate in archaeological digs in Greece and Italy, study abroad programs in Rome and Athens, and attend guest lectures by renowned scholars in the field. These experiences allow students to deepen their understanding of the Classical world and gain valuable hands-on experience in the field of Classics.

The Role of Classics in Modern Society

Despite the substantial age of Classical literature, it remains profoundly relevant today. From political science to philosophy, the underpinnings of our modern life have a basis in classical scholarship, and the understanding of this scholarship is incredibly valuable. Art and literature show a deep connection to their classical origins, meaning that understanding this origin is central to creating exciting, academic works.

Furthermore, the study of Classics can provide a unique perspective on contemporary issues. By examining the ancient world, we can gain insight into the development of modern societies and the challenges they face. For example, the study of ancient Greek democracy can inform our understanding of modern political systems and the importance of citizen participation. Similarly, the study of ancient Roman law can provide a foundation for modern legal systems and the concept of justice.

The Future of Classics Studies at Princeton University

The future of Classics studies is bright with possibilities at Princeton University. With the ongoing development of new technologies and interdisciplinary approaches like digital humanities, the Classics Department is well-positioned to continue to generate new, innovative research and teaching in the classics. The department aims to cultivate and develop the next generation of Classicists within a wider, multi-disciplinary framework.

Young male student working on his laptop in a room.

Furthermore, the Classics Department at Princeton University is committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity in its curriculum and research. The department recognizes the importance of studying the ancient world in a way that reflects the diversity of the modern world. To this end, the department has expanded its course offerings to include topics such as race and ethnicity in the ancient world, gender and sexuality in antiquity, and the reception of classical literature in non-Western cultures. By embracing a more diverse and inclusive approach to Classics studies, Princeton University is leading the way in shaping the future of the field.

Famous Alumni from Princeton University’s Classics Department

Princeton’s classics department has cultivated a remarkable group of graduates who have gone on to achieve great success in a variety of fields. The list of alumni includes writers like Toni Morrison, essayists like Christopher Hitchens, journalists like Jodi Kantor, and political experts like Condoleezza Rice. They all demonstrate the intellectual and professional flexibility that the classics can fosters, while also opening doors to new fields and interests.

One notable alumnus from Princeton’s classics department is Robert Mueller, who served as the director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013. Mueller studied classics as an undergraduate and continued to pursue his interest in the subject throughout his career. He has credited his classical education with teaching him the importance of careful analysis and attention to detail, skills that were essential to his work in law enforcement. Mueller’s success is a testament to the enduring value of a classics education and its ability to prepare students for a wide range of careers.

Benefits of Studying Classics at Princeton University

The Classics Department at Princeton offers a deep learning experience that can lead to grand intellectual and personal growth. Students develop invaluable analytical, writing, and critical thinking skills, along with intellectual curiosity and disciplinary expertise. Above all, through the Classics Department, Princeton students can gain the motivation to become lifelong learners.

Furthermore, studying Classics at Princeton University provides students with a unique opportunity to explore the ancient world through a variety of lenses, including literature, history, philosophy, and art. The department offers a wide range of courses that cover topics such as Greek and Roman mythology, ancient drama, and the history of ancient Greece and Rome.

Additionally, the Classics Department at Princeton is home to a vibrant community of scholars and students who are passionate about the ancient world. Students have the opportunity to engage in lively discussions and debates, attend lectures and events, and participate in extracurricular activities such as the Classics Club and the Princeton Hellenic Society.

Challenges and Opportunities in the Study of Classics at Princeton University

Classics is a demanding field of study, particularly at an institution such as Princeton University. It requires a high level of diligence, rigor, and perseverance, coupled with a commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry and a willingness to engage with texts in their original languages. However, for those who meet these demands, the Classics Department at Princeton also offers ample opportunities for intellectual growth, career enhancement, and personal fulfillment.

a group of four students with two male and two female studying together

One of the unique challenges of studying Classics at Princeton is the emphasis on original research. Students are encouraged to delve deeply into primary sources and to develop their own research questions and methodologies. This can be daunting, but it also allows for a level of intellectual independence and creativity that is rare in undergraduate education. Additionally, the Classics Department at Princeton has a strong tradition of collaboration and mentorship, with faculty members working closely with students on research projects and providing guidance and support throughout their academic careers.

How to Apply to the Classics Program at Princeton University

Princeton University’s Classics Department admits students who are passionate about studying the classical world and have a foundation in Latin and/or Greek. Students must also undergo the standard application procedures, which include submitting transcripts, standardized test scores, and essays. If admitted, students immediately become part of a committed and engaging community of scholars.

Additionally, the Classics Department at Princeton University offers various resources and opportunities for students to enhance their studies. These include study abroad programs in Greece and Italy, research assistant positions, and access to a vast collection of ancient artifacts and manuscripts at the Princeton University Art Museum. Students are also encouraged to participate in the Classics Club, which hosts events and discussions related to the classical world.

Campus Life for Students Studying Classics at Princeton University

Princeton University provides students with a thriving intellectual environment, combined with an active campus life. The University is known for its exceptional libraries, museums, and cultural opportunities, which all contribute positively to the students’ academic experience. Meanwhile, the Classics Department specifically offers a host of exciting events, lectures and activities, which encourage students’ participation and engagement in the classics.

One of the most popular events organized by the Classics Department is the annual Classics Symposium, which brings together scholars and students from around the world to discuss and debate various topics related to the classics. In addition, the department also hosts regular movie nights, where students can watch and discuss classic films that relate to the ancient world. The department also offers study abroad programs, which allow students to immerse themselves in the culture and history of ancient Greece and Rome. These programs provide students with a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the places and artifacts they have been studying in the classroom.

Research Opportunities for Students in the Classics Department at Princeton University

The Classics Department provides ample opportunities for research, allowing students seeking unique academic experiences the room to explore and discover. The department encourages original research and sponsors programs for undergraduate research, giving students opportunities to work with faculty members on their projects. This allows for detailed, extensive research with the potential to create scholarly inquiries and academic innovation.

Additionally, the Classics Department at Princeton University offers access to a vast array of resources for research, including a comprehensive library with a vast collection of ancient texts, artifacts, and manuscripts. The department also hosts regular seminars and workshops, providing students with the chance to engage with leading scholars in the field and gain valuable insights into the latest research and developments in the discipline. These opportunities not only enhance students’ academic experiences but also prepare them for future careers in academia or related fields.

Study Abroad Programs for Students in the Classics Department at Princeton University

Studying abroad is an excellent way to extend one’s horizons, and the Classics Department at Princeton University offers several study abroad programs that focus on the literature, history, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. These programs allow students to immerse themselves in the landscapes and culture of classical civilization and experience firsthand the enduring legacy of the ancient world.

a group of international students, each holding the flag of their origin country

One of the study abroad programs offered by the Classics Department at Princeton University is a summer program in Athens, Greece. This program provides students with the opportunity to study the ancient Greek language, literature, and history while living in the heart of Athens. Students will visit archaeological sites, museums, and attend lectures by local experts.

Another study abroad program offered by the Classics Department is a semester-long program in Rome, Italy. This program focuses on the art, architecture, and history of ancient Rome. Students will visit famous landmarks such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum, and will have the opportunity to study Latin and Italian language and culture.

Student Organizations related to the Study of Classical Culture at Princeton University

Princeton University’s Classics Department features several student-led organizations that center on promoting the study of Classical Culture at Princeton University. The groups offer community and support while enabling students to extend their interest in the classics beyond the classroom. The organizations organize various events and enrichment opportunities for the student body, fostering a robust intellectual atmosphere and social connection between like-minded people.

One of the most popular student organizations related to the study of Classical Culture at Princeton University is the Classics Club. The club meets regularly to discuss ancient literature, history, and culture. They also organize movie nights, game nights, and other social events to bring together students who share a passion for the classics. Another organization is the Princeton Hellenic Society, which focuses on promoting the study of ancient Greek language and culture. The society hosts guest speakers, organizes cultural events, and provides resources for students interested in studying abroad in Greece. Overall, these student organizations provide a valuable opportunity for students to engage with the classics outside of the classroom and build a community of like-minded individuals.

The Connections between Classical Studies and Other Disciplines within Princeton University

Classics is famously interdisciplinary, and the Princeton University Classics Department is an excellent example of this. In the classroom and beyond, faculty members and students frequently engage with colleagues in other disciplines, such as history, literature, philosophy, and the arts. The department believes these intersections help provide richer, more nuanced understandings of the classical world while also providing invaluable insights into different modes of inquiry.

One example of the interdisciplinary nature of the Classics Department is the collaboration between classicists and archaeologists. Princeton has a renowned archaeology program, and Classics faculty members often work with archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the material culture of the ancient world. This collaboration has led to exciting discoveries, such as the recent excavation of a Roman villa in Italy.

Additionally, the Classics Department at Princeton has strong ties to the Department of Comparative Literature. Many classicists are interested in the reception of classical literature in later periods, and comparative literature provides a framework for exploring these connections. This collaboration has led to innovative courses, such as a seminar on the reception of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in contemporary literature and film.

The Impact of Classical Studies on Intellectual Development and Career Prospects

The critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills that Classics students hone allow them to excel in any career they choose to pursue, whether in academia or beyond. Beyond these soft skills, the study of Classics serves as an introduction into the world of western thought and art, personal enrichment that can have profoundly meaningful impacts on one’s life. Many Classics students go on to work in fields as diverse as law, medicine, journalism and the humanities.

Outreach Programs Related to Classical Studies Offered by the School and its Faculty

a group of people celebrating

Princeton’s Classics department is committed to sharing the beauty and insights of classical scholarship with a broader audience. Departmental faculty and students regularly contribute to public lectures and educational events throughout Media and in New Jersey. These events create opportunities to engage with diverse public audiences, from members of the community to younger learners whose interest in Classics is just beginning.

Conclusion: Why Exploring the Classics at Princeton is Worthwhile?

Exploring the Classics at Princeton University provides students with a highly rigorous, intellectually rewarding experience that can prepare them for a wide range of careers and interests. From renowned faculty to rich campus life to study abroad programs, Princeton’s Classics Department provides a host of opportunities for personal and professional growth. Whether you’re already passionate about the classics or are just discovering it can have, Princeton’s Department of Classics is most certainly worth exploring.

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