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Classics Dept. Changes Approved

By Alex M. Mcleese, Crimson Staff Writer

The first major revisions to the Classics Department curriculum in at least three decades received final approval yesterday by a unanimous vote of the Educational Policy Committee, the Harvard board that reviews undergraduate programs.

The changes, which will take effect in the fall, make the department’s offerings more accessible to concentrators and non-concentrators who have less experience with Greek and Latin.

The new curriculum reduces the department’s many tracks to two—a language-intensive track and a civilizations track. It also does away with the long-standing tradition of general exams for seniors based on a required reading list, while adding a junior tutorial to prepare students to write theses in subjects that may venture beyond literature.

In addition to its current courses, the department will offer more freshman seminars, 100-level courses, and eventually, General Education courses on texts in translation that will be appropriate for both concentrators and non-concentrators. The new curriculum also includes a secondary field focused on civilization studies that does not require any Greek or Latin language classes.

Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor Mark J. Schiefsky, who guided the curriculum proposal approval process, said that the new system allows the department to offer a wider variety of courses.

“You can teach the history of Greek literature without Euripides’ Medea always on the reading list,” Schiefsky said, adding that in the past, courses that included texts not on the required list for general exams were guaranteed low enrollments.

Professor Richard F. Thomas, who will become the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the fall, said that Harvard’s move away from a narrow focus on language is part of a broader trend. “The degree in classical civilizations well matches intellectual directions the field is going in, opening up to pursuits additional to languages and literatures,” he said. “If you’re interested in a description of some myth in literature, obviously if there’s a sculpture or pictorial art of some sort that is dealing with the same issue, that can give a different point of view on a textual phenomenon.”

Anne E. Austin ’10 is one of only two classics concentrators in the classical archaeology track, which is being replaced by the more general civilizations track. “I definitely think the changes will attract more people who don’t have experience with the languages,” she said. “I almost didn’t want to concentrate in classical archaeology because I didn’t want to take the general exams.”

The new civilizations track will give students who would have specialized in classical archaeology the option to take the same courses to fulfill requirements.

“It sounds a little more watered-down to me, especially for people who want to specifically study archaeology,” she said. “But at the same time, the change is largely nominal, and people will still be able to take the same classes.”

­­­­­—Staff writer Alex M. McLeese can be reached at

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