Modern Classics: Applications and Interventions

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By Alice König

One of the most exciting things about studying Classics at St Andrews is the wide range of research-led Honours modules which students can choose from. Next year, for example, students will be able to choose between topics as diverse as the history of ancient Greek, Roman Africa, Classics and Communism, and Ancient Environmental History.  

This semester, a new Honours module entitled ‘Modern Classics: Applications and Interventions’ has just got underway. It is an innovative ‘Living Lab’-style module with a strong emphasis on helping students to develop as ‘citizen scholars’.

Guest lecturers will be delivering workshops on (for example) ancient democracy and modern politics; ancient migration and modern refugee narratives; historic climate change and modern climate debates; ancient approaches to science and modern constructions of expertise; ancient and modern attitudes to race and gender. Inspired by these case studies, students will then work in teams to identify a local, national or global challenge (e.g. ‘fake news’, intercultural tensions, the gender pay gap, the campaign for transgender rights, conflicting attitudes to free speech, the mix of myth and medical science in modern vaccination debates) and together research ways in which study of the ancient past might make a positive contribution to their chosen issue.

They will spend time examining the ethics and pitfalls of using material and models from the past as ‘interventions’ in modern-day problems and the applicability (or not) of ancient paradigms, with discussion of various ‘uses and abuses’ of antiquity along the way. Ultimately, student teams will have to devise and pitch a viable project of their own that will bring ancient knowledge/material to bear on a pressing modern problem.

This module gives students new insights into the ancient world; it demands serious reflection on the state of Classics as a discipline (in particular, the urgent need for greater diversification and decolonisation); and it encourages and equips students to bring academic study and activism together.

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