Monday, October 25, 2021

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    Professors and students are trying to expand the appeal of classics

    YAAMIR BADHE I look forward to his last year as an Oxford classic student. He believes that Latin and Greek texts are a source of “wisdom, joy, comfort” and that his bachelor’s degree courses taken by generations of Grande may loosen language requirements. I’m disappointed. He was one of the students who opposed last year when some faculty members came up with the idea of ​​quitting compulsory education in Homer and Virgil. This proposal was part of a discussion of how to make classical music more accessible to students who are not in strong schools.

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    Badhe is not a traditionalist and is not insensitive to the accusations that classics come with colonial baggage. Rather, he brings a fresh perspective. As an Englishman from India, his special interest lies in the fusion of Greek, Indian and Buddhist cultures 2300 years ago after Alexander the Great swept through what is now Afghanistan. For the sculptors and poets involved in the Indo-Greek fusion, the modern idea that classics are colonial impositions is “very strange,” says Bade.

    This is all part of the first controversy that surfaced in the United States. Dan El Padilla Peralta, a black professor at Princeton University, is the most well-known supporter of the view that academic classics are unmanageably polluted by racism and elitism. On the UK campus, radically oriented students are asking professors to rethink their curriculum to make it more accessible, as well as without the overtones of racial and colonialism.

    Finding elitist tensions on classical traditions is not difficult. The Victorian people of England loved the passage of civilization, celebrating the role of Thucydides, the father of Greek history, as the power of a benign empire. But that’s not all. On the British campus of the 20th century, the most influential classicists included Irish socialist Eric Dodds and American Moses Finley, who fled his hometown on suspicion of communism. I did.

    And elitism does not have to be the future of the field. Since October, the Institute of Classical Studies, a specialized institution, is headed by Katherine Harloe, a black woman who holds a chair at the University of Reading and has shown an interest in revealing classical distortions for ideological purposes. It will be. Her expertise lies in the romantic and patronizing way ancient Greece was found in 18th-century Germany. She said in a recent broadcast that the attitude of the British people as well as the professor needs to be changed. When the educational animation portrayed a Roman family in Britain as dark skin, it attracted protests on social media from people who were unaware of the archaeological evidence that Roman settlers were of many races.

    In July, the Cambridge Classics Department announced a detailed plan to combat racism and elitism. We promised to increase the proportion of undergraduate students in ethnic minorities. This was 14% in 2017-19, compared to 23% for the university as a whole. Selectors help you “understand the impact of their decisions” on diversity. There was even a vow to change the display of the plaster-cast statues to make it clear that all the ancient figures depicted were not white.

    Nevertheless, statistics suggest that if there is a problem of diversity in British classics, it is at least as relevant to social and educational classes as ethnicity. Latin, Greek, and ancient history are concentrated in paid, academically selected public schools. Elsewhere, they rarely work. In 2019, 1,121 English students took the Latin exam at A level. This is an exam that opens the door to the university. Only 12% of them went to non-selective schools. According to Classics For All, it has a scandalously low share, according to a voluntary group that has promoted this theme for unprivileged youth and has supported more than 1,000 schools.

    Glittering 19-year-old Sahil Thapa, co-editing the Oxford University Student Law Journal, says it’s a noble job to spread classical music to all classes and races. His parents, who moved from Kathmandu to Essex, were confused when he chose Latin A level. He explained that ancient orators like Cicero helped his work, including Roman law, and stimulated his own rhetorical skills. The British classics are showing no signs of extinction, but the people who study them and the reasons for their choice will surprise Victorian imperialists. ■■

    This article was published in the UK section of the print version under the heading “Bearing gifts”.

    Professors and students are trying to expand the appeal of classics

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