Classics Department Changes Name to Greek, Latin, and Ancient Mediterranean Studies
The Classics Department has recently announced that it will be changing its name to the much more glamorous Greek, Latin, and Ancient Mediterranean (GLAM) Department. The Quest spoke with Assistant Professor Tom Landvatter and Associate Professor Sonia Sabnis about the department’s decision as well as the larger cultural shift that has spurred rethinking of language used to describe similar departments across the country.
Sabnis, the member of the GLAM Department who conceived of the acronym, stated that the label “classics” was entirely wrong for their field of study, saying “Classics is, especially in recent years, impenetrable: not only does it not describe the actual things we study, it perpetuates an outmoded idea that Greek and Latin language and literature (or worse, Greek and Roman culture and institutions) are somehow superior to others.” She went on to describe how GLAM effectively combines the specific fields of study that will operate under the label: “Two major tracks, one in Greek and Latin language and literature, and the other in Ancient Mediterranean History and Archaeology.” Sabnis also noted that Reed’s Classics Department was not the first to question the name, although she had not heard of any other department with as fabulous an acronym. Sabnis lamented the fact that “classics” had remained the name for so long, saying, “In truth we should have done it a long time ago.”
In his interview, Landvatter also described a broader pattern in departments that study the Ancient Mediterranean. “A lot of classics departments across the country have been thinking about it,” Landvatter told the Quest. One major problem, according to Landvatter, was the vagueness of the word “classics.” He described how, “people are unclear about what the term means,” and went on to describe how students would mistakenly identify texts and ideas from vastly different time periods and locations with the classical canon. “GLAM is much more specific and focused than classics. It reduces some of the confusion.” Landvatter said that the name change was also part of a broader rethinking of how the department sees itself. The term “classics” to refer to the much-celebrated Greek and Roman canon of literature is mostly an 18th and 19th Century creation, according to Landvatter, and along with the term came the privileging of Greek and Roman literature of that specific canon above other historical artifacts as pillars of “Western Culture.” Landvatter added, “to call the literature of Greeks and Romans ‘classics’ is a value judgement.”
Both professors described how the name change came as part of a larger wave in the restructuring of how we as a society want to study history and human culture. It is a small step away from holding the nebulous “Western Culture” up on a pedestal to be revered, and a pivot towards a more deliberately equal and objective school of academic thought.