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Writing Requirement in Classical Studies

As a humanities discipline Classical Studies emphasizes the core features of a liberal arts education: effective communication and critical thinking. At each level of the curriculum students in Classical Studies study models of effective writing (including the ancient sources themselves!) and work with faculty to hone their writing skills. Because courses in Classical Studies include languages (Greek and Latin), literature, history, and archaeology, there is no single course in which students learn how to write in the discipline. Rather, majors in Classical Civilization, Greek, and Latin are encouraged to take a variety of courses that engage in different genres of writing.

To complete the Writing in the Major requirement for Classical Studies, majors submit a portfolio in the fall semester of their senior year. Classical Civilization majors provide three writing samples from their course work and a reflective essay (see below, #1-3 and 5). Greek and Latin majors submit the same papers as the Classical Civilization majors, as well as a translation of an ancient text (see below, #1-5). The items to be submitted are the following:

1. An essay that analyzes primary source(s). Primary sources include material culture, buildings, monuments, topography, and Greek and Roman texts in the original language or in translation. Analysis involves interpreting functions or meanings—social, historical, literary,  or artistic—of such primary sources. We think of such an essay as an act of “close reading” in the sense of careful attention to the primary source’s medium—e.g. portrait versus religious sculpture or mythological narrative versus historiography—and to how such factors as socio-historical context and intended viewer or audience constitute a primary source’s meaning and function.

2. An essay that critically responds to secondary sources. Authors of secondary sources, such as books, articles, archaeological site publications, and edited volumes of collected essays, interpret the primary sources of Classical Studies, often aligning their interpretations with theoretical or methodological approaches and the current knowledge-base. A critical response to such secondary sources means not merely reporting or summarizing their content, but evaluating the author’s/authors’ selection of evidence and entering into debate with their interpretations. 

3. A thesis or research paper. Going far beyond merely describing the current critical consensus on a given question, a thesis or research paper integrates careful analysis of primary evidence, critical engagement with scholarship, and original research through examination of primary and secondary sources. A thesis or research essay is an opportunity for students to test their own ideas about the ancient Mediterranean World. This paper should be at least ten pages.

4. For Greek and Latin majors: A polished translation of a passage of reasonable length and difficulty from an ancient text.

5. A 750-1000 word essay in which students reflect upon their experience writing in the major. Students tailor such reflection to their particular major and to the writing experience students have gained in their courses. This reflective essay will address two questions: (1) How has writing contributed to the student’s progress toward fulfillment of the major? and (2) How has the fulfillment of the major contributed to the student’s development as a writer? Greek and Latin majors should also reflect on the role that translation has played in their learning. 

Most courses in Classical Civilization provide occasions for fulfilling requirements 1, 2, and 3. Language courses beyond the 100-level may include written assignments that satisfy any of the requirements 1, 2, 3, and 4. Except for the reflective essay, no writing outside of class assignments is necessary to complete this requirement. Students should complete requirements 1 and 2 by the end of their sophomore year and requirements 3 and 4 by the end of their junior year. In the fall of their senior year, the student should work with his or her advisor to make a plan for completing their portfolio.

Students will combine their portfolios into a single PDF file and submit it via email to the departmental secretary, Jennifer Plew at, by January 20 of their Senior Year.  Two or more department faculty members will evaluate the portfolios, jointly assign a grade of "Excellent", "Good", "Pass", or "Needing Revision", and return the graded portfolios to students by the end of the first week in March. Students whose portfolios need revision must submit a revised portfolio by March 31.  In order to complete the requirements and graduate with a major in Classical Studies, students must submit the original portfolio by the January 20 deadline and must receive a passing grade on their original or revised portfolio.