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I was an English major at Grinnell College, but began studying Classics toward the end of my undergraduate years. That shift was extremely significant since it required me not only to learn Latin and Greek but to master a whole new set of skills for dealing with the fragmentary world of the ancient Mediterranean.
Despite switching disciplines I have never lost my intense interest in the humanities and have often sought to bring my understanding of classical literature to bear on them. Given the importance that classical authors have had for subsequent writers, there is plenty of opportunity to do this. I began my career with projects on the reception of Latin literature by later generations and have returned to the idea of reception throughout my career, as I attempt to understand the ever-changing ways that classical texts have been important to artists and their public.
It isn’t always easy to do classics research and humanities research together, however. Classics provides a foundation for the Western European tradition that remains a powerful stimulus. Nevertheless, during the second half of the 20th century, classics was largely insulated from the various movements in the humanities like structuralism, feminism, deconstruction and post-colonial theory that sought to re-evaluate the way we think about texts, politics, and culture. The result was disciplines with very different approaches and no simple way of bringing them together.
This is the problem to which I have tried to apply myself throughout my career. I see it as a question of how best to celebrate Classics as foundation – that is to participate in the endlessly fascinating work of studying ancient texts – while also remaining mindful of the role of these texts in forming the tradition of humanities in the West in a way that is persuasive to students and scholars outside of classics as well. To do these things I have sought to chart a course for the future of classics by mining the rich vein of contemporary humanities scholarship. Doing so, I have found, can open up classical texts to interesting new questions, acknowledging at the same time that the careful study of classical texts can help us to test theories and methodologies developed for the humanities as a whole.