Department of Classics & Ancient History
In the Summer of 2000, the Leverhulme Trust invited UK Classics departments to bid for two major grants, worth around £1.5M each. They were intended as investments in the future of Classical research in this country, and what the successful departments had to show was that they could develop 21st-century teaching programmes which did not compromise on the core linguistic skills needed for the subject - despite the sharp decline in the number of school-leavers who had been exposed to it before. When we won one of these grants, it initiated an extraordinary period of expansion and achievement.
The Leverhulme grant gave us an early opportunity to think systematically about what research-led teaching might mean: when we set about rewriting out undergraduate programmes, we started by developing a strategic view about our own research strengths, the research postgraduates we wanted to work with, the taught MA programmes we would need to produce them . . . and only then what we would offer our undergraduates.
Latin or Greek are obviously key competencies for Classics research, and are at the heart of all our taught programmes now (MAs included), those who do not take to them must at least take modules with a focus on the practice and theory of translation. The study of antiquity is about very much more than knowing the languages, of course, but all of our graduates ought to come away with an ability to recognise the choices involved in the way translations of ancient texts are made. This is part of a broader argument for continuing relevance of Classics as an education for life and leadership: it deals (inter alia) with the way our society and culture have been defined through the selective inheritance of antiquity.
The Department has grown considerably in size since 2000. We are still a smallish department by Durham standards, but among the largest in the world for the subject. Some fascinating new research strengths have emerged in recent years: Greek and Roman epic was always well represented here, as was ancient philosophy; we are now also at the forefront of work on the interface between the ancient Mediterranean powers and the Near East. Another language our undergraduates get the chance to learn is Akkadian (the literary language of Babylon) - and they can practise it on tablets held in the collection of the Oriental Museum.
One of the more interesting 'might-havebeens' of our history is Enoch Powell, appointed to the Chair in Greek at the age of 27 in 1939. He changed career before he could make it to Durham; but we have been more fortunate with other, less controversial, young appointments. As well as being one of the largest, we are now one of the youngest Classics Departments around. Despite (or because of?) that, we did exceptionally well in RAE 2008, when we were ranked third for internationally excellent research.
We are also very proud of our international profile. Two-thirds of our staff are non- British nationals: Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, and the USA are all represented, and our current research postgraduates add Greece, Korea, and Japan to the list - evidence, if it were needed, that Classics not only continues to be relevant, but has become increasingly important as a shared cultural resource through which diverse contemporary cultures can communicate.
Professor George Boys-Stones
Head of Department