CLASSICS AT GEORGIA: 200 YEARS AND COUNTING
Message from former Director Curtis
The history of the Department of Classics was for many years the history of the University of Georgia. Even now, when the Classics curriculum no longer holds center stage at the University as it once did, the study of Greek and Latin language and literature continues to be strong. The Department of Classics has begun its third century of service to educate the citizens of the state of Georgia and of the nation. The future of classical studies continues to look bright at the University of Georgia, and we all look forward to making our contribution over the coming years.
Robert I. Curtis
Students have taken Greek and Latin at the University of Georgia continuously for more than 200 years, beginning the day the University first opened its doors in 1801. The University’s commitment to Classics has its roots in the history of the nation itself, going all the way back to the educational ideals of our founding fathers. During the colonial period, for example, the curriculum in schools and academies was grounded in the classical languages and mathematics and had as its goal the creation of gentlemen imbued not only with virtue and morality, but also with civic pride and a desire for public service. Knowledge of Greek and Latin language and literature was a touchstone for an identifiable elite whose classical education marked them as men of refinement, prestige, and leadership. By the turn of the nineteenth century, however, classical education was under attack from those who advocated teaching practical subjects, such as modern languages, agriculture, and science that were seen by them to be requisite for a young and growing country. This struggle between the supporters of the traditional classical curriculum, on the one hand, and those of the Enlightenment ideas of egalitarianism and technological progress, on the other, dominated education during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at Georgia and elsewhere.
Josiah Meigs, who came south from Yale University to become the first president of the University of Georgia, introduced to Georgia the traditional classical curriculum that was then dominant at Yale. Not only did he serve as President of the University, but he also taught both Greek and Latin languages until 18ll when John R. Goulding was hired as Chair of Ancient Languages. Joseph Wallace followed Goulding in 1819, but he departed in 1822. Between 1822 and 1830 classical languages were once again taught by the President of the University, this time a gentleman by the name of Moses Waddel.
In the Waddel family, Classics was something of a “family business” for James P. Waddel, the son of Moses, and then William H. Waddel, the grandson of Moses, also held the position of Chair of Ancient Languages at UGA. In the midst of the Waddel “dynasty,” James Shannon served, in 1830, as Chair of the Department, and so began the long history of the Department of Ancient Languages of Greek and Latin at UGA. Despite increasing opposition to classical languages in university curricula across the country, they retained their dominance at UGA throughout this period and to the end of the War Between the States.
During the early post-war years, social and economic deprivation throughout the South emboldened advocates who called for a more utilitarian curriculum. This had particular resonance in Georgia, and in 1869, Chancellor Andrew A. Lipscomb pushed to alter the curriculum at the University of Georgia. He recommended removing classical languages from their central place in the curriculum in favor of more practical courses and modern foreign languages and also favored introducing to the curriculum the principle of electives. Between 1874 and 1878 Chancellor Henry H. Tucker, concluding that the classical curriculum was not appropriate for all students, recommended the creation of three distinct curricula that could be studied over a four-year period: a classical curriculum, a curriculum that emphasized science and modern languages, and a curriculum that stressed agriculture and either science or modern languages. Following the Chancellor’s lead and with input from the faculty, the Board of Trustees eventually instituted three degrees: the Artium Baccalaureatus degree in Greek and Latin, the Bachelor of Science degree that required only one classical language, and the Bachelor of Philosophy degree that required no classical languages. These changes created fixed curricula in only one of which were both Latin and Greek dominant. The classical languages may have lost their dominant place in the curriculum, but they must have still been considered—at some level at least —the sine qua non of a university education in Georgia because the degree that required no ancient language was discontinued just a few years later, in 1883.
As time passed, classical languages continued to lose ground in the UGA curriculum. In 1889 the A.B. degree was changed to allow students to substitute French or German for Greek after their first year of study. There was a temporary swing back in the opposite direction in 1896 when the substitution was allowed only after the second year, but the tide had by then turned, and the trend was irreversible. By 1906 Latin and Greek were no longer choices for juniors and seniors, and in the following year Greek was no longer required for freshmen and sophomores. In 1933 Latin was dropped as a requirement for the A.B. degree. And yet, Classics at Georgia continues to flourish. Today, Greek, Latin, and Classical Culture constitute three majors from among many which students may choose for the A.B. degree, and Classics still finds its passionate advocates among the student body despite the call of those who, following in the footsteps of earlier students, continue to clamor for more “practical” majors—now usually defined as Business or Computer Science or Journalism. Many students at Georgia, however, continue to believe that nothing is more practical than a Classics education for focusing the mind and preparing one for life.
Remarkably, over the more than two centuries since its foundation, the Department has undergone relatively few changes in organization and in personnel. In 1801 the Department of Ancient Languages of Greek and Latin constituted the major part of Franklin College (originally the name of the first permanent building at UGA that is today called Old College, and the term that now attaches to the College of Arts and Sciences). This remained the case until 1872 when two separate departments were created, one for Greek and one for Latin. Following a reversion to a single Department of Ancient Languages in 1878 and again back to two departments in 1897, the Department of Classics was created in 1935. This name, retained to the present day, more accurately describes the broad course offerings available to students, including ancient Greek and Latin language and literature, classical culture, mythology, and archaeology. Although originally housed in Old College and then in the Academic Building, since the late-1930s the Department has resided in Park Hall, with one brief sojourn in Bishop House.
Excluding the two presidents who taught classical languages, only fourteen individuals have led the Department of Classics over the past 205 years. The three who served the longest were Willis H. Bocock (48 years), William D. Hooper (46 years), and James W. Alexander (32 years). Professor Bocock also held the title of Milledge Professor of Ancient Languages from 1895 until his retirement in 1945. This honorific title was named in honor of Gov. John Milledge who had donated the land upon which the University was built, and the Department hopes to once again name a Milledge Professor of Ancient Languages. For much of its history, the Department could number its faculty on one hand; today, however, the Department has seventeen full-time faculty, making it one of the largest Classics faculties in the United States and the largest of any non-Ph.D.-granting Classics department.
Previous Department Heads
1801-1810: Josiah Meigs
1811-1819: John R. Goulding
1820-1822: Joseph Wallace
1830-1835: James Shannon
1836-1856: James P. Waddel
1856-1860: Patrick H. Mell
1860-1872: William H. Waddel
1872-1878: William H. Waddel for the Department of Latin
Charles Morris for the Department of Greek
1878-1889: William G. Woodfin
1889-1897: Willis H. Bocock
1897-1935: Willis H. Bocock for the Department of Greek
William D. Hooper for the Department of Latin
1935-1948: Robert L. McWhorter for the Department of Classics
1948-1980: James W. Alexander
1980-2001: Richard A. La Fleur
2001-2007: Robert I. Curtis
2007-2010: Charles Platter
2010-2015: Naomi J. Norman
2015-2021 Charles Platter
2021-present Mario Erasmo