The Emergence of A New Professional Identity Among Modern Classicists: A Synthesis of SymbolicInteractionist, Semiotic and Hermeneutic Perspectives

Abstract

Author(s): Beert C. VERSTRAETE

Over approximately the past half century classicists have been redefining themselves in far-reaching ways both as scholars and teachers. In essence, the study of ancient Greco-Roman civilization, including the surviving literary texts, the “classics” par excellence, is no longer governed by exclusively or even largely philological objectives leading to the establishment of the authentic ancient text and the correct authorial meaning thereof. Even those classicists who have not engaged in sustained reflection on the hermeneutical and methodological premises underlying their scholarship have not been left untouched by this development, the decisive impetus for which was pedagogical rather than occasioned by purely scholarly or philosophical motives. After the Second World War, the classics had to be increasingly taught, especially in North America, to ‘Latin-less’ students who had not acquired the basics of at least one of two classical languages, Latin and ancient Greek, in their secondary school years. In what was surely the most drastic revamping of the classical curriculum at the university level since the Renaissance, the teaching of the “classics in translation” courses (as they were often dubbed, sometimes disparagingly) encouraged holistically—above all, socio-culturally—framed modes of enquiry which were also carried through into graduate studies and classical scholarship. This new turn in teaching and scholarship accelerated a development which had already begun in the second half of the 19 th century, when the emerging social sciences (sociology and anthropology in particular) began to interface with classical studies, and philological modes of scholarly enquiry were, in the work of some classicists, replaced by largely socio-culturally focused modes. Here the work of French and German scholars was especially innovative and was facilitated enormously by the establishment of the ancillary disciplines of scientific archaeology, epigraphy, and papyrology.

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