(pictured: sculpture of Homer Caetani; Roman sculpture from 2nd century CE, copy of Greek sculpture from 2nd century BCE, from the Palazzo Caetani in Rome; from wikimedia commons)
By Kyle Schrader
Villanova University’s History graduate program begins with a course on Methodology focused on tracing different theoretical approaches and broad historiographic trends since the early twentieth century with minor mention of the centuries before. Theories taught include but are not limited to: post-colonial, post-structuralist, anthropological, Marxist, and literary critical as well as the analytical lenses of class, gender, and race. The originations of these theories are as vast as the lenses they themselves provide, but most of them did not arise at first as historical analyses, but as aspects of the social sciences and literary criticism. They have, however, all had a place in the current trend of historical work, whether that be analysis and study on the Modern, Medieval or even Classical eras of history.
Since graduating from the Classics graduate program at Villanova and transitioning into History, I have been asked many times how similar the two disciplines are and how relevant a course like Theory and Methods is/would be for a historian devoted to the Classical period. In my own experience, I began to use gender theory in my studies of ancient Rome after taking an Ancient Gender and Sexuality course with Dr. Subacus during the second semester of the Classics program. While much of the skill set I learned during my tenure as a Classics student has certainly transferred over to important advantages in the study of history, I wanted to discuss the matter with those who have studied the Classics far more intensively and received PhD training. I interviewed two Classics professors (Professors Melanie Subacus and Andrew Scott) as to their views on the subject of historical methodology and the Classics and found that, while comparing the two disciplines could be seen as difficult due to the multi-disciplinarity of both, that same complexity makes them more alike in theoretical process if not objective. The post-modern project of History, as described by George Iggers in Historiography in the Twentieth Century, has been to provide a modern narrative to past events while remaining within a rational course of inquiry. Classics, rather than being separate in this larger academic/cultural project, works within the same parameters and with the same goals in mind.
The major difference that both professors indicated in their responses between Classics and History was the training involved in becoming an academic. Professor Subacus notes that undergraduate training in the Classics, as well as Master’s for that matter, focused very little on theory or even consistent approaches to the period. Instead, as both professors argue, Classics courses provide a large pool of subdisciplines one can explore within the greater Classical era, including training in archaeology, philology (specifically here accompanied by the study of Greek, Latin and other ancient languages), history, philosophy, literature, and art. History courses, conversely and based on my own undergraduate experiences and course listings at Villanova, tend to be very time period and/or theory focused; for example, classes on World War II and Gender or the History of the Long Nineteenth Century (1789-1914), with one or two methodology courses thrown in depending on the department. Professor Subacus notes that when she did receive training in methodology specifically in the Classics, it was focused more on the subdisciplines above, with more advanced breakdowns such as epigraphy and epistemology, rather than on Marxist, gender, race or any theory typically associated with historical study. Professor Scott suggests that training is also determined by which department is handling Classical training, as there are history, classics, classical studies, linguistics, Latin and Greek, Ancient History, philosophy, and more departments still that can train Classicists on their paths to a PhD.
Once one has received their training and begins working as an academic, the methodological differences between Classics and History become less clear. Professor Scott, whose work focuses on Roman historiography, approaches both primary and secondary texts much the same way a historian whose focus is on primary delivery and reception of sources would; via modern theoretical lenses and approaches. Similarly, Professor Subacus uses literary criticism, as well as gender and post-colonial lenses in her own work. When using primary sources, much like in history, the original language is always preferred (i.e. a Medieval historian tends to read Inquisition documents in the original Italian/ecclesiastical Latin much like Classicists read their sources in Latin or Greek), and while Classics is often seen as using Latin/Greek as gatekeeping methods, it is possible to teach classical history in translation much like it is in any history department.
The goals of history as presented by Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke is to provide current generations with a mode of thought to critically think about themselves and their relationship to the past. When I asked Dr. Subacus what the goals of the Classics were her answer was twofold: Classics, much like History, can be used to conceptualize the actions of the past and past cultures so that we may better understand today’s world (with caveats) and that the Literary Criticism side of Classics is extremely important, as a society’s continued re-understandings of its own and past literature help shape culture. These responses align with a conception of History as a modern narrative, a practice that is as much literature as analysis due to its attempts to make the past present within a historian’s own society and worldview.
Having moved fully into the History program at this point, I have realized more and more that any study of the humanities maintains the intrinsic quality of being one part cultural product and one part objective study. Working with colleagues in the fields of Sociology, theoretical economics, Anthropology, Archaeology, and even Psychology does not feel so different from my work in History and Classics. Much of our work as historians is to add to the modern dialectic, and Classicists do much the same even if they are working with older materials. We are all working towards the betterment of ourselves and, hopefully, to the advancement of the world we live in.
 These eras are separate here as Universities tend to give PhDs in these fields apart from each other rather than under one larger History degree.
 Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2012), 99-100.
 Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke, “”What Does it Mean to Think Historically?” (Historians.org, January 2007): https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2007/what-does-it-mean-to-think-historically.