Does Classics Need to Age Down to Grow Up?
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Classics, especially to young people, can be a very accessible field of study. There are constantly stories being shared among my friends and peers about how exactly it was that they found their love for the Ancient World (The Percy Jackson saga and Disney’s Hercules are some of the ones that immediately come into my head, although I have heard a friend of mine say that his parents had a children’s version of the Odyssey that he would get read to him before bedtime). Especially in an age where prospective students have the ability to seek out and hyper-ingest the information that they wish to find. Digital content has made the subject accessible like never before.
We do need to ask ourselves a very important question, however: with who does the responsibility lie to adapt, both to this new digital age, but also to a a changing face of the study of the Ancient World.
The currently-accepted image of classicists to someone not in the field is essentially a hyperbolic renaissance painting: a group of doddery old white men in a darkly lit library (or if not a library, somewhere with an obscene number of books lining the walls), making decisions about multicultural, multifaceted groups of people that lived millennia ago. It’s a charming image, one that is filled with safety and security.
But it’s also an image that is completely false. It’s an image, I think, that explains why so many young people are reluctant to step into the field of studying Ancient History. They don’t see themselves represented from the outset. There are phenomenal historians out there doing incredible work in an attempt to change the Classical academic sphere for the better, but it seems that they aren’t platformed as highly or as frequently as their older peers.
How are people my age supposed to feel invigorated by our field if they cannot find people like themselves within it?
Furthermore, how are we supposed to feel invigorated when it seems that every single day while using social media, young people are bombarded with instances of senior and enduringly popular members of the Ancient History community making outrageous and inflammatory statements with a degree of comfort due to their huge follower numbers, and secure in the belief that these followers will defend them, no matter how serious and wide-spread the effects are.
Sometimes it’s differences in academic opinion that ignite dialectic development of ideas, but more often than not, especially on #ClassicsTwitter, it is where the true machinations of senior faculty come to light. It becomes tiresome when a website where all kinds of people come to share ideas and work in a quick and easy way becomes hijacked by unprofessional brawls. I think I should start to keep a list.
Young classicists and academics should and must be platformed, particularly if they come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in academia at large. I have learned countless things from my peers, especially those whose personal and academic experiences I can never, and perhaps will never, fully understand.
My own experience of Classical Studies would forever be changed for the worse if I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet and connect with a hugely diverse range of people who enrich and provide me with invaluable insight into my own work.
Recognizing and platforming young people begins, not just by giving the odd retweet to young classicists on Twitter, but by actively providing opportunities for young people to showcase their work and their research.
Not only does this offer a unique perspective for senior academics, but it also grants young people experience in public speaking and putting together presentative pieces in order to have their research recognized. Such a process would not only be conducive to the improvement of their own writing and work, but would allow for a transfer of ideas that transcends the palpable age difference.
We as young people want to learn things, but sometimes it feels that we can never learn enough to be heard in the way that we want.
I’m far too young to be thinking about children (I’m not even twenty yet!), but I hope that in another twenty years, I can walk my little ones down the streets of London, pointing out the scrolls on the tops of ionic columns, knowing in my heart that the discipline that they could choose to be a part in would be ready for them with open arms.