Continuing my coverage of the Classics majors of the class of 2010, I recently interviewed Mitch Brown, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Classical philology at the University of Cincinnati. I was interested to see how he had chosen his present path and how he views his time at Wabash with his newfound perspective of the field.
Not unlike many Wabash men before him, Mitch Brown didn’t know a whole lot about the Classical world before college. In fact, apart from mythology, Brown really didn’t know what Classics was. Fortunately, he decided to take Latin with Professor Hartnett to fulfill his foreign language requirement. As he studied, Brown began to perceive that Classics is a broad field, encompassing literature, archaeology, history, and philosophy. This appreciation of the inter-disciplinary quality of the field made it difficult for Brown to choose his specific area of concentration for graduate school. Although he ultimately chose ancient literature, this wide view of Classics still helps to inform his studies. Brown mentioned a time when he spent a summer reading the entire Iliad in Greek and then took his knowledge with him into a class on Bronze Age archaeology.
It was clear to me that Brown possesses a genuine love of the ancient authors. When I asked him how Classics affects his life outside graduate school research, he responded that he is forced by literature to consider the human condition and that Classics gives him a unique perspective on life that goes, “beyond the effects of giving you a job.” Still, Brown does focus his graduate research on ancient authors. He plans to write his dissertation on Menander, the Athenian New Comedy playwright. In fact, Brown returned to his alma mater just last year and presented a talk on some of his research, illustrating the strong connections that still exist between him and the college.
Not only was Brown able to read about Classics, however, but Wabash afforded him opportunities to immerse himself in the field first hand. While still an undergraduate, Brown traveled to Greece twice, once for an immersion trip and another time with fellow Classics
major Seth Tichenor to work on an excavation on Crete under Dr. Tom Brogan, Wabash Class of 1988. Especially valuable to him was Brown’s time studying at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (the CENTRO for short) sponsored by Duke University in Rome. According to Brown, this intensive, semester-long program allowed him to interact with people his own age outside of Wabash who shared his passion for the ancient world. Moreover, he was able to see these people realizing whether Classics was to be their lifework or simply an interesting hobby. It’s important that Wabash and the Classics Department here were able to afford Brown that opportunity to investigate his own interests firsthand.
As for Brown’s own class of Classics majors back in Crawfordsville, he refers to them as a, “great class for Classics.” He mentioned to me that the small Classics library in Detchon was created in their senior year, contributing to the close community that existed among Classics students. I could tell he really valued the “academic camaraderie”, as he puts it, between his classmates and him. Brown stated his belief that that kind of intellectualism among undergraduates isn’t fostered the same way at other schools. No doubt the small size of the Classics Department itself made a difference in nurturing the relationships between Brown and his peers. Lastly, Brown commented to me that Aristotle had believed that the first people to ask academic questions were those who had ample leisure time to do so and that this idea makes Brown grateful that he and his fellow Classics students were able to come to Wabash and vigorously pursue their own line of questioning about the ancient world, which Brown calls, “fulfilling for its own sake.”
Finally, I asked Brown if he had anything else to add that he specifically wanted me to note in this blog. Without hesitation, he said that I should write about the “prestigious” faculty in the Classics Department. Brown related that, as he has studied in graduate school, he has come to appreciate just how excellent the teachers are in the department. He recalled that all the Roman archaeologists at Cincinnati were excited that Brown knew Dr. Hartnett and that he even took a class on Lucan in which the class used some of Dr. Kubiak’s writings on his poetry.
Clearly, Mitch Brown had the benefit of a great experience with the Wabash Classics Department, enough to shift the course of his life toward continuing his studies. His appreciation for intellectual pursuits he had in common with his peers says something about the academic environment not only at Wabash, but in the department more specifically. I’ll have to keep interviewing his classmates to see the other, more nuanced manifestations a Classics education can have in a Wabash man’s life.