I’ve just begun my last two research papers for Wabash. Well, I’ve been working on my paper for Classics senior seminar, in a way, since the start of class. But this week our prospectus is due, so I’m kicking the research into gear and attempting to craft an actual approach.
Classics is a unique subject because it’s inherently interdisciplinary. History, art, literature, and language comprise its basic curriculum. And because working within the Classical era requires so much training, every single smaller topic of research, which might normally be evaluated within its own field, like sociology, or law, has to go through the Classics methodology and academic literature. It thus develops a gigantic scope–there is literally no subject that hasn’t been viewed through the “Classics” lens. Something will always tickle your fancy. It covers all the liberal arts, just within a specific, important era.
Of course, one can say the same thing about Medieval studies, or Egyptology, or any area of study which approaches a culture holistically. Obviously, the Classical era’s influence in Western Civilization is virtually unmatchable. One of the reasons I switched to Classics was that I found I kept “butting up” to the Classics whenever I researched a different subject–whether it be theology or Renaissance art.
But what makes research within Classics so unique and challenging is the kind of evidence we have to work with. We have lines and lines of written manuscripts, which range from history and poetry to law and the natural sciences, written by Roman aristocrats and their patroned artists. This is one “half” of Classics, often grouped under philology. The other “half” is art and archaeology–the temples, the urns, the inscriptions, the houses and their contents. When one takes survey classes, this division is usually maintained.
But, when you conduct research about a particular topic, one which has relevant data within both areas, it becomes much more complicated. The interpretative problems of philology combine with the number and kind limitations of material study to form a perfect storm of research. Art and archaeology, so necessary for grounding hypotheses in verifiable fact, is much harder to evaluate as a whole than recorded literature. Don’t even get me started on finding inscriptions. So that’s where I am now. Hopefully I emerge unscarred.