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Introduction to Classics, Classical Studies and related degrees

Are you fascinated by ancient civilisations, their cultures and their literature, ancient myths, art and architecture, and perhaps even their languages?

Classics, put simply, is the study of the ancient world, in particular that of the Romans and Ancient Greeks. The subject ranges from the study of the languages to the social, cultural and historical aspects of these civilisations. The subject ranges from around 1600BC to around 400AD so a huge amount of material exists to be studied and there are a variety of different specialists in different fields.

Literature and artwork are the primary forms of sources and, as such, these are the areas which most courses use to base their study of classics on. The literature ranges from the epics of "Homer" and Virgil to the love poetry of Catullus and Ovid and the philosophy of Plato and Xenophon. Many texts represent the beginning of a new genre, for example, Herodotus is named as the father of history. Creativity is also important as those who can translate are encouraged to put translations into good English and to think about what could fit into the gaps in the original texts.

Art also forms a crucial part of the field with statues and temples studied by those who are interested. The field doesn't just stop there and those who wish to study the historical or social aspects of the civilisations doing so.

What is the difference between Classics and Classical Studies?

These two subjects are very similar and much of the content overlaps.

The basic difference is that Classics contains a core of language study (Latin and/or Greek), while Classical Studies concentrates more on history, literature and culture with any language study as more introductory/basic. Most courses teach Latin and/or Greek from scratch so if your school does not offer either of these languages, you will not be disadvantaged in the application process.

Related subjects such as Ancient History, Ancient Civilisations, Archaeology, Medieval History etc are worth investigating if you are not interested in language study.

Course Structure

The structure of a classics course varies from university to university. Most institutions study some form of Latin and Greek with students taking either text based or language learning modules based on their abilities and the title of their degree (see above).

* Example A) BA Classics at Bristol University (AAA-AAB):

In the first two years, you concentrate on Greek and Latin literature through the medium of Greek, Latin and English texts. Languages are taught at various levels and you will be assigned to the language level that reflects your experience of Latin or Greek. The focus of the lower-level classes is on building language and translation skills while higher-level language classes focus on literary criticism and engagement with the text.

All first- and second-year students choose a number of optional units from literature, philosophy, art, and political, social or cultural history, some of which may be taken in other departments. Third-year students take seminars based on the staff’s wide range of research interests. In your third year you will also choose a subject of special interest to you and, in co-operation with a supervisor, research and write a dissertation of 12,000 words.

* Example B) BA Classical Studies at University of Wales (St Davids) (BCC-CCC):

In the first year, modules can be taken on a wide range of periods and themes; in the second and third years, the School offers specialised modules on all aspects of Greco-Roman literature and culture so that you can gain in-depth knowledge in areas of particular interest to you.

Options are also available to study selected modules in the wider Faculty of Humanities, for example in Theology, Chinese History, English and Philosophy.

All students have the opportunity to pursue their own interests and conduct their own research in the second-year independent project and the third-year dissertation.

* Example C) BA Classics at University of Oxford (AAA):

This course encompasses the study of the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome, ancient and modern philosophy, the archaeology of the Greek and Roman Mediterranean, and comparative philology and historical linguistics. It is one of the most varied and interdisciplinary of all subjects, and offers the opportunity to study two foundational ancient civilisations and their reception in modern times.

Classics offers you a great opportunity to study a vast range of subject areas focusing on the Graeco-Roman world and its reception into modern times. If you want to specialise in one language or discipline, such as Latin literature, then this is possible. If you want greater breadth, then there are opportunities for studying a variety of different materials including written texts, buildings, wall paintings and pots, from Britain to Egypt, Iran to Germany, 2000 BC to AD 2000. Whether you’re interested in what Homeric warriors wore, how Ciceronian oratory influences modern politics, or the survival of an ancient text, there is something for everyone in a Classics degree.

The first five terms are spent preparing for ‘Mods’ (Moderations), a series of core exams. You then spend seven terms preparing for ‘Greats’. You take eight papers, from a choice of over eighty. They cover literature, philosophy, archaeology, linguistics and history. Examples of current papers on offer include: Religions in the Greek and Roman World, Sexuality and Gender in Greece and Rome, Latin Philosophy, Arisotle Physics, Historiography, Byzantine Literature, The Reception of Classical Literature in Poetry in English since 1900, Art under the Roman Empire AD 14-337, Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC.


Academic Requirements

A level grades - Academic requirements differ according to University, but all will expect high A level grades, typically in the A*AA to AAB range.

What Uni lists degree subjects by A level grades required, and has a useful filter for predicted/expected grades.

Don't forget to look at Classics as part of a combined/joint subject degree - these often have lower entry requirements, not because the degrees are easier, but because there is less demand for these courses.

A level subjects : Contrary to popular belief, the study of Classics usually does not require previous study of Latin or Greek prior to studying the degree - or even any previous study of classical civilisation or ancient history. Obviously the study of classical civilisation and ancient history would certainly be of some help to discovering the background of the languages and would help in preparation for the course.

Most Universities run courses for a range of abilities and knowledge, from those that have previously studied classics to those who have little previous experience of the actual subject but have an obvious ability in either History or languages.

Rankings - here.

UCAS Form & Personal Statement

Any personal statement should focus on the subject and aim to show your passion for the subject. This will be the primary mode of convincing admissions tutors for students who have not previously studied classical subjects before and hence it should be as strong as possible. However, anyone applying for this subject should also have strong personal statements focussing on what interests them in the classical world.

Do not lecture the Admissions Tutor on aspects of your A level in Classics - they know more about it than you do. Also, do not give long descriptions of books you have read - they've read them all already.

Do include any relevant experience in this subject that you have outside school - relevant trips to museums and exhibitions, any 'extension' programs you have done, public lecures you have attended and in particular if you've done a Summer School or similar at University - UCL, Liverpool and Oxford run such events.

Life as a Classics Student

Classics does not have a lot of hours of contact time a week. Initially you should expect to have around 11 hours of lectures, seminars and tutorials a week, but over the years, this will decrease somewhat. During your free time you should aim to read around the subject in general as well as read texts which are relevant to your course. This will help your understanding of the subject immensely. Those who are learning the languages can expect to use this time to study the languages even more through set homework, while those who have a sound knowledge of the languages will most likely use this time to prepare translations of set texts and even come up with thoughts about their translations.

If you have the opportunity to join a Classics society, these are great fun, and often involve activities such as pottery making, wine tasting, toga parties, and much more. Some universities also host guest speakers and also tutorials on specific topics which are outside course material, but aim to expand your knowledge somewhat. Both extra-curricular activities will vary from university to university.

Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects

Some people are put off applying for a Classics degree because it doesn't seem to lead to any obvious form of employment at the end of it. They couldn't be more wrong. Certainly a degree in Classics is not vocational, in the sense of preparing you directly into one particular form of employment, as Law or Medicine do, but Classics graduates are very highly prized indeed by employers of all kinds. What employers appreciate is that Classics provides mental training in a whole range of different disciplines, and produces graduates of exceptional intellectual flexibility.

Degree courses in both classics and classical studies are designed to equip students with a broad range of skills and abilities, eg. an understanding of different cultures and societies, language skills, the ability to research, collate and analyse materials. These abilities and attributes provide students with a desirable mix of specific, practical, intellectual, theoretical and transferable skills, and, consequently, there is an excellent choice of potential career opportunities available.

What can you do with a degree in Classics? - 2010 article from The Guardian.

Examples of professions which attract Classics graduates include:

  • Teaching
  • Librarianship
  • University teaching and further research
  • Civil Service
  • Local government
  • Museums and Archive work
  • Archaeology
  • Heritage
  • Charities and NGOs
  • Journalism
  • TV and the Media
  • Military
  • Law
  • Publishing
  • Social Work
  • Auction Houses
  • Theatre and Art Gallery management

See Also

Classics at Oxford , University of Oxford Classics, Classics joint honours, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

University of Bristol Classics, Classical Studies and Ancient History courses

University of St Andrews Classics

University of Liverpool Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology

University of Wales (St David's) Classics, Classical Studies and Ancient History courses

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