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Turning of the Wheel:

The interplay of the Unique and Universal

A Digital Collection of Events from the Humanities Colloquium Series, Turning of the Wheel,
University of Idaho | Moscow, Idaho | 2011-2012

Colloquium Talks > James Foster

James Foster, Professor of Biology and Computer Science.

Colloquium Talk, January 31, 2012, Idaho Commons

Why the Classics Matter: Ancient Greece and the Modern University

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Speaking as a citizen, a scientist, an educator, and a human being, I argue that classical studies (ancient Greek and Latin literature and languages) deserve a place of respect in the modern university. To ignore or neglect that which created and sustained the Academy for over two millenia is a radically and dangerous experiment, eroding the very things that distinguish a university from a technical institute on the one hand, or a vocational program on the other.

This may seem anachronistic, quixotic, or even fiscally foolish. After all, science and technology, not the humanities, dominate the modern economy. Moreover, universities need to economize and earn research grants to survive. Why have any budget, however small, for classical studies? After all, few academic staff or faculty (and even fewer taxpayers and politicians) have any training in the classics, and nothing obviously bad has come of that fact.

On the contrary. There are ethical, curricular, and practical reasons for supporting the classics. We have a duty to preserve the foundations of western civilization, both out of respect for our ancestors and as an obligation to our descendants. As academics, we have a particular responsibility to our profession to tend to our roots. A curricula with a classical foundation is more efficient than one without. A classical grounding makes for better graduates and citizens. Moreover, and somewhat surprisingly, knowledge of and respect for the classics often makes for better scientists and engineers. These are the lessons of history.


Dr. Foster has directed over thirty undergraduate research projects in computer science, computational biology, bioinformatics, and bioethics. He has graduated eighteen graduate students with MS or PhD degrees in either Computer Science or Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

For more information: Rodney Frey