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Classics and Ancient History > Interdisciplinary study

How does the Classics and Ancient History department define interdisciplinary study?

The Classics and Ancient History department appears to define the concept of interdisciplinary study predominantly as the study of classics through the lenses of several different disciplines in order to to build an effective overall understanding. This is a long held traditional approach to the study of classics and is deeply embedded in the style of teaching and learning.

“Classical studies have always been interdisciplinary... ...(subjects studied range) from religion and myth to philosophy and history, from art and architecture to poetry and drama.”

“The classics department encourages its students to explore Greek and Roman civilization in a wide cultural context. The basic approach is wide ranging and interdisciplinary...”

However, in addition to this, the department also collaborates with departments such as English, Modern Languages and Philosophy on some joint degree programmes, which is another form of interdisciplinary study, although not explicity stated as such by the department. (See further detail below)

Further Analysis

The Classics department seems to be placing the concept of interdisciplinary study at the heart of its ethos. Looking at the context of the quotations above, both are at the beginning of a paragraph and are located on arguably the most important pages on the website, the home page and the admissions page.

Also of note is how after the first quotation, interdisciplinary study is then linked to the skills (training) needed for success in employment. It is interesting that a direct link is drawn between interdisciplinary study and career success.

Thinking about what isn't mentioned, there is no specific mention of the combined and joint honours degree courses on the main page, or the other departments with which the Classics department collaborates to offer these. The only link on the main page to an external department or organisation in the University is one to the Arts Faculty on the bottom right of the page.

To me this makes the department seem quite inward focused. There is no mention of the departments of Philosophy and English, with which they are linked through some of their degree programmes, indeed the department of Philosophy is not even in the Arts Faculty.

In what ways do single honours, combined and joint honours courses claim to be interdisciplinary?

The Classics and Ancient History Department is involved in courses that pertain to all three of the above types. Most of the combined courses appear to offer a good degree of scope for interdisciplinary study, within the disciplines that they encompass, but the single honours courses are quite restrictive in terms of options allowed. However, as noted above, it can be argued that the study of Classics is by its very nature interdisciplinary.

Single Honours Courses

BA Classics

BA Classical Civilisation

BA Ancient History and Classical Archaeology

Options for these degrees are mostly allowed only within the classics department and perhaps as only four modules per year are taken by students, optional modules from outside the department do not seem to be encouraged. However it is permitted to take one unusual option outside the department in the second or third year, provided approval is granted by the director of undergraduate studies.

“Each year second and third year students may take an approved option outside the department. Such options should first be discussed with the director of undergraduate studies.” Link

It would be rash to assume that there is no scope for interdisciplinary study when on a single honours course however, as some of the modules available within the department could certainly claim to be interdisciplinary. For example, some involve topics that may be of interest to an art student, a theatre studies student, an english literature student, a sociology student or even a medical student.

History of Medicine from the Ancient World to the Classical Ages of Islam

Art and Architecture in Asia Minor

Classical Views of Literature & the Visual Arts

Origins of the Modern Novel

Sex & Gender in Antiquity

(Full modules list available here)

One of the few modules to choose from in the first year is Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, under the department of Philosophy, which also claims to be interdisciplinary:

“This is a wide-ranging module, which explores issues in metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics, politics and aesthetics.” Link

Joint Honours courses

BA Italian and Classics

There is only one joint honours course available that the Classics department is involved in. The degree is described as follows:

“Italian and Classics is a joint degree equally weighted between both disciplines.”

“After the Year Abroad, you study Italian language and choose from a wide variety of options in both departments (a dissertation bridging the two disciplines is also taken in Year Four).”

This degree course is by its very nature interdisciplinary and this claim is emphasised heavily in the language used to describe it. Particularly promising is the claim of "bridging the two disciplines".

Combined Courses

BA English and Latin Literature

This course is a combined course between English and Classics, although the course is under the umbrella of the Classics and Ancient History department.

“It is the aim of the degree in English and Latin Literature... provide a solid foundation for the study of both literatures.”

“Students have access to the wide range of special topics available in both English and Classics, and are encouraged to pursue their individual interests.”

It seems that although the course allows options between the two departments, it does not claim to be interdisciplinary on anything more than the superficial level of allowing students to choose options from English. The final year dissertation is restricted to either Classics or English.

BA Classical Civilisation with Philosophy

BA Philosophy with Classical Civilisation

The former is predominantly Classics, with some Philosophy and the latter is vice versa.

“The Classical Civilisation with Philosophy degree allows students to combine the study of Greek and Roman Civilisation with ancient and modern Philosophy.”

“In their second and third years students take either one or two options offered by the Philosophy department, alongside their options in Classics."

“The degree (Philosophy with Classical Civilisation) is a variant of the single honours degree in Philosophy, and the cores of the two Degrees are very similar. The proportion of the degree that is devoted to Classics will vary with students’ choices of options, but will occupy at least a quarter of their course and at most a half.”

These courses augment the existing interdisciplinary options of the single honours courses by allowing more choice of modules from philosophy.

Further Analysis

Coming from the background of being a Statistics student, I found the severe restrictions placed on optional modules outside the department to be quite surprising. The full regulations, as cited above and here, apply to all students under the department.

The underlining of the word "approved" and the bold statement "Options provided by the Language Centre will not normally be approved except in special circumstances," seems to me quite a strict and discouraging way to frame the possibility of outside options. (Especially compared to the Statistics department's equivalent statement in the MORSE handbook.) It seems from my perspective a bit limiting that students are only allowed at most two outside optional modules during their entire degree, of which at most one can be a level one option. This is perhaps further evidence of the Classics department's inwards focus that I mentioned above.

Such an inward looking attitude with regards to inderdisciplinary study is an interesting contrast to departments in the Science faculty, for example Statistics or Mathematics, who seem happy, or even encouraging for their students to mix and match options outside the department, so long as the bulk of their studies lie within the core degree's focus.


The Classics and Ancient History department claims to encourage interdisciplinary study through both the traditional wide ranging disciplines used in the study of classics and through the variety of joint degree courses and combined courses available. However there seems little scope for unusual options outside the department and it is not clear whether or not some of the combined courses could go further in combining the two disciplines.