Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Classics and Ancient History > Academic literacy

1. What is the understanding that the Classics and Ancient History department has of Academic Literacy?

It is difficult to ascertain the department's definition of Academic Literacy, or even whether the department is aware of the concept. However there is evidence of the department referring to the skills it develops in graduates and in its own approach to teaching Classics.

It seems that the main emphasis is on students being trained thoroughly in the discipline and developing important skills through the different approaches involved in studying Classics. The department claims many disciplinary skills for its students and also seems to value the importance of learning different perspectives, which is surely part of Academic Literacy.

  • "Many modules are team taught by more than one member of the lecturing staff, so that students benefit from different approaches and ways of analysing evidence."
  • "In addition to gaining insights into the ancient world, our students develop transferable skills, such as powers of argument and analysis, and communication skills."

Keywords: transferable skills, communication skills, team taught, different approaches

a) How are students conceptualised? Do departments see them as bringing something to the subject?

The department claims to do well in this respect, with lecturers described as being approachable and helpful to their students by a former student. This would suggest that the department envisions students as important to the learning process and the subject and not just as sources of income. This may helped by the relatively small size of the department.

  • "The lecturers themselves are world leaders in their fields and, perhaps more importantly, are friendly, approachable, and thoroughly helpful."

Philip Pratt

2. What does the Classics and Ancient History department define as its disciplinary skills?

The department places a large emphasis on the learning of ancient languages so that students can read and translate original texts themselves rather than relying on translations. This is clearly a disciplinary skill. The department also mentions "powers of expression and analysis," which is somewhat vague, but presumably refers mainly to written expression and analysis, which is a key part of Academic Literacy.

  • “An emphasis on traditional skills: all our degree programmes enable students to begin an ancient language, or to advance their knowledge of Latin and Greek to a high level.”
  • "A degree course in a Classical subject thus provides a rich and versatile training. This enables students to develop powers of expression and analysis, preparing them for a wide range of professions, including law, business and the media."


Caption: Latin translation of a Mesomerican herbal, produced by Juan Badiano in Tlatelolco, Mexico: 1522

The use of this image and caption on the main page of the faculty again shows the importance the department places on the analysis of original texts as part of their version of Academic Literacy.

Former Classics students also describe the type of skills that graduates of the department have. Although this is technically not the department's definition but the students' own definitions, the fact that these testimonials were selected by the department would suggest that they match the department's own views.

  • "Classicists are well-rounded individuals with an eye for detail, comprehensive ability to research and flair for making clear, balanced and relevant conclusions."

Stuart Hill

  • "Classics graduates are held in particularly high stead by employers. The ability to think analytically, present ideas clearly and originally, sift through reams of information for evidence and communicate effectively with others are all highly valued commodities in the workplace."

Philip Pratt

On the same page Michelle Young states, rather more enigmaticly: "A Classical Civilisation degree from Warwick holds the key skills that all employers are looking for in a graduate."

Conveniently, under the careers section of the admissions section of the website, there is a list of skills that are associated with a classics graduate, compiled by Jenny Goddard, the careers advisor for the department:

"The skills of a classics graduate

Some of the skills gained by our graduates are:

  • Logical thought processes
  • Good communication skills, written and oral
  • Interpreting, assessing and evaluating sources
  • Leading and participating in discussions
  • Research and analytical skills
  • Working independently and to deadlines
  • Studying a difficult language, which requires rigorous attention to detail.
  • From studying past cultures, students develop good imaginative powers and the ability to enter into the thoughts and worlds of others, which is a very useful skill at work.
  • Extra-curricular activities will also add to students' experiences and abilities"

Evidence of these skills being aimed for on a modular level is also there, for example in the first year core module Greek Culture and Society:

"By the end of the module students should have:


  • developed some ability to discriminate between different types of evidence and critical approaches"

a) Do they define these as generic?

From the sources above, especially the student testimonials, it seems to me that if the skills described are "the key skills that all employers are looking for," then they have to be generic, rather than discipline specific. Perhaps the fact that the skills are not locked into a particular discipline is helped by the interdisciplinary approach claimed by the department.

b) In what formats are Academic Literacy claimed to be developed?

Again, although the term Academic Literacy is not used by the department, it can be inferred from the sources above that Academic Literacy, at least in the form of skills, is claimed to be developed in the following key formats:

  • Logical thought
  • Communication skills (written)
  • Communication skills (oral)
  • Research skills (generic?)
  • Analytical skills (generic?)
  • Imagination/empathy

It is interesting to think of the concept of Academic Literacy in the format of powers of empathy or of logical thought. It is not always clear what the department or students mean by "analysis" or "research skills," as noted in one of the academic literacy readings.


The Classics department claims that its graduates are highly academically literate, in its definition of having generic and powerful skills that are valued by employers and sufficient for moving into further study. Apart from the in depth study of a language, and the skills that that develops, most of the other skills claimed by the department seem quite generic or even vague.

There are some promising indications of good relationships between staff and students and good approaches to teaching that would help to counteract some of the problems students had developing academic literacy as described in one of the readings.