A Brief History of the Classics Department at USC

The department has grown considerably since its creation in 1880, when a single faculty member, Rev. Freeman D. Bovard, was responsible for instruction in what were then two separate departments, Greek and Latin. These separate units would join in 1917 to form a single Department of Classical Languages and Literature.

Today, the department has a dozen faculty members, with interests ranging from Greek and Latin literature to social, political, architectural, and intellectual history of the Mediterranean basin, western Eurasia, and beyond. The department is also committed to reaching beyond and fostering engagement with Classics everywhere. Working with the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, it has for instance developed the project Warrior Bards: Veterans Exploring Ancient Drama, where veterans explore these ancient works and take on complex issues that span millennia.

Some milestones of the department

1880: Creation of the department of Greek and the department of Latin

1882: Foundation of the “Aristotelian Literary Society,” open to men only

1882: Foundation of the “Athena Literary Society,” for women

1906: Ruth Wentworth Brown is the first woman to join the department as assistant professor of Latin and German

1917: Fusion of the two departments of Greek and Latin into the Department of Classical Studies

1925: Ruth Wentworth Brown becomes the department’s first female chair

1972: The journal Ramus is founded by current USC Classics professor Anthony Boyle, who serves as the continuing editor along with Helen Morales of UCSB Classics

1974: The department spearheads the USC student exchange program, later extended to other departments

1970s-1980s: the department is one of the first in the US to expand its focus on classical philology to include some of the new theoretical approaches that were conspicuous in cultural and literary studies: structuralism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, human sexuality, and gender studies.

1980: The chair of Classics, David Wiesen, is appointed Dean of the Humanities, integrating humanities at USC into the larger cultural life of Southern California

1983: The department hosts a conference entitled “The Aesthetics of Obscenity” giving visibility to a new area of research that had been opened up, in part, by members of the department

1991: In September, USC Classics hosts the fifth meeting of the “Pacific Rim Roman Literature Seminar,” directed by Anthony Boyle and Donald McGuire and featuring classicists from the USA, Australia, and New Zealand

1992: Foundation of the USC-UCLA Seminar in Roman Studies by Anthony Boyle and Bernard Frischer

1994: Creation of the undergraduate lecture course, Diversity in the Classical Western Tradition, by Professor Thomas Habinek

2009: Foundation of the Premodern Mediterranean Seminar Series, in collaboration with USC’s History department and supported by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute

2010s: The USC-UCLA Seminar in Roman Studies and the USC/UCLA Greek Colloquium merge into the annual USC/UCLA Classical Studies Seminar

2015: Organization of the Warrior Chorus initiative, which invites veterans to study and perform Greek drama, by Peter Meineck (New York University) and William Thalmann (University of Southern California). This program had its first year at USC under the name Warrior Bards in 2019

2016: The chair of Classics, Thomas Habinek, is appointed the first chair of the new Society of Fellows in the Humanities at USC, a think tank devoted to interdisciplinary research and intellectual exchange

2017: The Classics Department moves from Taper Hall to the Physical Education Building (PED 130)

2019: Establishment of the Center for the Premodern World, with which the Classics department partners closely, to support interdisciplinary study of the global premodern at USC