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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Faculty Profiles - Classics

Dr. Deborah Beck – Early Greek Poetry, especially Homeric Epic; Speech Representation; and Augustan Latin Poetry
Dr. Karl Galinsky - Roman Literature and Civilization; Classical Tradition in Popular Culture

DR. KARL GALINSKY


Academic Background: Ph.D., Classics, Princeton University – Princeton, NJ; B.A., Classics, American History Minor, Bowdoin College – Brunswick, ME

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was supposed to be at Bowdoin for one year only on a kind of exchange (from Germany). Going into classics was my means to the end of staying in the U.S.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
It dealt with the legend of Rome’s eastern founder, the Trojan Aeneas, and combined literary, historical, and archaeological evidence.

What is your area of specialization?
One of the nice things in our interdisciplinary department has been that I have been able to pursue a variety of interests. They have been, in recent years, (1) the age of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. My basic perspective is the interplay of politics, social history, the arts, and religion; (2) the contextualization of the New Testament with the Roman empire, especially the cult of the Roman emperor; (3) the impact of ancient Rome on modern America; and (4) the role of memory in Roman civilization.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Undergrad: large intro courses on Roman and Greek civilization; Greece and Rome in film; and a variety of Greek and Latin authors. Graduate: a variety of author and topics seminars, such as the age of Augustus and Roman religion.

What is your current research focus?
In 2009, I received a major International Research Award (c. $1 million) from the Max-Planck Society. In the humanities, this award is given out only every four years to just two scholars (one in Germany, the other in any other country). The topic is memory in Roman civilization; for the project (which will continue untill 2013), visit Memoria Romana. History is asking when, what, and why? In memory studies we look at what people remember, why they choose to remember some things and forget others, and who controls memory; we are also connecting with research on memory in neurobiology and (bio)psychology. In addition, I am completing a short (250 pp.) biography of Augustus.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by classics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
In my field, I’d single out Romanization. It was not a top-down process but the result of many diverse initiatives around the Roman empire. The Romans were military imperialists but not cultural imperialists. The result was a hybrid, melting-pot, and global culture not dissimilar to American culture and Americanization around the world today.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Not really. I wrote an honors thesis and actually taught a beginning Latin course in my second (and senior) year at Bowdoin. I would absolutely recommend undergraduate research. That’s one of the advantages of being an undergrad at UT, a major research university. Carpe diem!

What makes a good grad student?
Self-motivation and initiative. The faculty are there to mentor and provide guidance, and not to be a pushmepullyou. Also, resist the pressure to get two Ph.D.’s in conjunction: one in Classics and the other in Self-Importance.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a classics graduate program?

  1. Do your homework on any department to which you are applying. Really
    demonstrate some specific reasons why you want to study there and
    because of what program and faculty strengths. Individualize your
    applications to different departments. We can spot boilerplate
    immediately.
  2. Does the program really suit your needs? Check on the placement records of the departments you are applying to. What are realistic job prospects in this field?
  3. Schedule a visit to get to know some of the faculty and grad students.

What are the top five classics graduate programs in the US?
In no particular order: Princeton University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and University of Chicago.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Academic careers, generally. There are other possibilities, but be wary of faculty who exalt them – these folks have a proprietary interest in making sure there are enough students to fill their seminars.

Download Dr. Galinsky's Profile

DR. DEBORAH BECK


Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Classics (Latin and Greek), Harvard University – Cambridge, MA; B.A., Classics, Yale University – New Haven, CT

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
When I first finished college, I didn't want to get an advanced degree at all. My parents both spent their whole working lives in the public sector and I wanted to do some form of government or social service work too. So, I went to Washington DC, where I worked for three years in various kinds of child welfare-related jobs. But one evening I was having dinner with a high school friend, and for some reason I no longer remember, I started talking to her about the Greek historian Thucydides. I realized that I didn't talk about anything else with the same passion and eagerness, that I was in the wrong field, and that I should go to graduate school. The next week I took the GREs standby on the last date that schools would have accepted for application to attend the following year, and I started at Harvard the next fall.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
It was about the aesthetics of traditional formulaic language in Homeric poetry. I wanted to think about what role there was for an individual poet to be creative within a poetic system that relied heavily on traditional repeated phrases for things that get said a lot (like "Odysseus answered him"). It seemed to me that both of those things had to be possible at the same time -- lots of repeated language that is part of the conventions of the genre, plus an individual who is creative within that genre -- and I wanted to figure out how that would work.

What is your area of specialization?
My main research interest is the way that speech is represented in Homeric poetry. To put that another way, I'm interested in things that come first, or are otherwise fundamental. Homer is first in western literature -- there is no western literary history before Homer. And telling stories to one another, representing what other people say in the course of those stories, is one of the most fundamental human activities. How Homeric poetry depicts other people talking has a lot to do with why the poems affect us as strongly as they do as narratives. People still read these poems many thousands of years after they were composed because they're still moving and meaningful stories about human beings we recognize as human beings. My most basic interest scholarly is, what does it mean to be a human being? How should we go about being humans? How have other people before us gone about it, and what can we learn from that? I think the content and methods of the storytelling in Homeric epic have a lot of useful things to say about those questions. I have also done research on Vergil, who was strongly influenced by Homer, and I hope to do further research on Vergil in the future.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Mostly Greek language. This year I am teaching beginning, intermediate, and graduate-level Greek courses, as well as a course on classical mythology where we read all the texts in English. I teach other courses in translation too, and sometimes I teach Latin poetry.

What is your current research focus?
I'm writing a book about the range of different techniques that are used in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to present speech. This is a topic that has been widely studied in relation to modern fiction, but not nearly as much for pre-modern texts. Recent books about Latin, about the Hebrew Bible, about medieval Russian court records, and about a particular technique of speech presentation in a huge range of different texts (to name a few) have shown that pre-modern texts in fact do contain a much wider and more sophisticated range of speech presentation techniques than has been generally thought. This is important because it means that ancient texts are in a fundamental sense on the same page as modern texts to a much greater extent than people have thought. It makes literary history into more of a gradual continuum and less of a sudden cataclysm resulting in the modern novel.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by classics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Classics is such a huge field that it's hard to say "this is what classicists are interested in." I have a colleague in my department who works on early Christianity, and her work is in a different language, a different part of the world, and about 1000 years after my work. So it's hard to say that we have research questions in common. Something that a lot of subfields in classics are doing is applying other disciplines to their own field, disciplines like anthropology or psychology or linguistics. My current book has some linguistics in it.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I wrote a senior thesis about the Iliad. I had a wonderful adviser who treated me like a scholarly colleague, and my enjoyment of that experience was one of the things that eventually made me decide to go to graduate school. I would not recommend that all students do a research project, though. Some students are better served by really immersing themselves in their course work and learning Latin and Greek as well as they possibly can, and doing independent work requires time management skills that not all students have yet as undergraduates. You can certainly be a good graduate school applicant without having done independent research as a college student.

What makes a good grad student?
Being able to take initiative. The faculty take our advising and mentoring roles seriously, and I don't mean at all that a grad student needs to be able to sink or swim without faculty input, but it's important that students be able to plan their time, seek out resources (both financial resources and intellectual ones), get help when they need it and not wait for someone to ask them if they need help, and so on. Another important skill is persistence, working hard and consistently at boring and/or repetitive tasks. The last thing I would put in the top three is willingness to accept criticism, to think carefully about criticism that is offered without taking it personally and to use it to grow and develop. This is hard for anyone to do, but it is impossible to learn without accepting criticism.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a classics graduate program?
Be able to speak articulately and engagingly about the following things:

  1. why you want to get a Ph.D. in classics and what you think you can contribute to the field;
  2. what about UT makes it the right program for you, including the person(s) here that you want to work with; more broadly, make sure you are familiar with our program; and
  3. yourself and what you're like -- we like to get a sense of what our applicants are like as people, not only as future scholars

What are the top five classics graduate programs in the US?
University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Princeton University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania. I think the first four are pretty well agreed on in the field, but I thought of three or four programs that have a reasonable claim to be the fifth on my list.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most of them go into teaching, at least initially. I haven't been here long enough yet to know what they do longer-term if they don't get tenure-track jobs after the initial limited-term employment that virtually all new Ph.D. classicists do (I had two of those myself before I landed a tenure-track job). Our terminal master's students are generally going into secondary school Latin teaching, and we have a combined teaching certification and M.A. program for people who want to go that route.

Download Dr. Beck's Profile

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