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Teaching Philsophy

Separating discussion of my teaching philosophy from discussion of my scholarly interests is organizationally helpful but potentially misleading because of the extent to which my research and teaching have overlapped and influenced each other.  The experience of teaching Greek history at Dartmouth and on site in Greece regularly raises questions that I seek to answer in my research, and I have been fortunate in being able to frequently draw on my own scholarly work both directly and indirectly in my teaching.  And I have found over the years that teaching is a powerful form of learning. Familiarizing students with ancient Greek history, answering their questions, and listening to their answers to my questions has led me to re-think much of what I thought I knew about ancient Greece. 

There is, of course, much more to teaching than simply walking into the classroom and engaging in an exchange of information and ideas.  I strongly believe that successful pedagogy is grounded in a clear sense of ends and means.  My teaching is driven by the conviction that I should do everything possible to help my students to develop into thoughtful individuals who finish their undergraduate careers with sharpened critical faculties and mastery of a set of important skills.  Those skills include the ability to think independently, to combine ideas and evidence into sound and persuasive arguments, and to present arguments clearly and effectively in both written and oral form.

The means by which I pursue these ends are most evident in the course I teach most regularly, the survey of ancient Greek history.  Whenever possible, I organize my courses around discussion, and this course is no exception.  For each class meeting I give the students a short piece of secondary reading and a longer collection of primary sources.  I also give them a set of questions, normally consisting of a half-dozen basic factual questions and a single question of a more analytical and open-ended nature.  In one of the class sessions on Sparta, for example, the students read twenty pages in the textbook for the course as well as lengthy sections of Xenophon’s Constitution of the Spartans and Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus and then respond to the following question: "How was the relationship between individual, oikos (household), and polis (city-state) in Sparta different from that found in most other Greek communities? Why might the Spartans have felt it necessary to alter this relationship in order to create a more efficient army?"

The students are required to come to class each day with a written response to the analytical question.  (I collect and mark each written response, and those marks are the single most important component in the grade students receive for the course.)  At the start of each class we work rapidly through the basic factual issues and then discuss the analytical question for that day.  Both in their written and oral responses I ask the students to use the primary sources to stimulate their thinking and to support the ideas they generate.  In essence I ask them to come to class each day having prepared an argument in writing and to be ready to present that argument orally to the rest of the class.  The other assigned work for the course, including two papers and two exams, is designed along the same lines. 

I also make a consistent effort to help my students develop a clear sense of who they are and what they want from life and to encourage in them a willingness to take responsibility for the well-being of the communities in which they will live and work.  This seems to me to be something that members of the Humanities faculty at liberal arts institutions need to take particularly seriously because the material with which we work is unusually well-suited to help students come to grips with some truly fundamental questions.  For instance, reading a biology textbook probably will not help students think about mortality and how that inescapable reality will shape their lives.  But reading the Iliad, and observing how Achilles struggles to come to terms with the fact that he will die, no matter which course of action he chooses, or thinking about why Odysseus turns down an offer of immortality in order to return to his wife and his home, just might do the trick. 

The courses I regularly teach at Dartmouth include the following:

CLST 1: Antiquity Today ( an introduction to the history, literature, and archaeology of ancient Greece and Rome)

CLST 11.01: Ancient Greek Athletics

CLST 11.02: Early Sparta and Corinth, co-taught with Jeremy Rutter

CLST 11.03: Sparta: Birth and Death of an Empire

CLST 11.04 Sport and Democratization in the Ancient and Modern Worlds

CLST 14: The History of Greece: 1100-400 BCE

CLST 15: Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Kings

CLST 19: Methods and Theories in Ancient History

Greek 10: Readings in Greek Prose

Greek 26: Readings in Herodotus

Latin 1: Introductory Latin

Latin 3: Intermediate Latin

I also regularly serve as co-director of the Department of Classics' Foreign Study Program in Greece. For more information on that program, follow the link below:

Foreign Study Program in Greece

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