Department Learning Goals and Outcomes

Department Overview

Classics is the study of the ancient Greco-Roman world.  The evidence from the classical past derives primarily from texts and artifacts that have survived from antiquity, and the work of Classics as a discipline is to understand these texts and artifacts in as full a cultural context as is possible. Therefore, the study of Classics comprises complementary areas of knowledge including language and aspects of culture such as history, politics, social institutions, literature, material culture and art.  Within these areas, Classicists recover cultural context by deploying a number of discrete skills of inquiry and analysis, many of which are common to other disciplines, but which are tailored to the needs and conventions of the evidence from classical antiquity.   Successful classicists develop habits of mind that allow them to bring fresh approaches and apply evidence in new ways in order to analyze and interpret elements of the classical world. 

Through our four major tracks of study, some of which require greater proficiency in the ancient languages than others, we seek to provide a suitable introduction to these skills and areas of knowledge for our majors, with the expected learning outcomes listed below.  Our aim is to provide our students with multiple opportunities to gain the knowledge and practice the skills we have identified, recognizing that learning is an iterative process that involves as many productive failures as successes. Our senior integrative exercise requires integration of the skills and knowledge to engage in scholarship in the discipline and gain a sense of the wider world of intellectual inquiry, and we attempt to foster the higher order thinking skills necessary for this type of research.  At the same time, we acknowledge that our majors are novice practitioners of the discipline and seek to nurture their learning and skills at a level that is appropriate for undergraduates. 

Student Learning Outcomes for Majors


Direct engagement with the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome is only possible through the study of the sources in their original languages, so knowledge of Greek and/or Latin is the essential core of our majors’ learning. Ancient Greek and Latin are primarily experienced through texts; unfortunately, this often leads to their designation as “dead” languages.  A better description, however, would be to say that they are in “suspended animation,” but even that description belies the enormous range and variety in the languages that have come down to us from classical antiquity.  The task of the student of classical languages, therefore, is to “re-animate” the texts in a way that is true to their original context while still being comprehensible to a current reader.  The ability to do this type of re-animation is the overall aim of the teaching of classical languages at Carleton, and the result is the experience of crossing the “linguistic border” between our own time and culture and that of the ancient world.

By the time they graduate our students should be able to:

  1. Read with comprehension works of poetry and prose in their original language(s) from all periods of classical antiquity, and
  2. Know how to place these texts in their literary, social and historical context.


While knowledge of the languages is a crucial tool for classicists, the object of our study extends beyond ancient texts to the cultures that produced them. These cultures are known to us through the piecing together of a wide variety of both textual and material sources, and so our students must learn to analyze and interpret literary and non-literary texts, artifacts, social structures and institutions to gain understanding of the diverse and influential cultures classical antiquity comprises. While a deep knowledge of every period and society from Bronze Age Greece through to the fall of the Roman Empire in the East is beyond the scope of the undergraduate major, our aim is to give our students a broad framework into which they can fit some areas of fuller understanding. In addition, we encourage recognition of the lasting influence these cultures had on subsequent generations, and the habit of mind that allows students to think about their own culture with the enlarged perspective that the study of Classics offers.

By the time they graduate our students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate broad understanding of the history and culture of the ancient world, and
  2. Consider subsequent cultures, including their own, in the deeper context provided by their knowledge of the ancient world.


Of equal importance with the skills of reading the languages and analyzing and interpreting the sources to gain knowledge of the history and culture of the ancient world is the ability to engage in the larger conversation that constitutes scholarship in the discipline of Classics. This requires learning to recognize and interrogate the key assumptions underlying both primary and secondary source material, to ask productive questions and solve problems presented by the evidence that survives from classical antiquity, and to communicate the results of research effectively.

By the time they graduate our students should be able to:

  1. Evaluate and make ethical and effective use of secondary sources to situate work in the context of the discipline.
  2. Effectively communicate orally and in writing their new ideas about the ancient world to varied audiences.


The field of Classics engages enduring problems and questions basic to our 21st century world.  Ancient voices return again and again to basic ethical topics, from larger social issues such as the difficulties inherent in democracy and empire, to individual concerns with identity and how one ought to live. We believe that most of our learning outcomes complement and enhance the overall liberal arts mission of the college and prepare our majors for a lifetime of learning beyond the discipline.