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As a Classics major here at Princeton, at times I have wondered whether my education has given me a limited or narrow worldview. Even though I was born in Korea and lived there for 11 years, I can name more Roman emperors and their achievements than those of Koreans. I know even less about other regions. I have tried to extend my horizons by taking a class in the Near Eastern Studies Department and Program in South Asian Studies, but the fact remains that I have had an incredibly Eurocentric education up to this point.

When I think about it, it seems obvious that I ended up majoring in Classics. In high school, I studied Spanish and read Greek tragedies. During my freshman year at Princeton, I took the HUM Sequence, because it seemed to be a continuation of my previous studies. I had never even heard of many of the works taught in the East Asian Humanities Sequence, so it never occurred to me to consider that. In HUM, I fell in love with the Classics and decided to start Latin, as well as continue with Spanish. My own academic path up till now has made it easier for me to fall in love with Classics.

A recently published article "Redefining the Classics at Harvard," written by The Crimson staff writer Mayukha Karnam, made me think more about my own academic path and the Classics Department. In this article, she notes her initial surprise after finding out that Sanskrit was not taught in the Classics department. She writes, "The opening line of the description of classical languages in the Languages at Harvard booklet reads ‘Greek and Latin provide access to the two cultures and literature that have profoundly influenced the development of Western civilization,' conflating ‘classical' and ‘Western civilization.' However, ‘classical' also refers to the foundations of many cultures outside of Europe that Harvard doesn't acknowledge in the current study of classical languages." She believes that languages such as Sanskrit, Classical Chinese and Arabic should rightfully be considered and taught within the Classics department.

I do not actually agree with Karnam that Sanskrit and Arabic should be offered in the Classics department because of logistical concerns. It makes more sense to take related courses in one department and major in it. For example, it would make more sense for someone specializing in Sanskrit to take ancient Indian history courses within the same department. If we combine Arabic, Classical Chinese, Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit, as well as the histories of relevant cultures, we would end up with a major too massive and unfocused.

However, she brings up an interesting point about the power of language. In calling the Classics department thus, we conform to the mindset that the Greco-Roman culture constitutes our roots, that they are the "classical" roots of our society. Conversely, in categorizing Sanskrit under South Asian Studies, we create a geographic and cultural barrier in our head between our culture and theirs. In other words, when we call those "classics," we own it as ours; on the other hand, giving ancient cultures names like East Asian Studies and South Asian Studies make them sound foreign and different from our own culture.

A lot of departments have misnomer names. For example, Near Eastern Studies used to be called Oriental Languages and Literature until scholars moved away from the word. Perhaps it is the time for my own department, Classics, to consider the power of its own name and reevaluate whether or not the department is truly the Classics for all of us here at Princeton. Even though I love Classics and recognize the power of this discipline on the Western world, I do not find it to be my own classical roots. I am sure that many others share my feelings. We should recognize the multiplicity of our classical roots instead of thinking of the Greco-Roman one as the only or primary root. Rethinking the name of the Classics department could achieve this goal. Just like Sanskrit belongs to South Asian Studies, maybe the study of Latin and Ancient Greek literature should be renamed as Greco-Roman Literature.

Erica Choi is a sophomore from Bronxville, NY. She can be reached at

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