250+ Years of Classics

Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest educational institution south of Virginia, and the 13th oldest in the United States. At that time, Classics was a core component of the undergraduate curriculum, as it was for virtually all American colleges/universities established before the 19th century.

Randolph Hall

In the early days, there were no SATs or ACTs. Admission to American colleges depended on passing a series of entry exams that tested prospective students’ ability to translate Latin and Greek. In the 18th century and for much of the 19th, every student of the College of Charleston (or Harvard or William and Mary) was, essentially, a classicist. Greco-Roman civilization was the common cultural foundation for educated citizens. John Adams, reflecting on his college years, regretted that he had spent more time on math and science than on the classics “because I was destined to a Course of Life, in which these Sciences have been of little Use, and the Classicks would have been of great Importance.”

Two hundred years ago, classicists held a virtual monopoly on the humanities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the increasing fragmentation of the humanities into discrete fields (English, history, philosophy, etc.) gradually yielded a new structure for the American college. Classics, no longer the centerpiece of the humanities, became one of many related fields. For this reason, Classics departments tend to overlap extensively with other disciplines. For instance, note the breadth of disciplines represented in our department: philosophy, archaeology, history, literature, women’s and gender studies, art history, etc. As a result, classicists today are among the most vigorous interdisciplinary collaborators.

CofC CampusAnother momentous development of the 20th century was the retooling of American education during the Cold War to emphasize applied sciences over the other liberal arts. Many schools began reducing the amount of required humanities coursework - the historical basis of educated citizenship - from their curriculum. At the College of Charleston, however, the tradition of the study of Greek and Latin remains unbroken, from the College’s founding until the present.

Today, the Classics department is a vibrant center for the study of the Greco-Roman past and its influence upon the present. With eight full time faculty and annual enrollments of over 1,000 in Greek, Latin, and classical civilization courses, Classics at the College is among the largest undergraduate programs in the nation. The department offers three undergraduate majors, three minors, and a degree program available to all majors (the A.B. degree, the College’s oldest and most prestigious degree).

Randolph Hall, the oldest educational building on campus, remains the home of the Classics department. Built in the 1830s, appropriately in Greek Revival Style, Randolph Hall was the primary venue for classroom instruction for most of the College’s history. Today, the Classics department is the only academic unit that is still housed in this building. Only in Classics courses will you sit in Randolph Hall 301, the oldest continuously taught-in classroom in North America.

Commencement in front of Randolph Hall