Non-Classics Majors in a Classics Course

Interdisciplinary courses at Northwestern allow students from disparate backgrounds to apply the skills they’ve acquired in one area to a topic outside of their comfort zone. They provide not only the students but also the instructors with an opportunity to look at their content from a new angle and make exciting moves forward.

2017 Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished University Professor of Instruction Award winner Francesca Tataranni has been doing just that with her course Ancient Rome in Chicago – a Classics seminar which features a project in which students research points of interest around the city and collaborate on refining a virtual walking tour of the sites, complete with video essays of student commentary. While flipping through a recent issue of the Weinberg Magazine, I came across her story (lower right-hand corner) and thought it would be interesting to hear from some of the non-Classics majors who’ve taken the course about their experience.  

Alex Schartz and Ally Mauch, Medill sophomores, and Lucy Waterhouse, a junior at the School of Communication, answered the call. They all participated in the most recent offering of the course in the fall of 2017.

What made you interested in taking a Classics course?

Ally: I began taking Latin as a freshman in high school and pretty quickly became passionate about both the language and culture of Ancient Rome. Although I planned on pursuing a journalism major, I always knew I wanted to continue studying Classics in college. This particular course actually caught my eye when I was still a prospective student eagerly reading Northwestern's course list, so I knew I had to take it when I had the chance. 

Were you interested just in the project aspect of the course? Or the material too?

Ally: For me, the project aspect of the course, which aligns well with my journalism studies and passion for multimedia, was an added bonus to the fascinating course material. I saw it as a perfect research project — a blend of contemporary media and culture, architecture and ancient culture that demonstrates the extreme relevance of Classics to the modern day. 

Lucy: I thought both the material and the project were both interesting. I thought that the idea of looking at ancient influence in modern society was interesting. Also, I liked how the project was continuous over the quarter and the video aspect of the project also really interested me. Also, it was great to have a finished product at the end of the quarter. 

What about the course surprised you?

Alex: I didn’t realize how much of the course would be multimedia production. I expected more lecture time than “fieldwork” but it turned out to be about half of each.

Lucy: I leant a lot about Chicago’s history and also a lot about architectural styles. Every week each student shared their findings for their building so we also were able to learn about other buildings in Chicago.

What do you see as the biggest benefit to taking interdisciplinary courses like this one?

Alex: Learning how to communicate what you learn in a course in a way that isn’t a paper or a test helps you connect better with the course material. I became really passionate about the work I was doing because I was presenting it in a way that was engaging and exciting.

Ally: Interdisciplinary courses are important in seeing things from multiple perspectives and understanding the overlap between academic fields. 

Lucy: This course gave me a lot more insight into my surroundings and I was also able to gain an appreciation for buildings and architecture. I think taking courses like this one is a great way to gain knowledge and appreciation for things that you have never really considered before.

What else struck you as interesting about the course that you would want other students thinking about taking it to know?

Alex: The individualized curriculum that comes with being assigned your own building to research can be a bit daunting at first, but Professor Tataranni teaches you the tools and skills to be successful even when working on your own. The multimedia aspects of the course aren’t complicated, and you can create good work even if you don’t have experience with video.

Ally: For me, a New York-native, I really enjoyed learning about Chicago. Although my four quarters at Northwestern have helped me gain some knowledge about the city, this course gave me historical and architectural context that I definitely would not have otherwise had.