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Classics and Its Displacement in Higher Education


Classics and Its Displacement in Higher Education

A critical reflection on complacency and its role in the decline of classics in the academy.
In response to philosopher Simon Blackburn’s portrayal of complacency as a vice that impairs university study at its core, John T. Hamilton examines the history of complacency in classics and its implications for our contemporary moment.
The subjects, philosophies, and literatures of ancient Greece and Rome were once treated as the foundation of learning, with everything else devolving from them. Hamilton investigates what this model of superiority, derived from the golden age of the classical tradition, shares with the current hegemony of mathematics and the natural sciences. He considers how the qualitative methods of classics relate to the quantitative positivism of big data, statistical reasoning, and presumably neutral abstraction, which often dismiss humanist subjectivity, legitimize self-sufficiency, and promote a fresh brand of academic complacency. In acknowledging the reduced status of classics in higher education today, he questions how scholarly striation and stagnation continue to bolster personal, ethical, and political complacency in our present era.

144 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Critical Antiquities

Ancient Studies


"With a fast-paced text in thirteen pithy chapters, brief endnotes, and an index nominum, John T. Hamilton’s Complacency will inspire classicists to reconsider their attitude towards their work and the place of their field in academia."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Hamilton has given us an extended essay on the theme of complacency, taking as his starting-point an opinion piece from 2009 by the philosopher Simon Blackburn, which characterizes it as one of the deadly ‘sins’ of the academy. He draws on etymology and wordplay to explore the imagery and resonances of complacency in different historical contexts from antiquity to the present, not simply in its familiar associations of (self-)satisfaction, but, strikingly, in the imagery of ‘flatness’ that Hamilton explores in novel and thought-provoking ways. Readers will be diverted and challenged in turn, and all should come away with fresh perspectives on this topic.”

Duncan Kennedy, University of Bristol

“Hamilton’s investigation of ambivalence in the long conceptual history of complacency sparkles. This nimble critique targets the blindnesses of classicism—justifying empire, flattening difference through universalism, any form of domination promising ease—wherever they are found, in science, business, higher education, or the discipline of classics itself. The solution is nevertheless ancient: to search, relentlessly and with love, for understanding and self-knowledge in all their contingent particularity.” 

Michèle Lowrie, The University of Chicago

“This beautiful book details a vision for the future of the humanities. It is not a plan, but a call to avoid the easy route, to stay attentive, to keep our eyes and ears open. This is a vital message from one of today’s most important voices.”

Sean Gurd, The University of Texas at Austin

"This is a tract for the times, addressing the identity crisis in our subject with a stirring call to philological arms ... A challenging, exhilarating and thought-provoking little book which wears its heart on its philological sleeve and pulls no punches either in argument or in style."

Classics for All

Table of Contents

The Wolf on the Plain
Sin in the Academy
Colonial Planning
Propositional Surfaces
Classical Platforms
Philology as Ancilla Facultatum
Philological Investigations
Pleasingly Flat
The War on Complacency
The Golden Age
The Humanities
Works Cited

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