From its foundation in 1915 the University of British Columbia has had a department of Classics. Its first head, Lemuel Robertson, came to British Columbia from McGill University in Montreal in 1899, and was a pioneer in the years when the province’s institute of higher education was affiliated with McGill. From 1915 until World War II Robertson headed the Classics department along with two contrasting individuals: Harry Tremaine Logan and Otis Johnson Todd (1883-1957). Logan, British Columbia’s Rhodes Scholar in 1908, took a degree in Literae Humaniores at Oxford; returning from service in World War I with a Military Cross, he became a distinguished teacher and administrator. Todd, who held a Harvard doctorate, was strongly committed to research and publication. In 1932 he published his well-known Index Aristophaneus. In these early decades the department’s teaching was mainly in the ancient languages. Its graduates included some future scholars, such as the archaeologist Homer Thompson (1906-2000), and the epigrapher Malcolm Francis McGregor (1910-1989).McGregor returned in 1954 from two decades at the University of Cincinnati to head the department and undertake the process of reconstruction. When he retired in 1975, he left a department of thirteen members fully engaged in teaching and scholarship, and firmly linked with the international world of classical scholarship. He had established a unit that housed all the main fields in the discipline, and had pioneered a comprehensive program of courses based on translated material.
In the 70s and 80s this legacy was consolidated. The graduate programme grew, and by the mid-eighties included an M.A. in classical archaeology. Holders of the department’s doctorates assumed positions in other Canadian departments, and some products of the strong honours program left for graduate school elsewhere before also joining such departments.
The undergraduate curriculum branched out into successful courses in mythology, ancient women, and medical terminology, while elementary language teaching was adapted to the intellectual perspectives and technological needs of a new generation.
Classics at UBC is today confronted by challenges that are both new and familiar. Merged with Religious Studies since 1995, it is now increasing its interdisciplinary cooperation, while maintaining the crucial role of the ancient languages, and the unique, if no longer central, status of classical antiquity in the cultural heritage. Renewal and adaptation are under way, and the achievements of the past offer the hope of success in the future.
Written and Compiled by Robert B. Todd, Professor Emeritus and Archivist for the Department of Classics.