It won Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) a Nobel Prize in Literature…
“Classics is the ‘classic’ humanities major”, explained the department’s Undergraduate Director, Professor Leah Kronenberg, in an in-depth interview. “It still has the reputation of being a hard and impressive course of study, but our students quickly learn the truth about Classics: it’s really fun!”
But what can it do for your career? There is an awful lot to say here. But for a start, a glance at some of the successful folks who have received an undergraduate Classics degree suggests that there is a planet of possibilities and really no limitations.
The trouble is, getting such a list is sort of hard.
Here’s one that has made the rounds, including legit former Classics majors (e.g., former US Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Princeton’52; former Governor of California Jerry Brown, Berkeley’61; poet and translator AE (Alicia) Stallings, Georgia’90), the dubious (entrepreneur and founder of CNN Ted Turner, who dropped his Classics major at Brown when his father wrote that he almost regurgitated at his son’s choice), some prominent Classics minors (e.g., JK Rowling, who studied enough Classics at Exeter University to give rise to the suspicion that she modeled Dumbledore on Roman historian TP Wiseman), and the sketchy (Vince Lombardi, Fordham’37, whose degree was in business).
The best treatment of the question known to this blog was a piece that Forbes magazine ran back in 2009, when they actually talked to contemporary leaders about what they learned from the Classics.
Forbes assembled a truly impressive roster, ranging from former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and former Governor of Massachusetts William Weld, to author Rita Mae Brown and broadcaster Lian Dolan, to Charles Geschke, co-founder of Adobe Systems Inc., to illusionist Teller and radio personality Garrison Keillor. The rogueclassicism blogspot picked up on the Forbes article, and continues to fill out the list.
But in all this, there really is room for many, many more in the Pantheon of fabulously successful former Classics majors.
Here’s a list of the first 20 from (mostly) the Anglo-American world that come to mind to your correspondent at the RU Classics blog. There’s a whole range of life accomplishments here, which suggests that Classics goes well with practically anything. The list emphasizes living contemporaries and purposely excludes the countless folks who have made a name for themselves primarily in the upper reaches of academia.
So here’s a fairly random roster of Classics majors made good. And you can bet on dozens more to be listed in future blogs!
1. Maxine Bahns, American actress, triathlete and model with the Elite agency
2. Jeffrey Brown, senior correspondent and news anchor for the PBS Newshour
3. Carol Burrell, cartoonist and the editorial director of the Graphic Universe imprint of Lerner Publishing Group
6. Aurélie Filippetti, novelist, politician, and current French Minister of Culture
7. Francis Fukuyama, best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992)
8. Porter Goss, former US Congressman and Director of the CIA
9. Susan Adele Greenfield, Baroness Greenfield, CBE, scientist, writer, broadcaster, member of the British House of Lords, and Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh
10. Tony Hoare, British computer scientist best known for the development of Quicksort, a well-known sorting algorithm
11. Boris Johnson, current Mayor of London
12. Mindy Kaling, American actress, comedian, writer and producer who played Kelly Kapoor on the NBC sitcom The Office
13. Jim Manzi, former chairman, president and CEO of Lotus Software
14. Chris Martin, lead vocalist, pianist, rhythm guitarist and founder of the band Coldplay [everyone knows this, but it’s worth mentioning anyway—Ed.]
15. Barry Munitz, former CEO of the world’s wealthiest art institution, the J. Paul Getty Trust
16. Nick Owen, British television presenter and newsreader, and current chairman of Luton Town Football Club
17. Ruth Padel FRSL FZS. British poet, non-fiction author, novelist, and frequent contributor to BBC Radio 3 and 4
18. TR Reid, reporter on global affairs for The Washington Post, and frequent commentator on NPR
19. Tim Rice-Oxley, co-founder, principal composer and pianist of piano rock band Keane
20. Christian Wolff, American composer of experimental classical music