Blair Students Experience Intersection of Ancient & Modern Culture During Visit to Rome
Suzy Logan

Eleven Blair students immersed themselves in an interdisciplinary study of Rome during a June trip to the Eternal City. Chaperoned by Blair’s classics teachers and self-described “classics nerds” Kelsie Fralick and Chris Sheppard, the itinerary gave young travelers many opportunities to experience Latin in its real-world context and connect the abstract world of Latin literature to a material, modern city that had a lasting impact on not just the Mediterranean region but also the entire world.

Connecting Language & Culture

In fact, Rome’s lasting influence on modern society is one reason Ms. Fralick was quick to propose a summer trip there during her first year as a Blair faculty member. “It is unbelievable that, 2,000 years later, there are places that have well-preserved remnants of a culture that shaped and changed that whole area over the course of thousands of years,” explained the teacher of Latin 1, 3 and 4, who decided to become a teacher after visiting Italy as a college student and being overwhelmed by the powerful remains there. “We helped students find their own paths to connect to this culture and language and join the ongoing conversation in which people across the world are trying to interpret antiquity and understand the ways in which the ancient and modern intersect. The opportunities to do so are really endless.”

Exploring Historical Parallels & Current Affairs

The group’s travels focused on more than just sightseeing and had students literally walking the same streets ancient Romans traversed. 

“We took great care to emphasize connections and parallels between ancient Rome and the world today,” said Mr. Sheppard, who teaches Latin 2, 5 and Greek. “Students got to see firsthand that many cultural issues, such as immigration of refugees, debate about national identity, and the fact that extreme poverty exists alongside extreme wealth, are hardly new and continue to impact modern Rome.”

By analyzing the civilization that conquered the Mediterranean, and looking to current affairs as well as the past, students saw that classical study is multidimensional; in fact, the chaperones took advantage of every opportunity to encourage travelers to look at artifacts, art and architecture through more than one lens and using a wide range of sources, reinforcing skills that will help students succeed in today’s globalized world, both at and beyond Blair.

“It was overwhelming to stand in the presence of millennia of history and breathe the air of ancient giants,” said Sam Salander ’19. “In particular, I was especially fascinated by the ruins of the Palace of Domitian. When it stood, one ancient writer commented that its splendor made his eyes hurt to behold. The gray ruins which remain in its place stand as a testament to man's eternal drive to magnificence and the unrelenting power of time. In addition, the teachers accompanying us brought us a large step closer to appreciating the ancients' relationship to the world they crafted. Through these writings and the city's inscriptions, I gained a more complete understanding of Latin abbreviation and poetic style. Overall, it was an amazing experience and one which all students of Latin should have.”

The trip included a visit to an art restoration cooperative, where students met Matteo Doria, a professional who specializes in the restoration of paintings. Mr. Doria graciously welcomed the group into his lab for a first-hand look at the very detailed and highly technical process of restoration.

Off the Beaten Path

In planning the trip, Ms. Fralick and Mr. Sheppard focused on classical Rome, taking students to some of the city’s most well-known attractions, such as the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Vatican museums and a number of churches, as well as slightly tweaking the itinerary offered by their tour company with a few excursions they felt would especially benefit students.

These add-ons included Ostia Antica, a city right outside of Rome that was abandoned because of malaria and still has full surviving structures. While visiting the middle-class port town of Rome, students saw beautiful mosaic floors from which ancient Romans sold their goods. They also visited Tiber Island, the site of the modern world’s first-ever hospital, and Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, which served as an ancient emperor’s retreat.

Beyond Textbooks

Ms. Fralick and Mr. Sheppard ensured that students tied their travel experiences to textbooks in Latin and English. For example, while visiting the Forum, the group read Cicero, who regularly spoke at that venue. “The Latin students on the trip served as a great resource to the handful of kids who hadn’t taken classics courses,” said Mr. Sheppard. “The Latin language added a layer to unlocking the ancient world and our students got to experience Latin beyond textbooks, seeing everything from funerary inscriptions and plaster casts of Pompeii citizens who died in 79 AD to the ancient world’s most active port that allowed Romans to import grain from Africa and other goods from Asia.” 

"I really enjoyed reading Latin literature in the original locations in which they were written," said Linda Tong '19, who has taken Latin at Blair since her freshman year and is enrolled in Greek for the 2018-2019 school year. "Some highlights were reading Ovid’s Ars Amatoria in the Circus Maximus, a text about Cicero in the Roman Forum, and Pliny’s letter about the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii. I could visualize the descriptions of the authors, and it really made Latin come to life. Overall, this trip helped me develop a stronger connection to the Latin language and Roman history." 

Traveling with Blair's classics teachers was especially gratifying, Linda added, as they helped her to understand the historical and cultural context of the places that the group visited, as well as appreciate the Latin inscriptions on monuments throughout the city. That she had the opportunity to experience Rome with close friends and teachers made it a much more meaningful experience. "It was a lot of fun learning with other Latin students, Ms. Fralick and Mr. Sheppard," she said. “They are all so passionate about the language and we shared a lot of nerdy Latin jokes during the trip."

Adding Complexity & Nuance

Both Ms. Fralick and Mr. Sheppard look forward to bringing their latest Roman experiences back to their classrooms next year by continuing to focus on the interdisciplinary nature of classical study. “On a trip like this, the intersection of science, language, archeology and philosophy is really apparent and you see how layered this discipline is,” said Mr. Sheppard. “To the extent we can convey that to students, encouraging them to learn a grammar point and then connect to its larger implications, we will.”

Doing so, Ms. Fralick explained, adds complexity and nuance to students’ understanding of the ancient cultures that have shaped our own, while they are, at the same time, somewhat alien to our own. “There is a tendency to think things were simplistic in the past, so we want to ensure students see the depth of one of the world’s earliest globalized societies, as well as the fact that the issues Romans were grappling with are similar to the ones we are facing today,” she said. 

To learn more about the students’ day-to-day experiences, click here.

News Headlines