The usefulness of Classics: part three

The past can bring surprises. A recent one—last week—was the discovery of a document from 1999 in the archives of the Canford Classics Group here in the West Country.

The members of that group had requested a survey to discover how useful a knowledge of Latin or Greek could be for a student reading History or English at University.   It was decided that some university departments should be asked to comment.

No record survives of the questions that were asked, but the final report reads as follows.


‘This survey was undertaken at the request of the members of the Canford Classics group, in an attempt to find out what is the current attitude of university departments towards the study of Classics in schools.  It was agreed that History and English departments should be approached, as being ones that admit large numbers of undergraduates of a high standard for subjects that are popular choices.

‘Fifty questionnaires were sent out to professors and lecturers in History and English departments in seventeen universities.  Replies were received from 32 people, 16 English and 16 History.

‘What was striking, on receiving the replies, was the difference observed in responses, ranging from those university lecturers who enthusiastically welcome the study of Classics at both A level and GCSE and regard it as of great value during a university course, to those few who apparently, from the manner of their replies, angrily reject the notion that the study of Classical subjects can be of any value at all.  Both the History and English respondents from one particular university replied in what was quite a hostile manner.  However, these were in a minority of three.  The general view, as became apparent when the figures were analysed, is that the Classical subjects are at least useful, and at best of great value, for students of History and English at a university.

‘It might have been expected that, in the current climate of university admissions policies having a sociological component, few university departments would admit that qualifications in Latin or Greek would be a factor in selecting candidates.  However, 56% did admit that this was so.

‘The benefits that those people questioned believe are obtained from studying a classical language are as follows.

Linguistic               78%

Literary                  63%

Historical                66%

General                  63%

‘However, the most striking figures of all are to be found in the answers to the first two questions on the survey.  81% of those questioned replied that GCSE Latin or Greek is either useful or of great value in reading History or English at the university.  The figure for A level Latin or Greek is similar: 78%.’


  • The next post will contain some of the more interesting replies.