Universiteit Leiden

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What is citizenship? Classical Languages help find the answer

A European project should help reinvigorate Latin teaching in secondary schools. 'By focusing on citizenship, we want to show that Latin is relevant to discussions about citizenship and migration.'

Dutch grammar schools have to defend themselves against the view of being elitist and thus inaccessible to minority groups. 'Classical Languages are also sometimes seen as old-white-male subjects, aiming to convey an old-fashioned cultural rule,' explains university lecturer Christoph Pieper. 'Then you have to ask yourself how you can still attract people from present-day society, and whether you still reflect society as it is today.'

Bridge to the present

A grant from the Erasmus+ programme is intended help to build a bridge to contemporary society. Together with lead applicant Lidewij van Gils from the University of Amsterdam and colleagues from universities in Trier, Paris, Turin and Ljubljana, Pieper will work to develop a didactic toolkit to accompany a speech by Roman politician Marcus Cicero. 'In Pro Archia, Cicero defends a Greek-speaking poet, a migrant, who was thought to have unjustly claimed Roman citizenship,' explains Pieper. 'That makes him very interesting in terms of content in a Europe where migration is a big issue right now.'

The fact that the speech is in Latin is a plus in this respect, Pieper believes: 'This speech is written in a language that is not national, but supranational. Latin is shared by very many countries and has a centuries-old common European educational tradition. Moving away from the specific and going back in time two thousand years gives you a very good starting point for the conversation with students about what citizenship and migration mean.'

Working with teachers

Over the next few years, Pieper and his European colleagues will work to create a toolkit for teachers. 'A few years ago, I made a website with four Dutch colleagues with a commentary on Cicero. That was right in corona time, so that website was used a lot and the commented speech eventually became exam material. It was also received very enthusiastically at international conferences. So for this project, we will again write a commentary on a speech in which we address grammar, but also the broader social embedding of the text.'

In addition to the website, Pieper and his colleagues will also provide several workshops for secondary school teachers. 'For example, we will look at how speech has been read over the centuries, but we also want to make it possible for students to experience rhetoric with a small competition, in which they can submit a video with their version of the speech.’

Workshop participants can then share their new-found knowledge with their supporters in education. 'All participating scientists have good links to education, so we expect it to spread,' says Pieper. 'I myself am very curious to see how this will work out in Slovenia, for example, because I know very little about teaching Latin there. And of course it would be wonderful if, because of this project, this text by Cicero is chosen for the final exam in a few years' time.'

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