Institutions of higher learning have been much in the news lately, and generally not in a good way. So, when there are positive developments, they deserve to be recognized. The University of Texas at Austin has approved a new field of study in Western Civilization, which will be home to interdisciplinary courses with an emphasis on great books. Courses will cover ancient, medieval, and modern history, literature, philosophy, politics, and the arts.
Relatively few institutions offer courses any longer that integrate these disciplines. It is hard to find interdisciplinary courses, for example, on ancient Athens (including, for example, Homer, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides); the medieval mind (including, say, Augustine, Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio); the Age of Reason (e.g., Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Moliere, Racine); the Enlightenment (e.g., Fielding, Pope, Defoe, Sterne, Voltaire, Rousseau, Smith, Hume, Gibbon, Kant); or Romanticism (e.g., Goethe, Schiller, Hegel, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, Stendhal). Just as Western Civ survey courses have largely disappeared (for reasons insightfully outlined here), interdisciplinary courses such as these have been victims of disciplinary specialization. They have survived in honors programs and in a few academic redoubts such as the University of Chicago. As that indicates, there is still a strong sense that they are outstanding components of an undergraduate education.
Here’s wishing the Western Civilization field of study—not to mention Western Civilization itself!—success and long life.