In keeping with the wisdom and tradition of placing the study of ancient Greece and Rome at the heart of a strong curriculum the liberal arts and sciences, President David Ross Boyd selected a classicist, William N. Rice, as the first member of the University of Oklahoma’s faculty in 1890.
Rice’s successor, Joseph Paxton, wrote the university’s motto, Civi et Reipublicae (“for the benefit of the citizen and the state”), stating in nuce the university’s institutional mission of providing the “best possible educational experience for our students through excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and service to the state and society.”
From the Athenian drachma and the Roman sestertius featured above the south doorway of Adams Hall, to the Ionic column symbolizing humanistic learning in the College of Arts and Science’s logo, the Classical tradition has always been an important part of the University of Oklahoma, and the Department of Classics and Letters has always supported the university’s mission through research and teaching in the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome and their enduring influence on the modern world.
In 1937, the School of Letters was organized to “provide systematic instruction in ancient and modern languages, history, philosophy and comparative literature,” (Oklahoma Daily, August 4, 1937).
A few years later, the School of Letters became a planned program of the College of Arts and Sciences, under the guidance of a committee of faculty members from the core departments of Classics, English, History, Modern Languages, and Philosophy. In 1953, under the direction of Philip J. Nolan, the Classics Department became the administrative home of the Letters program. Since then, the Chair of the Department of Classics also serves as the Director of the Letters program.
To reflect the department’s long-standing commitment to the Letters program and the outstanding job it has done administering it, the department’s name was changed to the Department of Classics and Letters in 1996.
In 2009, President David Boren established the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage (IACH) within the Department of Classics and Letters because he wanted the IACH to promote an interdisciplinary, humanistic approach to the study of the Constitution and constitutionalism.
From its earliest days the Department of Classics and Letters has supported, and continues to support, OU’s institutional mission by promoting free inquiry and the perpetuation of the humanistic tradition.
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