Fresh Faculty of the Week: Brigitte Libby
Issue   |   Wed, 10/05/2011 - 01:58

Brigitte Libby is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics. She received a B.A. in Classics from Columbia College and a Ph.D. in Classical Philology and Literature from Princeton University. Her research focuses on Latin literature.

How did you begin studying Classics, and what made you decide to pursue it?

I had the opportunity to start taking Latin in seventh grade, and I jumped on it because I remembered loving doing a presentation on the goddess Athena in fourth grade, so, as with many classicists, mythology was the hook for me. I had already learned the case declensions for Latin, too, because my dad, when he tried to entertain me when we were waiting for food in restaurants when I was a kid, decided to have me decline a whole bunch of nouns and taught me how to decline in Latin.

Why did you decide to teach at Amherst?

Amherst has a reputation of being one of the top liberal arts colleges, and I believe in a strong liberal arts education, so that was number one for me. And the idea that the most important thing here is the teaching of undergraduates, and that sense of an academic community focused on teaching and learning is very important. I think that I was right in thinking that students here would be very exceptional because that’s been very exciting to see come true here. I love the students here.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching an intermediate Latin course on Catullus and the lyric spirit. Catullus is a Latin lyric poet from the first century B.C. and [his work] is a great way to start reading Latin poetry because it’s relatively conversational so it’s not too poetic in the sense of outrageous vocabulary, but it still really grabs you and makes you feel like you are getting some insight into the life of someone who lived 2000 years ago. I am also teaching an advanced seminar on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and that has just been a blast because there is nothing funnier than reading Ovid in Latin.

What aspects of Amherst do you like the most so far?

As I said, the students who are so smart here, and also this feeling that there is so much more to the classroom than what is going to be on the next quiz. Students are interested in being here to learn and to discuss and to question rather than just getting a grade, which I find really nice. There is also a sense of teamwork in the classroom instead of competition, so you have a bunch of bright minds working together instead of against each other. You get a lot more done that way.

I also love my colleagues. The faculty here has been so welcoming. I have been talking with representatives of the library and the Mead Art Museum and trying to figure out how to bring those resources into the classroom. Basically any idea that you have, something for your class, somebody can make it happen, so there are a lot of resources available. Also, I guess because I am a New Englander myself, I have an innate love of New England colleges, and this is a premier one of them. I think students here are really forward-thinking, and we change the way we are teaching a subject or the subject we teach and the way that the discussion goes, but we’re still having discussions sort of in the same buildings and the same rooms that people have had academic discussions for generations. If you look at the glass in the window pane of some of the buildings, you can see how old it is. I find it very comforting that even as we are moving forward, we’re still part of the tradition that reaches back into the beginnings of liberal arts education.

Are you working to publish anything?

Yes, always yes! I recently finished my dissertation, which I am working on making into a book, and that’s about Trojan myth and Roman poetry and how the past gets reimagined to fit the present. I also have a lot of articles bouncing around in my head and in my desk and on my computer that need to see the light of day one day or another, but they are mostly based on Latin literature and on the intersection between myth and history and how we construct our versions of the past.

What do you hope to contribute to Amherst in your time here?

A lot of enthusiasm, for sure. I love what I do and I hope that, whether or not people major in Classics, they’ll at least take a classics course while they’re here. They have a great opportunity with the open curriculum to do so. Whether it is the translation or the original language, you learn so much, so I want to try and encourage people to look at the classics more. Also, I like to bring a little bit of levity and a sense of humor. I think I have a quirky sort of attitude towards humor in the classroom and I think that it has its place in education.