Greek, Latin, and Digital Philology in Germany and the United States

Part 1 (of 3)
Gregory Crane

Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities
Leipzig University

Professor of Classics
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship

I have published some data in a summarizing essay about Greco-Roman studies in Germany. There is a semi-autobiographical opening that can be skipped and a series of 19 tables that can be quickly skimmed. The essay has a very particular point of view: as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor in Germany, my job is to help make Germany as attractive a center for research as possible. I thus begin by exploring the use that my American colleagues make of German Greco-Roman scholarship. The paper published so far is primarily descriptive, invites comment and seeks to lay partial groundwork for further analysis and possible suggestions.

Table 1 basically says that if a Humanist wishes to publish in German and attract an American audience, Classis seems to be the field to do it. Students of Greco-Roman culture cite (and presumably read) German.

Tables 2-4, however, present preliminary but suggestive evidence about the widely perceived decline of German scholarship in English-language publications on Greco-Roman Studies. In the 1956 and 1957 issues of the Transactions of the American Philological Association, only 48% of the citations pointed to English sources and 32.5% citations pointed to German. By 1986, the percentage of citations to German had fallen to 24% (it was 22.4% in the 1986 American Journal of Philology). By the 21st century, German citations had dropped to c. 10.9 in AJP 2002, 8.5% in TAPA 2006, 8% in AJP 2014, and 10.9% in TAPA 2014. For a quick (and obviously preliminary) comparison with a British journal, I analyzed the first ten articles of Classical Quarterly 2015 and found that 10.3% of the citations pointed to German. Where I had done the analysis myself and had the data, I was able to calculate the percentage of German scholarship among cited publications that were thirty years old or less. In AJP 1986, 17% of citations thirty years old or less pointed to German. In AJP 2014, TAPA 2015 and the first ten articles of CQ 2015, I found that 4.7%, 8%, and 6.1% of citations pointed to German. The numbers behind these statistics are not large but the fact that the results are so consistent is striking.

Tables 5-7 look at the extensive, even brutal, cuts to which German chairs in Ancient Languages, Literatures and Cultures have been subject. Between 1997 and 2011, the number of chairs for Greek declined from 39.5 to 32.5 — a loss of 7. Latin declined from 57 to 48.5, a loss of 8.5. And Greek and Latin were comparatively lucky — Indo-European lost 8.5 of 22 chairs, Egyptology 3.5 of 18 chairs, Assyriology 5 of 21. Ancient History fared relatively well (losing only 2 chairs and declining from 79 to 77), but Greco-Roman History plays a crucial role in training primary and secondary school teachers and a German report on Small Fields suggests that this is responsible for Greco-Roman History‚Äôs survival in this form.

Table 8-10 provide some additional background. Of these table 9 is worth noting: even as Greek and Latin lost chairs from 1997-2011, the number of students was increasing. The German universities managed this by increasing the number of non-Professorial positions. The number of students per professor rose from 36.5 in 1997 to 46.1 in 2007 to 56.2 in 2011, while the number of students per academic staff remained steady at about 10 (9.9 in 1997, 10.8 in 2007, and 11.1 in 2011). This may indicate an institutional shift away from a research orientation and towards a service orientation for Greek and Latin philology and a corresponding judgment on the perceived value of research in this field.

Tables 11-13 describe how often current professors received their Phds from German universities, German-speaking universities, and from elsewhere. For Greek and Latin Philology, Ancient History, and Greco-Roman Archaeology, 190 of the 200 (95%) professors that I could identify had German Phds, 6 had PhDs from Austria or German speaking Swiss universities. Thus, 98% of German chairs had received their PhDs from the German speaking world (or the Deutschsprachiger Raum, as we say in these parts). Of the remaining four, two were Germans who had received Oxbridge degrees and two were from countries adjacent to Germany (Denmark and the Netherlands). No one with a PhD from outside of Europe holds any of these chairs. I must admit that while these numbers did not surprise me, actually seeing these numbers so starkly defined left me personally a bit shaken. Table 13 presents some figures for international students: 18.6% in Greek (110 of 592), 15% in Classical Philology (89 of 591), and 10% in Ancient History (36 of 345) — Latin has only 3% (125 of 4,268) but that probably reflects the fact that most students of Latin aim to teach in the German school system. Of the 200 professors, I could only find two (one from Spain and one from Greece) who had moved from their home country to study in Germany. Thus more than 10% of the students are international but perhaps 1% of the professors started as international students.

Table 13 lists where these German professors most commonly received their PhDs: Heidelberg, Freiburg, Munich (LMU) and Cologne emerge as the big four, accounting for 40% of all chairs (80 or 200).

Tables 14-17 look at gender balance. The figures are low — 22% of professors are women — but this number also reflect the percentage of all academic staff in Greco-Roman Studies in 1997 (22.8%). In 2013, the percentage of women among the academic staff had, however, risen to 39.7% and the percentage of female professors may well increase accordingly in the future.

Finally, tables 18-19 report an analysis of the relative percentage of publication in German vs. English (based on looking at up to 10 publications on the public websites of each professor). Greco-Roman Philologists and Archaeologists publish 90% in German and 10% in English, while Ancient Historians publish 97% in German and 3% in English. (I undertook this analysis to see if the decline in German citations reflected a shift to publication in English.) By contrast, in Egyptology, 71% of the publications are in German and 29% in English while in Assyriology 73% are German and 29% English.

Full text at:

The full text is here.

This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.