Students studying ‘Applied Classics’ at the University of St Andrews only have twelve weeks in which to research, design and pitch a project that applies ancient material to a modern challenge. Working in teams, they begin by analysing a range of past models and methodologies, exploring the challenges and pitfalls as well as the opportunities of bringing ancient and modern into dialogue. We talk a lot about the ethics of Applied Classics, and about the risks of presenting the Greco-Roman past as a ‘solution’ or paradigm in the 21st century. This process encourages disciplinary humility, self-awareness, sensitivity and critical thinking.

Following this initial research into Applied Classics as a broad endeavour, students set about identifying a local, national or global challenge that matters to them: for instance, the gender pay gap, conflicting attitudes to free speech, intercultural tensions in the local community, or political polarisation. Taking an outcomes-focused approach, they gradually pin down their goals and target audiences; the ancient material which they think speaks best to their chosen issue; and the methods and media which they think will help their target audiences to engage with that ancient material. They are encouraged to identify long- as well as short-term impacts, and to envisage how their projects might develop or scale up over time. They must also consider practical feasibility, financial resourcing, potential obstacles, and other logistics, via market research and pilot-testing. This ensures that the proposals they pitch are robust enough to be realised, not mere flights of fancy.

That said, it should be noted that the brief given to students is simply to design – and not to deliver – a viable ‘Applied Classics’ project. While some teams do manage to transform their ideas into reality, lack of time and funding often prevent others from getting that far. We would love to hear from funders interested in making some of our Applied Classics dreams come true! And we would welcome feedback from anyone and everyone on the projects we have designed so far, to help us keep refining them and developing our Applied Classics work.

Our portfolio of projects grows every year. If you browse through our six themes, you will find plans for school residential trips, a ‘migration mapping’ tool, drama workshops focused around toxic masculinity, and a training programme for modern environmental planners, among other proposals – all drawing on antiquity to address modern issues. We hope you enjoy what you find – and don’t forget to tell us what you think!