The ability to recognize and apply connections across multiple fields is one of the many practical outcomes of a liberal arts education at Centre College, and studying abroad is particularly effective for building such cross-disciplinary critical thinking skills. This CentreTerm, Professor of Dramatic Arts Matthew Hallock and Professor of Mathematics Alex McAllister traveled with students to Greece, challenging them to connect two unexpectedly similar disciplines: math and drama.
“The course explores the worldview of the ancient Greeks, which was much more holistic and integrated than ours,” explains McAllister. “We explored the parallels in the creative processes between math and drama, as well as topics that incorporate both fields.”
By traveling to destinations such as Athens, Epidauros, Delphi, Mycenae, Samos and Delos, the class learned about ancient Greek developments in dramatic arts and mathematics in the very places that gave rise to them.
“I think of a course like this as embodying the best of the liberal arts,” McAllister continues. “We asked everyone to be a Renaissance person of some sort—to view ideas and experiences from multiple perspectives.”
In addition, the course drew students from all academic backgrounds, adding depth to the central message of interconnectivity.
“There is something thrilling and meaningful about students majoring in biology, dramatic arts, English and mathematics working together to understand the acoustics of a theatre, geometries without any parallel lines and Aristotle’s take on logic and tragedy,” says McAllister.
“It’s an opportunity for students to see how similar their different disciplines are at a core level,” agrees Hallock. “They all engage in creative and critical thinking. It’s been great fun to watch them bring their different skill sets to bear on the same problem.”
Among the most memorable highlights of the trip was an outing to the sanctuary in Delphi. The class had the opportunity to make votive offerings in the manner of the ancient Greeks by sharing essays, songs, poems, dances or sketches expressing their gratitude or paying homage to whatever they hold sacred.
For Hallock, a visit to Epidauros was an equally standout experience.
“The theatre at Epidaurus is a 15,000-seat theatre in the middle of nowhere in the Peloponese, and it just resonates with the echoes of the great plays of the Classical Greek theatre,” he says. “You feel the energy of those performances still there in the stones of the place.”
Both professors aimed by the end of the course to instill in their students a greater appreciation for the profound influence of the ancient Greeks on modern life.
“I want students to gain a richer understanding of how this heritage contributes to our current culture as a whole and within our specific disciplines in particular,” says McAllister.
At the same time, Hallock hopes their time in Greece gave students a chance to “unplug” from the modern world and focus on being wholly in the present.
“We spend so much time in bits and bytes, experiencing our lives in nanosecond data bursts. I hope the students gain the ability to turn all that off when they choose and just be where they are and experience what they are doing,” he says.
“This might be an overly ambitious goal, but the study abroad experience makes it more possible.”
Learn more about CentreTerm abroad.
by Caitlan Cole
Photo: Students in Profs. Hallock and McAllister’s Drama and Math in Ancient Greece course at the Oracle of Delphi.