Dr. ResinskiCONWAY, Ark. (November 29, 2011) - How do you take a discipline that's been around as long as higher education itself and make it fresh, interesting, and new? Ask classics professor Dr. Rebecca Resinski.
Through Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning and other engaged learning programs, classics students at Hendrix have participated in archaeological excavations and on-site study in Greece, Italy, and Portugal. One student group studied the Parthenon by travelling to Nashville, Tenn., where there is a life-size replica of the Parthenon; to London, where the Parthenon Marbles are kept in the British Museum; and to Athens, where the Parthenon itself stands on the Acropolis. Another group gave readings of Greek tragedies for the campus community and designed costumes for updated versions of Greek drama.
"The Odyssey program is a good fit with the way I think about learning and teaching classics," she said.
Resinski came by her inclination for engaged learning naturally. Her parents are "theatre people." Her father is a fine arts professor, and her mother is a costume designer.
"Engaging people, texts, and ideas actively has always been a part of my mental apparatus," she said. "Odyssey just provides more impetus."
A Pennsylvania native, Resinski grew up in the mountains outside of Pittsburgh. She attended Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania.
"Going to college I knew I wanted to major in classics," she said. "I was always interested in not only literature but also the history of knowledge … And in my Catholic primary school, Latin was often in the air."
"Classics is really a multidisciplinary field, including language, literature, archaeology, history, and religion," she said.
"My particular focus is on literature and mainly poetry, which is what I studied most in graduate school," said Resinski, who received her doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Among her interests are the Roman writer Ovid, the Greek epic poet Homer, and the ancient dramatist Euripides, as well as the lyric poetry of Sappho, whom Resinski considers "a strong woman's voice from antiquity."
Resinski's research interests connect the dots between antiquity and modernity.
"Most of my research involves examining ways in which ancient Greek or Roman material has been reshaped by authors and artists after antiquity," she said.
She has given papers on topics as varied as the connection between Plato's Symposium and the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Margaret Atwood's use of "schoolboy Latin," classical allusions in the Victorian-era novels of Anthony Trollope, and most recently, Nathaniel Hawthorne's adaptations of Greek myth in the Wonder Book.
"I'm abidingly interested in the dialogue between past and present and the way that the present re-envisions the past," she explained.
Resinski came to Hendrix in 2000, accepting a new position in classics. The College needed a full-time classicist to meet student demand. Prior to her arrival, religion professor Dr. John Farthing taught basic Latin and Greek language classes, but he would have to give up sections of his religion courses to do so.
"Dr. Farthing kept classics alive for a long time at Hendrix," she said. "My job was to take the flame and make it bigger."
When Resinski arrived, she was able to expand the language program and offer courses in classical culture.
"I started by creating a classics minor, but enough students proposed classics-related interdisciplinary studies majors over the years to justify creating a formal major as well," she said.
Classics is now a full-fledged major at Hendrix.
Among her many courses, Resinski teaches Latin and Greek language classes at all levels as well as etymology and mythology, which require no prior knowledge of antiquity. She also teaches courses on special topics in ancient and modern literature, such as her seminar last spring on anthologies of myth for children published between the 19th century and the present day.
"I like the range of classes I get to teach - from nuts and bolts grammar classes to more interpretive ones," she said. "It's a luxury to balance them, and I am grateful for the opportunity to interact with different kinds of students in different kinds of ways."
Demand for classics has continued to grow at Hendrix. The College is currently searching for a full-time classics professor to share the teaching load.
"Demand has been growing over the years to the point where we needed another person," she said. "For students majoring in classics, I was teaching 13 of their 32 classes… and it's really important that they get other people's perspectives on antiquity."
Resinski remains positive about being the primary faculty member (alongside visiting professor Dr. Steve Clark) in classics.
"One benefit of a limited classics staff is teaching students multiple times during their career," she said. "I see students grow and change from year to year and get to be a part of their lives for four years … It's an incredibly special experience, which I wouldn't have in a bigger school or at another liberal arts college with a classics program with more faculty."
In addition to her commitment to classics, Resinski is also in her third year as co-chair of the College's gender studies program, along with her spouse, philosophy professor Dr. Chris Campolo. She taught the introduction to gender studies course for the first time last year.
"It was good to work with contemporary material that I really care about but don't have the chance to teach in my classics classes," she said.
Gender studies is currently offered as a minor. Though it would require additional faculty, Resinski hopes Hendrix will continue to support the growing student interest in gender studies and develop a major degree.
"The interest from students is absolutely there," she said. "Enrollments are fantastic. Students think classes about gender and sexuality are important and interesting."
Resinski "never heard of Hendrix" before seeing the advertisement for her position, but said she quickly knew that she "might regret it for the rest of my life" if she didn't take the offer.
"I wanted to be somewhere where my teaching would be allowed to count," she said. "At Hendrix we can find a balance between our scholarship and teaching that is productive for us and the College. During my time here I've also tried to find ways to bridge the gap that often exists between research and teaching in the humanities. For example, I run a summer seminar in London (funded by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language) which combines opportunities for faculty research and student research involving language and literature, and in another ongoing project students and I work together to create an online guide to Trollope's various uses of classics in his novels."
Resinski also finds balance off campus. She enjoys kayaking, hiking, and photography. She and her spouse have also become avid bee keepers, keeping 10 hives at their house.
"I love living in Arkansas," she said. "It feels like where I grew up, but - I'm happy to say - with milder winters."
As the College contemplates the next evolution of Your Hendrix Odyssey and other new initiatives in student advising and the curriculum, Resinski believes one idea in particular will connect the history of Hendrix and its future.
"Empowering student choice is something we do very well here," she said. "I think it's important to let students decide who they want to be, to help them make meaningful choices amid a multiplicity of options, and to encourage them to shape in an active way who they are and will become."