Professors, students highlight significance of department name changes

The Department of Romance Studies, formerly known as the Department of Romance Languages, housed in F.W. Olin Center, is pictured. Alexis Serino / The Tufts Daily Archives

What’s in a name? At Tufts, sometimes even a small change, like that of a department’s name, may explain a broader shift in the department’s focus, mission or cross-disciplinary nature.

Multiple academic departments’ names have undergone changes within the past few years: Art and Art History has become History of Art and Architecture, Classics has become Classical Studies and Romance Languages has become Romance Studies, to name a few. The changes represent an effort to broaden each department’s focus and make it more inclusive to ways of thinking and understanding the discipline than previously considered.

The Department of History of Art and Architecture’s quest for a new name is tied to its own backstory, according to professor Christina Maranci, the department’s chair.

After undergoing an initial name change in the late 1980s — changing from the Department of Fine Arts to Art and Art History — it remained the latter for the better part of the next 40 years. However, discussions began percolating in the mid-2000s when faculty from the department noticed confusion among the Tufts community about the department’s focus.

“We were finding that calling ourselves Art and Art History [communicated] that we [were] a studio department, that we teach drawing, painting and sculpture, and we don’t … we would get people calling up the department all the time asking ‘do you teach painting?,’ and it was really kind of hard on our administrators who would have to answer these questions over and over with ‘no we don’t, we don’t offer that,’” Maranci said.

Taking into account Tufts’ recent acquisition of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Maranci highlighted the new opportunities that this relationship brings to the department, in part informing its new title. 

“Fashions change in academia, and some people like to talk about visual culture instead of art or in place of art … Art History can be a very traditional field and … we’ve been teaching the same way for years and years, but there are new ways to do it and we’re trying to kind of be open to those but also to stay true to what it is we do in our discipline that is so special,” she said. “And now with having the SMFA and the MFA connections, we’re excited to really make this an even more exciting place for students to learn about art.”

Sofia Zamboli, a junior studying history of art and architecture, was only somewhat aware of the department’s name change, but she doesn’t see its focus having changed much. She noted that the new name emphasizes the department’s architecture concentration, which boasts its own set of highly knowledgeable and skilled faculty and coursework.

“I think maybe to people who don’t know the department very well, it’s [saying], ‘just so you know, we also have architecture courses.’ I think those architecture courses have always been there and there’s always been an emphasis on architecture to a certain degree in the classes, but this might have helped people realize that … [architecture] has similarities with engineering and math and science in a lot of ways so I think it’s also an effort to bring more people in,” Zamboli explained. 

Similar to the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Tufts’ Classical Studies Department underwent its own name change in an attempt to clarify its focus and open itself up to more students. As Tufts’ oldest major, classical studies strives to reinvent what it means to study ancient worlds and civilizations.

Department Chair Bruce Hitchner described the name change as part of an effort to account for the diversity of the ancient world, something that can get lost in more traditional or surface-level comprehension of what the classical studies major entails.

“We also raise a lot of fundamental questions about humanity that in some ways are part and parcel of everything we are doing today, issues of identity, issues of gender, issues of race — all these things were part of the ancient world. So, it’s become so much bigger than the idea of this ‘dusty old department’ where you go and study old Latin texts,” he said. 

In addition to making antiquity more contemporary and applicable to the modern world, the name change signifies a more interdisciplinary lens through which the department and the major wish to be viewed; classical “studies” aims to account for disciplines like sociology, anthropology, biology and history in a way that “classics” did not.

“You can no longer do what you used to do … go in and study the texts and write some things based on the text, you’ve got to use theory, you have to use idea modeling, you have to really engage across disciplines to work in this field. And that’s why we decided to [change] our name,” Hitchner explained.  

In fact, Hitchner said that a degree in classical studies at Tufts requires no formal study of Latin or Greek language because the department wants to encourage a broader understanding of ancient peoples, ideas and beliefs and does not feel that the study of these ancient languages, for the sole purpose of translation or transliteration, would provide a student with a full understanding of the classical world. 

Danny Cashman, a senior studying classical studies, echoed this sentiment. He said that while taking a Latin course as a first-year, he found that the majority of his interests all happened to fall under the umbrella of classical studies. He attributed his love for the subject to the nuance that it allows for and reiterated Hitchner’s point that it is a highly interdisciplinary department. 

“I love my major — I get to study complex languages, a diverse history, interesting literature and amazing philosophy; I am currently working on a thesis project on Aristotle’s Poetics. I like a lot of different things and love that my major allows me to fit it all into one with language, history, literature and philosophy … I think the name change just makes people more aware of what it is that we study and how interconnected the different aspects of classical studies are,” Cashman said. 

The name change also seeks to incorporate and highlight the diverse set of experience and knowledge that the department’s faculty hold. 

“‘Classical studies’ … allows our world-renowned classical philologists, philosophers and historians to all be included as important scholars in the department,” Cashman said. 

Professors hope that renaming these departments will make them more widely accessible and comprehensible for the Tufts community and eradicate misconceptions that their old names reinforced. Both changes leave room for the unknown, as the departments pride themselves on incorporating new ideas, perspectives and voices.

“We wanted to reflect the fact that it is a much bigger field and there are still huge questions that [show] that we don’t know as much about that world as we think,” Hitchner said.


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