When you’re a college student, you quickly get used to people asking you what you study. It’s a good “get to know you” question, an easy way to begin a conversation. This being said, upon entering into college, I expected “What’s your major?” and “What do you study in school?” to be hurled at me left and right. What I didn’t expect was the plethora of judgment that met my answer.
I’d thought, following my answer of “Anthropology and Classical Studies,” my conversation partner’s eyes would light up with interest and they would request as much information as I could give them on these fascinating subjects. Yes, my imaginary “get to know you” scene is a bit romanticized, but I must admit it was what I’d hoped for.
A multitude of “And what do you plan to do with that?” and “Isn’t that a little impractical?” and even a few “Well, you won’t make much money, but at least you’ll be happy!” is what I got instead.
At first I was confused and, frankly, a little hurt. Why would these people I just met say such things?
Certainly much of the judgment comes from the fact that neither Anthropology nor Classical Studies are considered particularly advantageous in the job market. I understand this. I’m not blind to the fact that my fields of study are not at the top of the list of lucrative college majors.
Still, I would argue that there is more to these responses than a simple concern for my future career and earnings. The root of the issue, I think, is that people don’t understand why I would want to study the past in today’s modern, technology-driven world.
Well, I would invite these folks to visit Rome.
Rome is so overflowing with history it’s almost tangible. The past can be seen almost anywhere, and it’s all mixed in with the present in a fascinating composition of ancient and modern. My internship placement, the American Academy in Rome, has an ancient aqueduct underneath it that you can access through a hole in the floor. When I went to a dance club one night, I noticed myself surrounded by opus listatum walls and the musky scent of ancient bricks.The plentiful fountains throughout the modern city allude to the ways in which ancient Romans would have gotten their drinking water. This is all to say modern Romans have a completely unique relationship with the material past the likes of which I’ve never seen before in my life.
The past is constantly affecting the present, and there are few places that illustrate this fact better than Rome. The city shows both its inhabitants and its visitors the importance of learning from those that came before us, and how we can take these lessons and use them to better improve our present lives.
Just like everywhere else, I’ve had plenty of people in Rome ask me what I study in college. Instead of the usual questioning of the wisdom of my choices, though, people in Rome respond with “Well, you’re certainly in the right place!”
In the city of Rome, perhaps for the first time, I feel like I am truly understood.