Shadi Bartsch, Ann L. & Lawrence B. Buttenwieser Professor in Classics and the History of CultureBy Jennifer Carnig
Shadi Bartsch is still shocked that she won a Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, but upon reading the letters that her students wrote in her favor, the only surprise is that it took so long for the Ann L. & Lawrence B. Buttenwieser Professor in Classics and the History of Culture to earn one.
Letter after letter praises Bartsch as demanding but fair, calling her a compassionate mentor who has a unique ability to foster intellectual debate and bring her subjects to life for her students. But just as many letters praise her for her work outside the classroom: One student wrote that Bartsch opened the doors of her home when she heard that the student’s apartment had been burglarized, while another wrote of her responding to an e-mail query while she was away on her honeymoon.
Despite all of this, Bartsch responds that she is surprised she won the award.
“In many ways, I don’t feel I deserve it,” she said. “I still have a lot to learn as far as graduate teaching is concerned.”
Bartsch will admit that it is an honor she is pleased to receive because it recognizes her efforts to mentor her students. Bartsch, who works primarily in Roman literature and culture, is known for her dedication and has a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty. While on her honeymoon, she responded to a student’s e-mail, commenting on a 40-page paper the student was writing.
“Students don’t ever get to take a holiday from their work, so why should I?,” Bartsch asks. “I try to support my students and be there for them. I know what it’s like to be an isolated grad student, and I want to make sure that my students don’t have the same experience. So I really do try to be there for them whenever they need me.”
Sometimes she is there for them in creative ways. Classics is known for its near-perfect placement record in finding work for its graduating students, and Bartsch is credited as being a key member of that process. Jobseekers go through mock interviews with a panel of Chicago faculty, and Bartsch often plays the snarky, old professor, scoffing at student’s work and critiquing it.
“Which is funny since it is work that I supervised,” Bartsch explained with a laugh. “It’s good training for them, though. I want them to know how to succeed no matter what the circumstances are.”
While Bartsch is modest about her teaching skills, she admits that the service she provides as mentor is helpful to her students. It is the part of the teacher-student relationship she finds most rewarding.
“We have something that grad students don’t have yet—experience,” she said. “We’ve already maneuvered the job market, we’ve already written our dissertations, we’ve already dealt with publishing, we know how to deal with our peers, we know about packaging one’s self. That’s the kind of advice I wish someone would have given me, so I’m more than happy to pass it along to others.”
Bartsch came to the University in 1998 from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her B.A. from Princeton University and both her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in Latin and Classics, respectively.
She is the author of Decoding the Ancient Novel: The Reader and the Role of Description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius (1989), Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian (1994) and Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s Civil War. (1998). Her most recent project, The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire, was published last month by the University Press.
Bartsch is currently looking at the problem of paradox involved in teaching philosophy through poetry for her next publication, tentatively titled Metaphors of Thought: Philosophy and the Figural in Persius’ Satires.
Bartsch was a 2004-2005 fellow at the Franke Institute for the Humanities and a 2000 recipient of a Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She was recently asked to deliver the 2006-2007 Gray Lectures at Cambridge University.