Pitchfork reviews Macalester Classes

History of the Roman Empire

Professor Jeffrey Coarelli

Spring Semester 2013

Best New Class (9.3)

After giving his critically acclaimed debut course “History of the Roman Republic” in the fall, Jeffrey Coarelli’s artistic direction remained in limbo. His angular use of multi-media as well as nuanced (and sensible) approach to assessment font sizes left students with a renewed näivety for the 500 years of history that encompassed the Roman Republic.

Yet, after a brief hiatus over January, Coarelli was back doing what he does best. But it’s his coy interaction of parallel and perpendicular content changes what makes this shimmering sophomore effort a worthwhile endeavor. All the reasons why we attended “History of the Roman Republic” on Tuesdays and Thursdays are here, but they are expanded on a macro and micro scale.

The course begins with a lecture on the last great men of the Roman Republic and the shifting, but not dynamic, power structure of Roman Society in the mid 1st Century B.C.E. The declaration of Caesar as the first emperor is controversial, but not contentious. When Corarelli states, “Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.E,” the listener is asked to engage with the stark ambiguity of this statement that drives a splinter into the chasm of cultural understanding. This analysis revels in the sometimes dark and brooding shadow cast by ancient authors such as the enigmatic Tacitus and the chaste, but curious, Suetonius.

Coarelli’s craft at formulating successful, harmonious, ubiquitous, and frivolous lectures is prevalent in his treatment of the Flavian Dynasty and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Here, the blissful intercourse of primary and secondary texts within the classroom lead to a harrowing journey of self-identification and historicization of the Roman Imperial experience.

At times “History of the Roman Empire” feels derivative of seminal works such as Jones’ stunning “Emperors, Christians, and the Provinces” or Freeman’s Magnum Opus “Romans.” Yet, the course feels fresh, but never youthful, even with an explicit acknowledgment of the groundwork laid by other master craftsman.

In his final lecture titled “Legacy of the Romans” Coarelli states: “Life and civilization are unique combinations of the human experience.” After finishing this course, these lines will never resonate more coming from a man who has proven his capacity to be one of the eminent instructors of recent semesters.


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