Ann Steiner (provost of Franklin and Marshall College)

Posted April 14th, 2011 at 8:39 am.

I met Mabel Lang in the fall of 1970 when I arrived at Bryn Mawr as a transfer student, infatuated with classical archaeology and having no idea of the many challenges that lay ahead, e.g., ancient Greek.  My class (1973) was characterized by hoards of baby Greeklings–Miss Lang had to open a second section to  accommodate nearly 50 students.  Even then I appreciated what an amazing response that was to what some might have thought was a disaster.  Miss Lang’s dedication and her matter-of-fact professionalism were always evident.  It was obvious from the outset that she  was a master and a character, but I had no idea what a profound effect she would have on my education and later on my own development as a teacher and a scholar.

In my years as an undergraduate and graduate student at Bryn Mawr, I had Mabel in every type of class–after Elementary Greek, I took Greek history and in my senior year  wrote an independent Study project  with her one on one.  As a graduate student, a year long Homer seminar formed the most coherent academic experience of my graduate career — amazing,  as I was a student in classical and near eastern archaeology and most of my course work was in that department.

Mabel deeply influenced  my own teaching.  From her I learned not to be ashamed of old-fashioned pedagogies like rote learning that cultivated memorization.  I can still remember where I sat in our classroom as we went around, rapid fire, chanting principal parts.  She deployed experiential learning before it was a trend, and I still remember excitedly channeling Solon to complete my own speech in his voice for a history assignment.  When she asked us, on our final exam, to compare the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian Wars to the American Revolution and Civil Wars, I began to get an inkling of what my liberal arts education was all about.

Everything about a Miss Lang course was meticulously planned.  In her Homer seminar, each week brought an array of scholarship interpreting the passages we read.  The list went up on Tuesday morning;  class was Monday afternoon.  From her style of course management, I learned how much better students learn when a course is carefully structured and goals are clearly laid out.  She was quick to point out error, but her confidence was unstinting–I will never forget her presentation of Linear A, stating that she believed one of us might well unlock the code “…out of the mouths of babes…”, she said, her voice rising in a note of hopefulness.

Her standards were the highest;  her criticism cut to the bone, and her compliments meaningful.  When she told me that my final Homer paper “deserved wider dissemination”  it was a pivotal moment for me, imparting confidence that served as a fixed point to which I could return to seek  refuge and to regain confidence in the stormy seas of academic life.

She was unendingly curious and marvelously inventive.  She was often very funny.  I will never forget her telling me that she had to be sure to buy expensive clothes because she didn’t have good taste.

When I began my own career as a scholar and a teacher, I revisited my memories of  Mabel’s classes  many times as I developed my own.  Some of my most pleasurable moments as a scholar came when I used her Agora volumes on the Graffiti and the Ostraka.  Her idiom, her succinct turn of phrase, her amusement at human nature all came through in those scholarly works.

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