Photo by Brendan Weston, Courtesy of the Paideia Institute

One of the world's leading Latin experts will begin teaching at Cornell next fall after serving at the Vatican.

January 30, 2017

Cornell Classics Appointment Marks ‘Tectonic Shift’ for the Study of Classics

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Switching his boss from the Pope to Cornell president-elect Martha Pollack, Daniel Gallagher is leaving his post as papal secretary in the Vatican to teach in the classics department starting this fall.

“The appointment of Dan Gallagher to Cornell’s classics department is a milestone in the teaching of Latin nationwide,” Interim President Hunter Rawlings told The Sun. “Dan is the foremost exponent of spoken Latin in the world.”

The position of ‘Professor of the Practice’ is given to faculty with significant experience in industry or other non-academic organizations to complement tenure-track or non-tenure track faculty within a department.

“I think this may be the only Professor of the Practice of Latin we’re likely to see,” said Prof. Mike Fontaine, classics. “It’s the chance of a lifetime to nab the successor of Poggio Bracciolini and Lorenzo Valla and these incredible Renaissance Latinists that did the same job Dan has been doing.”

As the Ralph and Jeanne Kanders Associate Professor of the Practice in Latin, Gallagher hopes to enhance Cornell’s spoken Latin program.

“Because this method of teaching Latin is catching on everywhere today, and because our classics department already has Mike Fontaine as a leading professor in this field, Cornell will quickly become THE place for students to study Latin in this active and engaged way,” Rawlings said.

In the Vatican’s Office of Latin Letters, Gallagher worked with Latinists from around the world to translate all official letters of the Pope into Latin — the official language of the Catholic Church. In this position, Gallagher was a direct successor of renowned classicists including Reginald Foster, Lorenzo Valla and Poggio Bracciolini.

These official letters included all material from the Pope, including sermons, speeches, correspondences and even the Pope’s Twitter feed. Tweets in Latin coming straight from the Vatican became one of the Church’s most successful public relations endeavors, according to Gallagher.

Fitting a Latin phrase into the 140 character constraint proved easy for Gallagher and the other Latinists. In fact, the very concept is not much of a novelty for the ancient language.

“[There are] plenty of examples from Latin literature of things that would qualify today as tweets in Latin — by Martial and Catullus, in these short pithy sayings,” Gallagher said to The Sun.

While tweeting occupied a very small fraction of Gallagher’s day to day work, he found that the tweets became a “great pedagogical tool” to engage students in spoken Latin.

When working in the Vatican office, Gallagher and the other Latinists pushed themselves to speak almost entirely in Latin. This involved discussion ranging from work to modern politics to the latest soccer game.

“By speaking Latin in the office it would save us time because we would be warmed up all the time,” Gallagher said. “We also are equally convinced that the value of spoken Latin for actually teaching and learning Latin.”

Gallagher plans to teach at Cornell in the same way, using spoken Latin not as an immersion tool but rather to help students access literature and enhance their ability to understand texts.

In this method, learning Latin loses its threatening reputation and can be viewed similarly to learning any other living language. For Gallagher, this also helps to break down the misconception that Latin is an overly difficult language.

“The most successful thing that we can do is to realize that there is an extreme value of just teaching Latin as a language,” said Gallagher. “The sense of satisfaction and confidence that one gets from doing that kind of approach to the language is enormous.”

By expanding spoken Latin in the classics department, Cornell’s classics department is set to launch itself above other universities in the discipline.

“Hiring Gallagher is brilliant — nothing short of a tectonic shift for the discipline,” said Charles McNamara, SCS/NEH Fellow at the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae and former colleague of Gallagher at the Paideia Institute, where Gallagher teaches a living Latin course.

“Cornell has pretty much with a single appointment turned itself into the foremost department in the Ivy League for living Latin,” said John Kuhner, president of SALVI, a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting the study of Latin in America.

Prof. Matthew McGowan, classics, Fordham University noted that the range of spoken Latin Cornell will now have will propel the classics program.

“What you are getting in those two scholars is not only great proficiency in the active use of the Latin language, but also great coverage in Latin literature,” McGowan said. “The breadth and depth there [in Gallagher and Fontaine] is really enviable and bodes well for the present and future of Classics at Cornell.”

Gallagher’s particular teaching style also earned praise from Cornell students who studied under him at Paideia.

“I was beyond thrilled to find out that Daniel Gallagher will be teaching at Cornell University,” said Luby Kiriakidi ’18. “He is a very charismatic and engaging teacher. His grasp of Latin is unbelievable — when he speaks or lectures in Latin, it seems as if he is thinking in it too.”

Pointing to his abilities as a patient, receptive and knowledgeable teacher at Paideia, Erial Zheng ’18 said “we as students are very lucky to be able to learn from him.”

“His experience working in the Vatican as one of the Pope’s Latin secretaries allows him to bring the ancient language into our modern world with exceptional vitality and vibrancy,” said Scott Rodeo ’18. “Just by listening to his ecclesiastical pronunciations of archaic passages, you can instantly sense the undeniable significance and vast history of the language.”