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Faculty in Focus: Professor Whitlach

Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics Lisa Whitlatch studies the ancient world, but her expertise and dedication to her students makes it all seem brand new.

Whitlatch graduated from Trinity University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mediterranean studies. She completed her Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy degrees in classics at Rutgers University and received her Ph.D. from the same institution in 2013. After teaching at her Alma Mater, Trinity University, she came to the classics department at St. Olaf. This is Whitlatch’s second year on the Hill, and she has gained an appreciation for the nuances of our unique campus.

Whitlatch’s primary academic interest is in Latin poetry – specifically, poetry that focuses on ancient hunting. She most often looks at works by Ovid and Lucretius.

“I look at how hunting is used as a metaphor in poetry to think about knowledge and education, and whether knowledge is something that you can acquire, that’s something finite or if it’s something that is subjective – and we are never full able to obtain that,” she said.

Recently, Whitlatch published an article titled “Empiricist Dogs and the Superiority of Philosophy in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura” in Classical World. Interested students can find the full text of her piece on Project Muse.

Whitlatch studies both Latin and Greek, and although her research focuses on Latin poetry, she finds Greek to be the superior language. Latin, she believes, is a relatively simple, lovely and more direct language; however, the limited vocabulary gives less opportunity for compositional freedom. Greek, she argues, is objectionably better because it is more complex and contains a larger vocabulary. She finds that people who write in Greek have opportunities for more freedom and more nuance.

Although she enjoys research, working with students is Whitlatch’s favorite part of her job. She noted the rigor of St. Olaf’s classics department and acknowledged that it demands a great deal from the students who participate in the language classes. She feels that the work is worthwhile because students become proficient in Greek and Latin in a short amount of time. Whitlatch enjoys teaching such motivated and eager students.

“The students bring a lot to the classes, and it’s been a real pleasure to have classics students come in and meet with me outside of class,” she said. “I’ve also gotten to do a few independent studies with students, which I wasn’t able to do at my other schools. I’ve gotten to work with students on projects that they want to do and help guide them through their research.”

Whitlatch teaches a variety of classes, including Beginning and Intermediate Latin, Intermediate and Advanced Greek, Mythology, The Golden Age of Greece and her an interim class of her own design about the appearance of animals in Roman society.

One aspect of teaching at St. Olaf that surprised Whitlatch was musical intuition of students and staff.

“I was at chapel very early on, and I was there with Anne Groton, James May and some of the other professors,” she said. “Not having much music experience prior, when we got to the verse where everybody started singing in harmony, I remember thinking, ‘What is happening?’ It sounded gorgeous, but everyone was singing different things than I was!”

After her first few weeks on the Hill, Whitlatch became significantly involved in music. As a member of Collegiate Chorale, she enjoys singing with women from many areas of the community, and she looks forward to their upcoming performance on May 11. She also plays handbells in the choir at St. Dominic’s Church in Northfield.

When she isn’t teaching or attending rehearsal, Whitlatch spends her time volunteering at an ESL program through the Dakota Plains Adult Basic Education initiative. She also enjoys action shows and admitted to marathoning “Daredevil” over spring break. Another of Whitlatch’s passions is fiction writing. Not only does she enjoy it, but has also been a way for her to stay in touch with friends from grad school. She writes fantasy and science fiction and shares her work with her online writing group.

As the academic year comes to a close, Whitlatch encourages students to persevere.

“Right now I think everyone’s goal should be to survive the semester,” she said. “Survive the semester and be good to one another – that should be our goal for the next month. Let’s just work on that.”