Excellence in Teaching
Associate Professor of Classics
College of Liberal Arts
Right: In the foyer at Murkland Hall, Stephen Brunet and his son, Christopher, hold a replica of a Corinthian helmet.
Et tu, Brunet?
In the common area outside Associate Professor Stephen Brunet's office In the common area outside Associate Professor Stephen Brunet's office in Murkland Hall, the tables are filled each day, and into the evenings, with students. This is "classics central," home of a program respected equally for its quality and consideration for students. "We're tough. We hold high expectations," acknowledges Brunet, who makes it a habit to keep his door open for the inquiring minds outside.
Brunet wants his students—and the program—to succeed. The ancient Greeks, with their "winning is everything" mentality, would admire his drive. The California native received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1998 and joined the UNH faculty that same year. He feels lucky to have been in the position to help hire his colleagues and build the program with them. "We all came in together and share similar interests and can cover a broad range of subjects." It's a collaborative environment, yet challenging in a small department, where faculty rarely teach the same course twice. Brunet is optimistic about the growing enrollments in his Latin courses. Those numbers could translate into future Latin teachers, something Brunet feels the world urgently needs.
The challenge of mastering the ancient languages ("the weirder, the better," says Brunet) is a big draw for students interested in linguistics, and he points with pride to the fact that the UNH classics program is one of the few in public higher education to offer Hittite and Sanskrit.
While essential, the languages are not enough. "Classics students have to know everything," he says. "There's far more to the field than reading the texts. They need to know ancient history. They need a good cultural background to understand the literature and the art."
Brunet says that some are drawn to the classics for deeper insights into their own areas of scholarship. "There's no way to understand English literature without understanding Greek literature," he explains. "Students of Milton or Joyce need to understand classical mythology to fully appreciate the references."
As a graduate student, Brunet thought his scholarship would focus on ancient philosophy, but when he was asked to teach a course on ancient sports, he realized that his true interest was in the historical development of the Greek and Roman games. "To understand the Greeks you have to understand their attitudes toward competition," he says. Such esoteric topics as dwarf gladiators, ancient boxing, and chariot racing fall within the arena of his scholarship, and his expertise has made him a commentator and consultant for several films and documentaries.
His students admire him without reservation. "He is never merely a teacher of the topic. He is a mentor of the mind, and a staunch supporter of each student as a whole," says classics major Michelle LeBlanc.
Brunet takes his teaching seriously and believes that personality and passion are implicit in the mix. "Most of the best teachers are 110 percent of whoever they are. They are memorable because they are unusual, or opinionated, or have their own particular character," he says. And so it is for him. His students fondly recall his famous Ablative of Separation dance. And once, while teaching in Ascoli Piceno with the UNH-in-Italy program, his students wore suspenders—his trademark wardrobe accessory—in emulation, to complete their Carnevale costumes.
That his students trust him enough to accompany him on their mutual educational odyssey amazes him. "What I can accomplish is very much due to the efforts of my students. Although I do not say it often enough, I greatly appreciate students' willingness to take on challenging assignments that in the end help them better understand the ancient world. We attempt to give the whole classics story. It's a complex subject with different aspects. There's something for every one of our students."