Shine: Eric Dugdale

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 by

CORE VALUE: COMMUNITY. Eric Dugdale brings students into collaborative research on the Venetus A, the oldest surviving manuscript of Homer’s Iliad. Seven students have traveled to the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., to learn to read the manuscript and enter its text and commentary in XML mark-up language, creating the first complete edition. They return to teach other Gustie students. (Photo: Becca Sabot)

(Shine profiles celebrate members of the Gustavus community who are shining examples of one of the Gustavus core values.)

How do we learn empathy?

The short answer is from trying to understand the feelings of others. The long answer is worth a lifetime of reflection. Few would answer, “from the Greek tragedies.” But classics professor Eric Dugdale would, and so would his collaborators.

“We often neglect the very elements that lie at the heart of Greek tragedy,” Dugdale says of his scholarly muse and teaching medium. But to understand the emotional effects and moral dimensions of the tragedies, Dugdale thinks they should be consumed as intended: as performance.

“It is a shame to be studying theater without performing it,” Dugdale says. “Stepping into somebody else’s shoes is a powerful way of learning empathy.” For the past 14 years he’s taken the tragedies out of the textbooks and into the Linnaeus Arboretum, where students stage a Festival of Dionysus every two years. Groups of students pick a scene and bring it to life, sometimes with hand-crafted masks (like the one pictured here), sometimes in contemporary contexts, like Partly Cloudy, a modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Clouds. Students spend April and May creating and rehearsing, and external judges (including an alum) rank the performances. “Just like the ancient Festival, this is a competition,” Dugdale says.

But the learning is in the collaboration. Dugdale swears by collective work, even in humanities research, where it is rarely attempted. He’s currently working with Gustavus political science professor Mimi Gerstbauer on a scholarly article on restorative justice in Aeschylus’ Eumenides. “It’s about how forms of justice move from vendetta to trial by jury, and how even that is not an effective solution,” Dugdale says. And he was recently named associate provost and dean of general education, a position in which he will work closely with Theatre and Dance professor Micah Maatman, the new associate provost and dean of arts and humanities.

This past fall, Dugdale studied at his undergraduate alma mater, Oxford, where a repository of modern productions of ancient drama helped him understand where the empathy comes from. “There is a lot of evidence to suggest that these plays had a big impact on their audiences,” Dugdale says. “Like in a big concert, there is that electricity.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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