Andrew White takes Roman History students to see Julius Caesar at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton

Andrew White takes Roman History students to see Julius Caesar at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton
Students Jacob Burton, David Woodbury, Brianna Lapore, and Forrest Witt—with Dr. White seated in front

Given the proximity of GMU to the many museums and cultural heritage institutions in Washington, D.C. area, it shouldn’t be surprising that history and art history instructors would incorporate field trips into their classes. Such trips often provide memorable experiences for students. At the same time, it deserves mention that such field trips require major time investments on the part of the instructors. 

One of our instructors who recently put in such effort is Andrew White, a veteran adjunct professor in the department.  White, whose graduate training was in classical and Byzantine history, has taught our introductory Western Civilizations course for several years. This spring he taught HIST 302: Classical Rome. Before the course began he learned that the American Shakespeare Center would be staging a production of Julius Caesar at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. The ASC is a world-famous venue for Shakespeare, and it is well known for adopting staging practices that match, as closely as possible, the practices of Shakespeare’s day. White, who is also a theater artist and performing arts critic, wanted his students to attend the play so that they might see how Shakespeare treated Roman history.

One of the central themes of White’s course the dysfunction at the heart of the Republic that led to its downfall. The play provided the students with a window into how earlier minds understood the Republic’s collapse. The play also offered a distinctive perspective on Brutus, who the students had spend a good deal of time discussing in the class. White teaches Brutus as a figure-head—someone with a doubtful reputation who was persuaded to lead the plot against Caesar. The play, by contrast, emphasizes Brutus' stoicism and portrays him as something of a martyr.  

Taking the whole class would have involved renting a bus, which was prohibitively expensive. Instead White simply opened up the trip for any students who were interested, and four of his more committed students took him up on the offer. White, who has a longstanding relationship with ASC, arranged with the box office to give the students a discount, and ASC offered to give the students seats near the stage. White and his students met on a Saturday morning on campus, then drove to Staunton together for the play. On the way back to campus they stopped off for supper at the Blue Wing Frog in Strasburg, capping off a memorable learning experience for the students.