North American Scholar
SORUM, Christina Elliott
B.A., Wellesley, 1967; Ph.D., Brown, 1975.
- Professional Experience:
Asst. prof. class, North Carolina State, 1975-82; prof. and chair of classics dept., Union Coll. 1982-94; Frank Bailey Professor of Classics; Dean of the Faculty, 1994-9; Academic Vice Pres. 1999-2005.
“Monsters and the Family: A Study of Sophocles’ ‘Trachiniae’” (Brown, 1975).
“Monsters and the Family. The Exodus of Sophocles' Trachiniae,” GRBS 19 (1978) 59-73; “The Family in Sophocles' Antigone and Electra,” CW 75 (1982) 201-211; “The Authorship of the Agesilaus,” PP 39 (1984) 264-75; “Sophocles' Ajax in Context,” CW 79 (1986) 361-77; “Iphigenia's Choice at Aulis. Euripides' Use of Myth in Tragedy,” AAPhA (1987); “Euripides' Judgment : Literary Creation in Andromache,” AJP 116, 3 (1995) 371-388.
Christie (as she was known by all) Sorum was born and raised in Jacksonville, Illinois. She graduated from Wellesley College and received her Ph.D. from Brown under the supervision of Charles Segal. Her scholarship and pedagogical passion were in the field of Greek literature, with a particular interest in Greek tragedy. In a series of articles she investigated the techniques Sophocles and Euripides employed in incorporating such contemporary issues as the social significance of the family and gender roles within the traditional contexts of the plots of Greek tragedy. She was also deeply interested in myth and in later articles she analyzed how Euripides manipulated aspects of Greek mythology to provide perspective on the issues he addressed in his Andromache and Iphigenia at Aulis. Christie was an extremely popular teacher, and her Greek myth class often had the highest enrollment of any class at the college. Her true pedagogical gift, however, wasas a teacher of ancient Greek. Through her own enthusiasm and love for the language and its literature she was consistently able to recruit talented students into beginning Greek and instill in them her own contagious love of the language. When Christie came to Union in 1982, the administration of the college had only recently been persuaded not to close the department due to the loss of its two permanent members in the same year. In the decade that followed, when many colleges and universities were closing classics departments, Christie's skillful and energetic leadership of the department saw it double in size from two to four tenure lines and, not coincidentally, the department experienced a commensurate increase in enrollments and majors. Beyond her work for the students of Classics at Union, Christie was an extraordinary mentor of young faculty and a significant number of younger scholars (among them Ryan Balot, Tim Hofmeister, John Marincola, Gary Meltzer, Scott Scullion, Roberta Stewart, and the undersigned) had their first teaching experience or early years of teaching under Christie's guidance. By the early 1990s, an external review of the department recognized it as one of the best small Classics departments in the country.Christie's demonstrated talents as a leader and administrator led to her appointment during her last decade as Dean of Arts and Sciences and then Dean of the Faculty at Union. She deeply believed in the mission of a small liberal-arts college as an environment in which a teacher engages students in small classes and seminars so that they are compelled to grasp the difficult messages about thought, experience and knowledge in a way that is not likely to happen in other educational formats. She also believed that this mission was endangered by the trends towards pre-professionalism among students, and demands on faculty in the early stages of their careers for specialized research and publication. In an important article in the journal Daedalus (1999) she set out the challenges faced by liberal arts colleges as the millennium approached and suggested means of addressing them. Characteristically, rather than lament the increased research interests of faculty at liberal arts colleges, she welcomed it as an opportunity for teachers of undergraduates to maintain a high level of engagement and performance in their disciplines. At the same time, as the chief academic officer at Union, Christie worked to promote the intellectual environment for students by increasing the funding for undergraduate research (on which topic she co-authored two journal articles) and she was instrumental in Union's commitment of $20 million to redesign its residential environment for undergraduates around a "house-system" that will promote learning and inquiry outside the classroom. It is both poignant and indicative of the deep feelings she inspired in all with whom she came into contact that within three months of her death the college had raised over $1.5 million to name one of those houses in her honor. Though her sudden death leaves a gap that we shall not soon fill, her students and colleagues will continue to take inspiration from her love of Classics, her enthusiasm for the mission of higher education, and the personal warmth and concern with which she nurtured several generations of teachers and students.
APA Newsletter (October 2005) 20-21; Hallett, Judith P. “Christina Elliott Sorum (1944-2005).” Classical World 98.4 (2005) 443–445.
- Author: Mark Toher