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Unit information: Approaches to Ancient History in 2014/15

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Unit name Approaches to Ancient History
Unit code CLAS22404
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Morley
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

How do ancient historians 'do' ancient history? Students are usually left to discover this through a process of trial and error, attempting to produce work that satisfies their teachers as if the practice of history is something that doesn't actually need to be taught. In this unit, however, we shall be concentrating on questions of historical theory and methodology: not learning facts about the ancient world, but investigating how historians go about identifying 'facts' and putting them together to construct narratives about the past. We shall be studying key debates in the philosophy of history (for example, whether historians can succeed in producing objective accounts of 'how it really was' in the past, and how far historical texts should be studied as a kind of literature), and looking at various theories which can be used in the study of antiquity.


  • To teach students some of the key theories and methodologies of writing history.
  • To enable students to feel comfortable using models and comparative approaches in their own work as well as to analyse their use in the work of others.
  • To encourage students to question more traditional factual and narrative accounts of history and to reflect on what it means to write ancient history.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students should:

  • be familiar with the main issues involved in the theory and philosophy of history, and in the application of theories to the study of ancient history. They should be familiar with the basic ideas and concepts of a variety of theoretical approaches.
  • have had some experience of considering how different theories are used in ancient history and assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches.
  • be able to use the knowledge acquired in lectures and through their own researches to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on the uses of historical theory and methods.
  • have had the opportunity to develop their skills in oral and written communication, in small groups and in general discussion, and in completing a range of tasks for a portfolio. They should also have gained experience in developing their own ideas, identifying key issues and evaluating historical accounts critically.

Teaching Information

Lectures and seminars.

Assessment Information

An analysis of an article or book chapter (1250 words, 25%)

A book review (1250 words, 25%)

A theoretical assessment (2500 words, 50%).

Reading and References

  • M. Fulbrook, Historical Theory (2002)
  • K. Jenkins, Re-Thinking History (1995)
  • N. Morley, Writing Ancient History (1999)
  • N. Morley, Theories, Models and Concepts in Ancient History (2004)
  • H. White, ‘The burden of history’, in Tropics of Discourse (1978).