Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • Some knowledge of Greek History, and some work in ancient history at Level 3 is normally be required.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research in the sub-discipline of ancient history for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • 1. HISTORY AS A GENRE Did Herodotus invent history? What were the literary antecedents of Greek historical writing?
  • 2. HERODOTUS AND ORAL TRADITION What was the nature of Herodotus' sources? to what extent did he rely on oral traditions?
  • 3. HERODOTUS AND THE DEPICTION OF NON-GREEK PEOPLES How reliable are Herodotus' depictions of non-Greek peoples? To what extent are his accounts shaped by ethnocentric views of "the Barbarian"?
  • 4. HERODOTUS AND CONTEMPORARY INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENTS What contemporary trends in Greek thought shaped Herodotus' inquiries?
  • 5. RELIGION IN HERODOTUS What role did Herodotus think that the gods played in human history? Were his views about the gods conventional or unorthodox?
  • 6. THUCYDIDES ON THE CAUSES OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR How reliable is Thucydides' account of the origins of the Peloponnesian War? How selective and misleading is his account of the events leading up to the outbreak of the war?
  • 7. HISTORICAL METHOD OF THUCYDIDES What is Thucydides' view of the historical process? To what extent was his approach influenced by the thought of the Sophists?
  • 8. THUCYDIDES ON THE REFORMS OF 411: IDEOLOGY AND HISTORICAL RELIABILITY What can we conclude about Thucydides' historical methods from a comparison of his account of the events of 411 with that found in the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of Greek History to analyse the development of historical writing in Greece during the fifth century BCE. By the end of the module students should have read the works of Herodotus and Thucydides, acquired some familiarity with the social context and intellectual background to these works and have studied the nature of the sources available to these authors and the ways in which each one deploys the evidence at his disposal.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the analytical skills relevant to the handling of the written evidence for ancient ideas about history. In particular, they will be asked to examine the epigraphical and archaeological evidence for Greek history and to compare wit with the literary evidence of Herodotus and Thucydides.
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field which requires the evaluation of historical evidence and the ability to detect bias and distortion in written narrative as well as a capacity to understand the different (and sometimes alien) approaches to historical events. It also requires the effective use of library and IT resources; and good written presentation skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, which will be structured around a student presentation on the topic for the week. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought (viz. on the topics for which they make a presentation), as well as providing the opportunity to develop presentation skills. The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which there is an onus on everyone to engage in thought about the scope of the evidence and the coherence of the interpretation presented, encouraging critical reflection. The seminars are fortnightly and 2 hours long rather than (e.g.) weekly and one hour sessions in order to allow and encourage significant preparation, and detailed discussion.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and an appropriate source of relevant material – e.g. my own Level 2 module on Archaic Greece.
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays written up from the seminar presentations – at least two during the year. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year. These exercises will foster the ability to provide clear and detailed written articulation of philosophical positions and historical reconstruction, provide practice for the use of appropriate conventions and style in setting out written research, and ensure that research and assimilation of secondary literature is carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Two essays (one to be submitted in Michaelmas and one in Epiphany Term). These essays to be written up from oral presentations made in the seminar.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University