Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • N/A


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce styles, functions and uses of specific objects, and of material culture in general, in the Greek and Roman world from the archaic period to late antiquity.
  • To explore and analyse a range of relevant visual and material sources, their benefits and difficulties.
  • To help students to acquire skills in looking at a wide range of visual material (including painting, mosaic, sculpture, buildings, inscriptions, coins, and religious and domestic objects) in different ways and in using specialist scholarly terminology and the language of visual criticism.
  • To understand key methodological issues in ancient art history and the historiography of ancient material culture and the potential uses of this material for wider classical studies.
  • To consider how the lives of objects from their creation to their conservation are constituted by social, economic, political, and religious circumstances.
  • To assess the difference between the design of an object, its interpretations and the uses it is put to by different groups of people at different times in different contexts.
  • To give students the necessary subject-specific skills and foundation to pursue more advanced study of visual and material culture at Levels 2, 3 and 4.


  • This module offers a survey of various objects and types of objects, from both Greek and Roman contexts. While the chronological span ranges from the Archaic period to late antiquity, teaching will include both self-contained classes, one per each object, and overarching themes germane to more than one class.
  • Students will be exposed to various ways of looking at an object: art history, aesthetic critique, typological classification, archaeological considerations of provenance, context and assemblage, history of technology and making, user-based considerations, and reception theories. Case-studies may range from the Mask of Agamemnon to the Arch of Constantine, and from Roman republican coins and loom weights to large-scale imperial monuments.
  • Students will be able to make connections with other modules, and complement their text-based learning with wider considerations of the material culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, and of the materiality underpinning the classical texts. Students will also be exposed to some of the historiography of objects, including recent scholarship on the lives of things.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of ancient material sources, art (painting, sculpture, architecture, mosaic) and archaeology.
  • An awareness of the diverse evidence available for studying material culture in antiquity and the benefits of and problems with using it in combination with textual and literary sources.
  • An understanding of the processes by which ancient objects were produced, displayed, used and re-used, and the means by which modern historians and art historians seek to understand such processes.
  • An awareness of the differences in approach and methodology for different disciplines, including history, art history, archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics.
  • An introduction to approaches and debates in both classic and current scholarship on art history and material culture.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • A developing ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a range of primary sources from the ancient world which is not limited to textual sources.
  • A developing ability to recognise that textual sources are also material, and that material sources can be read like texts, and to bring that awareness to bear on one’s understanding of the transmission and reception of those sources.
  • A developing capacity to evaluate the inherent values and problems associated with particular types of ancient sources and to use these sources judiciously to construct a careful and nuanced picture of antiquity.
  • A developing ability to engage critically with modern literature on material culture, objects, cultural appropriation and cultural heritage, and situate independent thinking in relation to this scholarly “landscape”.
  • A developing awareness of the different media of ancient material culture (e.g. painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative arts and crafts) and of the relationship between those media.
Key Skills:
  • A developing ability to assess and compare a range of different arguments and approaches.
  • A developing ability to use diverse, material and visual types of evidence both to supplement textual evidence and on their own terms, and to build up a cumulative picture.
  • A developing capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form.

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

  • Lectures will provide an overview of the material, and engage closely with relevant primary and secondary sources.
  • Suggested bibliography for each lecture will encourage students to develop their own areas of interest within the course as it progresses.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for close reading and viewing, ideally drawing on material in local collections in Durham and the North-East, and extended discussion of key sources.
  • Assessment will take place through essays, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the course, engaging closely both with primary sources and with broader questions

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week 1 hour 20
Seminars 6 3 in Michaelmas Term, 3 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 6
Tutorials 2 1 in Epiphany Term, 1 in Easter Term 1 hour 2
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Gobbet and essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Interpretative object-based commentary 1,500 words 40% Yes
Essay 3,000 words 60% Yes

Formative Assessment:

1 blog entry; 1 presentation (c.10 minutes).

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