Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS2841: Alexandria

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2841: Alexandria

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1601


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the field of classical reception, with reference both to the ancient world and to later cultures, through the city of Alexandria; to increase the depth and sophistication of students' readings of the ancient historians; to encourage students to develop a heightened critical awareness of the ways in which sources have been transmitted from the ancient world to contemporary scholarship.


  • Alexandria was, for a time, the greatest centre of learning in the ancient world: a cultural and intellectual crossroads like no other, where scholars, traders, artists and writers developed new ways of understanding the world and the past. Today, classical scholarship is profoundly in Alexandria's debt.
  • The search for Alexandria, however, is tangled up with loss. Its great library was destroyed. Its most famous monument, the tomb of Alexander the Great, has been sought in vain for over a thousand years. It is a city of fragments and incomplete understanding, a case study for the difficulty of recovering the past.
  • Different cultures have appropriated the classical past in very different ways, often translating and transforming it almost beyond recognition. Alexandria challenges us to think more critically about the ways in which ancient evidence has reached us: about the ancient scholars who shaped our understanding of the classical past; about why our sources look the way they do. The uses and abuses of Alexandria by later cultures should provoke us to re-examine our own preconceptions and biases, our own readings of the ancient evidence.
  • The first half of the module will consider ancient encounters with Alexandria from Augustus' viewing of Alexander's corpse to the destruction of the city's great library. The second half will consider more recent engagements with the city: from the Victorian con-men who sought Alexander's tomb, to the allusive poetry of Cavafy. The two halves of the module will mirror each other, so that students will consider the same themes, albeit applied to different material, in each section. Throughout, students will be encouraged to link the two halves of the module: identifying similar issues in play in very different contexts, and exploring the ways in which the past was received and transformed in antiquity just as powerfully as in later cultures.
  • Seminars will be designed to introduce students to key theoretical and practical aspects of work in classical reception studies: from engaging with digital databases, to evaluating current methodologies within the field. Collaborative approaches to these questions will be emphasized, including a formative oral presentation in Epiphany Term.
  • The module will be assessed through two summative essays, the first on ancient Alexandria, the second on Alexandria's later receptions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A theoretically informed understanding of classical reception studies, both within the ancient world and in later cultures.
  • Broad and sophisticated knowledge of the city of Alexandria, and of its cultural and intellectual life.
  • Understanding of some of the key ways in which literary and material sources have been transmitted from the ancient world to contemporary scholarship.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critical skills in the close reading and analysis of ancient texts, including the ability to synthesize, interpret and evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary source material.
  • The ability to conduct self-directed primary research, using physical and digital sources.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to construct a lucid and sophisticated argument in written form.
  • The capacity for critical thinking and independent judgement.
  • Information technology skills, including the use of advanced electronic resources, online archives and databases.
  • Oral presentation skills will be developed through a formative seminar presentation.

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 extended discussion of key sources.
  • Tutorials will be designed to provide small-group feedback on essays.
  • Students will be encouraged to utilize the extensive range of electronic resources available for primary research within classical reception.
  • Assessment will take place through essays, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the course through self-directed research, engaging closely both with primary sources and with broader questions of historiography and reception

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 2 per week in Michaelmas term 1 hour 20
Seminars 6 6 in Michaelmas term 1 hour 6
Preparation and reading 174
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay 1 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2500 words 100% Yes
Component: Essay 2 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2500 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise

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