Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS3731: Technologies of Knowledge in Antiquity

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3731: Technologies of Knowledge in Antiquity

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601 or a Philosophy module at Level 2


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to a variety of modes of thinking about knowledge and its technologies in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, history, and science
  • To examine the continuity and change in ancient scientific epistemology, from oral transmission of knowledge to archiving and encyclopaedic arrangements
  • To understand how philosophy and science are implicated in their developments in the ancient world
  • To explore and analyse a range of relevant sources and the benefits and difficulties of using them together
  • To consider 20th and 21st scholarly approaches to these issues, and to evaluate them in relation to the ancient evidence


  • Scholars of Classics and Ancient History now regularly recognise that approaches to memory and knowledge are contingent, and culturally specific, in the ancient world. What is often less well known is how the ancient Greeks and Romans developed their own sophisticated theories of knowledge and memory, with a special emphasis on identifying the collection and arrangement of knowledge by appeal to a particular "techne/ars" ("art" or "skill"). Hence, one can speak of "technologies of knowledge", which range from oral transmission of poetry in Archaic Greece to the project of archiving previous scientific knowledge in the Roman Empire. Moreover, it is the case that ancient intellectuals, including philosophers, historians, and writers of so-called ˜technical" treatises, developed their own theories about this process of knowledge organization and production, evaluating it according to the scientific and ethical contributions it makes to society and human life. This module would seek to elucidate both the scholarly approaches to memory and knowledge in antiquity, which are often borne out of anthropological models rooted in human psychology, and the ancients' own approaches to memory and knowledge, which are more invested in facilitating a universal knowledge of the world that is, concurrently, ethical in outlook. Hence, the module would seek to investigate and explain the differences between the modern and the ancient ways of understanding how ancient knowledge was preserved and organized.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A basic knowledge of the major developments in ancient philosophical, scientific, and historical epistemology, across several areas (mathematics, physics, cosmology, musicology, biology, mechanics, anthropology, history)
  • An awareness of the extensive evidence "philosophical, historical, literary, material" available for studying ancient knowledge and theories of its organization
  • An understanding of key topics of study for this period, including "science", "knowledge", "technology", "theory", "practice", "memory", and "archive"
  • A critical knowledge of approaches and debates in both ancient and current scholarship on these subjects.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a broad range of primary sources from the ancient world, including Greek and Latin writings (in translation) from subjects as apparently disparate as philosophy, history, science, and technology
  • The capacity to evaluate the inherent values and problems with particular types of ancient sources and to use them judiciously to construct a careful and nuanced picture of the development of scientific epistemology in antiquity
  • The ability to engage critically with modern literature on the technologies of knowledge and their applications to ancient knowledge organization
Key Skills:
  • The ability to assess and compare a range of different arguments and approaches.
  • The ability to use diverse types of evidence to build up a cumulative picture.
  • The capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form.
  • The capacity to compare and contrast ancient and modern arguments concerning the issue.

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

  • Lectures introduce students to the chronology and typology of the various sciences and the ways in which knowledge is organized for them
  • Seminars will treat topics designed to complement the lecture series, allowing students to explore collectively their own ideas about the courses' major themes. Each seminar will treat a contained case study through prepared portfolios of ancient evidence and select pieces of secondary scholarship (both classic pieces and cutting-edge scholarship).
  • Tutorials provide the opportunity to explore in more depth topics of students' choice, and to receive detailed feedback on written and oral work.
  • Oral Presentations allow students to present a specific topic to their peers, and to reflect upon how the mode of exposition conditions the reception and construction of knowledge

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 Weekly 1 hour 20
Tutorials 2 1 per term in Epiphany and Easter terms 1 hour 2
Seminars 5 3 in Michaelmas term and 2 in Epiphany term 1 hour 5
Preparation and reading 173

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 words 100% Yes
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 words 100% Yes
Component: Oral Presentation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Oral Presentation 15 minutes 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