Thucydides and the Idea of History (CLA3045)

StaffProfessor Neville Morley - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aims of this module are to understand the nature of Thucydides’ approach to studying the past, setting it in the wider context of his times, and to explore the ways in which he develops and presents his findings; and also to understand the history of the reception of his work, and the ways in which it has been interpreted as a model for modern historiography and the wider human sciences. Students will study key passages in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War in detail, developing their understanding of ancient historiography, but will also engage with later interpretations and evocations of the work, not only by historians but also by political scientists, international relations theorists and creative writers; they will develop their skills in the critical interpretation of a variety of ancient and modern texts.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate detailed knowledge and understanding of Thucydides’ work in general, including his conception of historiography, and of key passages within his account.
  • 2. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of different traditions of interpretation of Thucydides, and of the different ways in which his ideas have been deployed in modern debates.
  • 3. Analyse specific passages of Thucydides critically, and show how they relate to wider debates about the nature of historiography, the workings of politics, and the origins of war.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Analyse passages of ancient sources, identify the relevant contexts for understanding them, and offer plausible interpretations of your own.
  • 5. Show knowledge and understanding of the tradition of receiving the classics in the modern world, and how these shape our readings of ancient texts.
  • 6. Show knowledge and understanding of how different theoretical approaches influence interpretations of ancient texts and their significance.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate your ability to conduct independent research, including the use of a wide range of library and online resources, to identify, evaluate and organize relevant material.
  • 8. Demonstrate your ability to analyse a wide range of sources and arguments critically.
  • 9. Demonstrate your ability to construct coherent, relevant and plausible arguments based on your knowledge and understanding, and to present these clearly and effectively both in writing and orally.
  • 10. Demonstrate your ability to work effectively with others, and to contribute constructively to group discussion.

Syllabus plan

Topics will include: the idea of the perfect historian, the use of evidence, the relationship between history and myth, the ideas of objectivity and impartiality, the use of rhetoric, the construction of historian narratives, the idea of history as science, the role of theory in history, history as science, history as art, the usefulness of historical knowledge, Thucydides’ interpretations of the outbreak of war, the dynamics of imperialism, the nature of the international order, the operations of democracy, the idea of Thucydides in modern culture.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminars (22 x 2 hours), involving a mixture of general discussion directed by the lecturer, small-group work and student presentations.
Guided independent study256Students working independently and in groups preparing for seminars and assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
PresentationIn class; 10-15 minutes including questions and discussion1-10Oral and written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation1520 minutes including questions and discussion1-10Mark; written and oral feedback
Commentary 1151500 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Commentary 2 (revised version of 1)252000 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Essay 1152500 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Essay 2 (revised version of 1)304000 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PresentationTranscript & Handout1-10referral/deferral period
CommentaryCommentary1-9referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-9referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Connor, W.R. (1987) Thucydides, Princeton

Greenwood, E. (2006) Thucydides and the Shaping of History, London

Harloe, K. & Morley, N., eds. (2012) Thucydides and the Modern World, Cambridge

Lee, C. & Morley, N., eds. (2015) A Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides, Malden MA

Meineke, S. (2006) ‘Thucydidism’, in Brill’s New Pauly, Leiden, available online.

Morley, N. (2014) Thucydides and the Idea of History, London

Rengakos, A. & Tsakmakis, A., eds. (2006) Brill’s Companion to Thucydides, Leiden

Rusten, J., ed. (2009) Thucydides (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies), Oxford

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Key words search

Thucydides, historiography, political theory, classical reception