Thucydides and the Idea of History

Module titleThucydides and the Idea of History
Module codeCLA3045
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Neville Morley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Thucydides was one of the first to write what we now call ‘history’; his work has in many ways defined the genre – not least because he aimed to establish his approach to understanding the past as a template for future generations. This module will explore different aspects of Thucydides’ historiography, from its methodological and critical principles to its narrative structure and rhetorical techniques, and consider how these have influenced modern conceptions. Thucydides has regularly been put forward as a model for contemporary historians and social scientists – but the way his work is understood has changed significantly over time.

Module aims - intentions of the module

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.
  • 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.
  • You will study key passages in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War in detail, developing your understanding of ancient historiography.
  • Engage with later interpretations and evocations of the work, not only by historians but also by political scientists, international relations theorists and creative writers.
  • Develop your skills in the critical interpretation of a variety of ancient and modern texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 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

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 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

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Conduct independent research, including the use of a wide range of library and online resources to identify, evaluate and organise relevant material
  • 8. Analyse a wide range of sources and arguments critically
  • 9. Construct coherent, relevant and plausible arguments based on your knowledge and understanding, and to present these clearly and effectively both in writing and in online formats
  • 10. Work effectively with others, and to contribute constructively to group discussion

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • 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 and teaching

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 teaching4422 x 2-hour seminars, 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
PresentationEquivalent to 10 minutes’ duration; may be submitted in the form of a narrated PowerPoint show, a podcast, a blog post or other format agreed with the module director1-10Oral 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
'Presentation'10Equivalent to 10 minutes’ duration; may be submitted in the form of a narrated PowerPoint show, a podcast, a blog post or other format agreed with the module director1-10Mark; written and oral feedback
Commentary 1101500 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Commentary 2 (revised version of 1)302000 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Essay 1102000 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Essay 2 (revised version of 1)403500 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
PresentationPresentation (as above)1-10Referral/Deferral period
CommentaryCommentary1-9Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

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

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

Hawthorn, G. (2014) Thucydides on Politics: back to the present, 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.

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

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Thucydides, historiography, political theory, classical reception

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date