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The History of History

2. Ancient History

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the kinds of history that were written in the ancient world, particularly in the works of Herodotus (c.484-c.425) and Thucydides (c.460-c.400). In particular, we focus on: (i) the parts of Herodotus’ historical method that are familiar to us today, e.g. his use of sources, his attempt to create a single, coherent narrative, etc.; (ii) the parts of his history that are less ‘historical’, e.g. his lengthy digressions about faraway peoples and places; (iii) Herodotus’ tendency to ‘show his workings’ in terms of his sources; (iv) Thucydides’ approach to sources and how it differs from that of Herodotus; (v) his use of speeches throughout his history ; and (vi) the interest of both Herodotus and Thucydides in the overall ‘shape’ of their history, and the idea of history as a branch of rhetoric.


In this course, Professor John Arnold (University of Cambridge) explores the history of history – the ways in which the writing of history has changed from Herodotus (c. 484-25 BC) to Hayden White (1928-2018). In the first module, we think about the question ‘What is history?’, focusing in particular on some of fundamental challenges that historians of all ages have had to grapple with, as well as on the idea of the ‘purpose’ of history – why do we bother to study the past at all? In the following six modules, we think about the development of history in six key periods – the ancient world, the medieval world, post-Reformation Europe, post-Enlightenment Europe, the 19th century, and the 20th century. In the final two modules, we consider three approaches to history that have proved highly influential from the second half of the 20th century to the present day – Marxist history, Feminist history, and Postmodernism.


John Arnold studied at the University of York, gaining a BA in History, and a D.Phil. in Medieval Studies. He worked at the University of East Anglia, then moved to Birkbeck, University of London, in 2001, until his election to the professorship of medieval history at Cambridge in 2016. He has been lead editor of the journal Cultural and Social History, is on the editorial board of the journal Past & Present, and co-edits several publication series: Genders and Sexualities in History (Palgrave Macmillan), Heresy and Inquisition in the Middle Ages (York Medieval Press), and Oxford Studies in Medieval European History (OUP).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Arnold, J. (2020, September 07). The History of History - Ancient History [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Arnold, J. "The History of History – Ancient History." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 07 Sep 2020,