Cunning Plan 147: Getting students to use classical texts

Teaching History feature

By Beth Baker, published 9th July 2012

The following plan provides a more detailed practical example of the approaches discussed in the article on using ancient texts.

Having puzzled over what ancient texts actually are - carefully constructed interpretations? testimonies? (but testimonies to what?) myths? - I wanted my Ancient History GCSE class to engage in this debate for themselves. Whatever the nature of ancient texts, I was certain of one thing, that these beautifully written accounts are a precious resource to the historian, providing a rare insight into another world. I needed to get my students as enthused by these texts as I was.

The Battle of Gaugamela - the epic clash between Alexander the Great and the seemingly unconquerable Persian army - provided the perfect topic around which to explore these issues. Two of the most prominent writers of the ancient world - Plutarch and Arrian - had written accounts of the battle three hundred years after it occurred. I wanted pupils to engage with the texts in three ways: to build their contextual knowledge, to infer author motivations and to reflect on the unique and complex value that ancient texts hold for the historian.

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