Main Page > Ancient Historians (S11) > Requirements, assignments, and policies

The Class CodeEdit


We will treat each other professionally--and nicely! This includes:

  • being on time
  • being prepared to participate in class
  • not leaving the class: there will be a break for such bodily functions as using your phone
  • having your cell phone and all other electronic devices off
  • treating each other with respect

A note on readingEdit

It can be hard for 21st-century people to unplug and read books closely and carefully. To succeed in the course and profit from the readings you should probably do four things:

  1. Make enough time for the reading, away from distractions, such as the internet, text messages, other screens, etc.
  2. Read with an agenda: on every page look for the evidence that can lead to insights and interpretations. Constantly keep in mind that you are reading the work of an author who chose the details, the approach to the material, and a certain arrangement of words and phrases. What are you figuring out about how the text works? What is confusing or contradictory? What can you use in your writing assignments?
  3. Keep notes - not only in the margins of your book but in organized form in a notebook! This is an important way to start digesting the material. Keep track of questions, and bring them up in class.
  4. Read more than once. Once you have figured out an agenda (see #2)--perhaps after our class discussion, when the other readings have raised new questions, or as your paper ideas are taking shape--go back and reread with new eyes. You will reinforce what is important to you and see new things you missed the first time.

A note on participationEdit

This course is designed as a seminar, not a lecture. Therefore, I expect you to be engaged during class. You should be reading the assignments with a critical eye so that you can ask and answer questions as well as make thoughtful comments on the readings. The quality of your contributions is as important as the quantity. We are all equally responsible for the success of our project. Working together, we can arrive at a complex and deep understanding of the ancient historians' works, week by week, with just twenty class meetings.

Wiki and MoodleEdit

The course wiki, at, is where you will post many assignments and find important links and updates. Some readings will be provided to you via Moodle (

Daily assignmentsEdit

Class cohortsEdit

  • Cohort A: Diestel, Stuart
  • Cohort B: Barker, MacMinn
  • Cohort C: Farrell, Paolini, Zaidi
  • Cohort D: Glidden, Pearlman

Daily assignment scheduleEdit

Weeks 3, 5, etc.
paragraph assignment
(7:30 a.m. by email)
(4 p.m. on wiki)
historians' techniques
(4 p.m. day before on wiki)
bibliographic annotation
(1 p.m. on wiki)
Weeks 1, 3, etc.
bibliographic annotation
(1 p.m. on wiki)
paragraph assignment
(7:30 a.m. by email)
(4 p.m. on wiki)
historians' techniques
(4 p.m. day before on wiki)
Weeks 2, 4, etc.
historians' techniques
(4 p.m. day before on wiki)
bibliographic annotation
(1 p.m. on wiki)
paragraph assignment
(7:30 a.m. by email)
(4 p.m. on wiki)
Weeks 2, 4, etc.
(4 p.m. on wiki)
historians' techniques
(4 p.m. day before on wiki)
bibliographic annotation
(1 p.m. on wiki)
paragraph assignment
(7:30 a.m. by email)

  • Week 8 (5/17, 5/19): No paragraphs or technique-catalog entries due.
  • 5/19 assignment: Bring a new section of your final paper's close-reading argument (1000-2000 words with new passages and new interpretations not based on the first two papers) to class! We will edit and discuss each other's ongoing work.
  • Week 10 (5/31, 6/2): No daily assignments due.

Paragraph assignmentEdit

Due by 7:30am on the day of class, by email.

For each class, each member of one cohort will write a paragraph of evidence-based interpretive argument about the day's reading (in relation to the broader topics of our course readings and discussions). The assignment must be emailed to me by 7:30am on the day of class. We will usually use some of our class time to present, discuss, and constructively criticize these paragraphs. In this way we will have an ongoing writing workshop, so that we can approach the larger writing assignments with higher standards and expectations.

  1. "Evidence-based" means you should bring in the words and phrases of the text: at least three two or three specifically cited quotations. (Update: It's not about numbers. I want you to pick a quotation you really have a lot to say about and support your claim about it with material from somewhere else. The test is in how strong an overall argument & thesis the analysis ends up supporting.)
  2. "Interpretive argument" means that you have to pick evidence that is not self-explanatory, but whose larger meaning or significance you will claim, giving your reasons supporting your interpretation. This is an assignment where I want you to be as original as possible.
    • This means it might be particularly worthwhile to choose passages in which you have a theory about the author's literary choices: why were these words, images, metaphors, stylistic features, etc., chosen?
    • On the other hand, you should never try to interpret a single phrase or sentence in isolation, as if it contains a hidden meaning that can be decoded. A good theory about the author's aims, effects, and attitudes will take into account the wider context: so always ask yourself what the single big idea and purpose is in the page or two from which you've drawn the quotation.
    • Check yourself! For each of your three quotations, you should be saying (in your own words), "When [author] writes X, the non-obvious point is Y, because..." Don't make quotations and forget the claim about it and your reasons in support!
  3. Your next job in the paragraph is to think about how your three individual interpretations fit together in the paragraph's overall argument. Write a bold and clear topic sentence that announces exactly what interesting discovery the paragraph is going to offer us overall.
  4. Finally, in a sentence or two separate from your paragraph, state how you might use this paragraph in a larger argument (i.e., a paper). What testable hypotheses does it raise? (For example, "If my theory about the significance of nature imagery is correct, I should be able to find other passages in which...") What comparative possibilities does it raise? ("This understanding of Thucydides' diagnosis can help us notice how Herodotus does something different with the same political situation...")

Bibliographic annotationEdit

Due online at the wiki by 1 p.m. on the day of class.

Our wiki bibliographies come preloaded with some contributions from me, but they will grow and develop under your care. For this assignment, you will read a chapter or an article of the secondary literature about the author we are currently studying. Then, indented and italicized under the entry, you will write a synopsis of the most interesting interpretive ideas you encountered in this reading. Even at the beginning (when you have my bibliographies as a starting point), you should mine the footnotes of the article or chapter you've read for another item of interest, and add it to the bibliography, with a complete and correct reference. As we move into the Roman historians, you must add two (or preferably three) items to our bibliography in addition to contributing a synopsis of one item.

Give a specific example of a passage the chapter has led you to see in a new light.

Sign your annotation with ~~~~.

Our catalogue of the historians' aims, techniques, and ideasEdit

Due online at the wiki by 4 p.m. on the day before class.

A main goal of the course is to develop an appreciation of how the ancient historians have ideas and and literary personalities that transform their material to suit their purposes and inclinations. Think of this as the "lens" of the historian: we are trying to get "behind the camera." How would the same story be constructed and told differently by David Lynch and the Coen Brothers? Likewise, what is the distinct attitude and approach of Sallust (etc.) when selecting and presenting their material for larger artistic purposes?

For this assignment, then, you will describe one of the main aims, techniques, or ideas you believe our current author uses to make a history (a literary text, a particular version of the story with its own agenda) rather than just reporting history. This will be roughly in the form "If you want to approach [specified kind of matter] in a distinctively Herodotean way--to understand and explain it through a Herodotean lens--then you should do [the following]." Be both general and specific: you must give a specific quotation and explain how it illustrates your point.

I would also like you to suggest, if you can, a modern parallel that you believe could be interesting to treat in a similar way. This doesn't have to be history/politics; it could be any human subject from religious rituals to high school social cliques to the fishing industry to gang violence. This thought exercise will

  1. test whether you're really separating what the ancient historian writes about with how the material is transformed and given artistic/philosophical/political/etc. meaning;
  2. help you get ready for the final paper, in which exploration of such a parallel over 3-4 pp. will be an encouraged option.

Post this as a bulleted point on the appropriate wiki page, and sign it with ~~~~.

Organizational jobEdit

Due online on the wiki by 4pm on the day of class.

Once every four classes, your only job will be to make a contribution to organizing the wiki bibliographies and technique-catalogues. This means

  1. creating logical sections and subsections, and moving the various items between them, giving cross-references, etc. (This is the most important job, and you should always find something good to offer in this department, especially as the catalogues of techniques start to grow.) Feel free to add some editorial introductions to sections, etc., if it will be useful.
  2. adding missing information (does the book have a call number in Union? otherwise is it owned in the Connect NY consortium? can the article be linked online?)
  3. anything else you think will improve the content, presentation, and usability of these class resources

Logging your work on your wiki user pageEdit

Must be completely up to date at some point during any given week.

This is important! Keep a running chronological log of your work on all four daily assignments on your wiki user page. Each entry should have the date, a link to the "diff" showing your changes (read wikipedia:Wikipedia:Simplest diff guide to see how this is done), and a summary statement of what you did. (In the case of the paragraph assignment, state what your main idea was and what kind of evidence you used. For example, "* Th 5/5, paragraph assignment. I argued that Thucydides criticizes bad policies indirectly, by first giving the plan in a speech and then narrating the events that show the plan's failure; the best evidence for this was Book N, chapters P, in which Q's speech is followed immediately by the narration of R disaster."

I will use these links and reminders when figuring your grade!

Project 1: Applying a Critical MethodEdit

Due Monday, April 25, 1 p.m.

This project takes the historians'-technique and bibliographic-annotation assignments to the next level. Most importantly, it makes sure you not only understand how critics argue for a text's significance, but that you can apply another critic's method to material of your own choosing.

You will choose a critical article or chapter (this can be one of the ones you already chose for the bibliographic annotation assignments) and post to the wiki an 1100-to-1600-word paper in which you do the following:

  1. Summarize the article’s chief insights with extreme brevity. In other words, a quick and dense paragraph to impress the reader with the truly arresting “aha!” points you took from the article.
  2. Use the article as a case study of the method of intelligent interpretation through close reading of the text’s details. In other words, teach your classmates (the report’s readers) some really great close reading techniques by analyzing how your article uses the text’s evidence to achieve really original interpretive results.
  3. Apply the article’s insights and methods to specific passages not discussed by the article/chapter. These will probably be other passages in the same historian, but it is possible to choose passages from our other texts. In other words, what ramifications do these ideas have for the parts of the history which the critic was not directly addressing? Or what use do the critic's ideas have for understanding other texts? Be sure to make specific claims: cite your new passages very specifically, and make crystal clear what new insight you are generating into their significance.

Project 2: Comparative topic studyEdit

Due Friday, May 13, 8am

Your final paper for the course may focus on a single author, or it may be more comparative in nature. Either way, it will be essential that it show a broader awareness of the historiographic tradition; we can always better understand what one author is doing by knowing the possibilities and directions not pursued, and I will want you to make your points in the final paper with reference to the fuller range of our readings, even if you're writing mainly on a single author.

It is in this way that this project is preparatory for the final paper (which you will be working on concurrently): it will help you to articulate your own insights from this comparative perspective. You will choose a general topic, theme, or idea that runs through several of the course texts (it need not be one of the obvious suspects like "democracy and empire": it could be something like revenge, friendship, or humor). Within this general topic, you will develop close readings of key passages in several of our authors and combine these in an overall argument that gives your own theory explaining the relationship between the various authors' shared concerns, divergent ideas, etc. (This does not have to be an evolutionary theory.)

Note that, while you can make your points in relation to what other critics have said (fully and properly cited, of course), the focus in this paper is on your own original interpretation. The paper should be of ca. 1500 words.

Grade componentsEdit

100 points completion of reading assignments before class; readiness to discuss and debate readings in class; reading quizzes
100 points daily assignments
100 points Project 1: Applying a critical method
100 points Project 2: Comparative topic study
250 points 15-18 pp. research paper (of which approximately 20% of the credit will be for related presentations and preparatory assignments)

Course policiesEdit


Punctual attendance at every class meeting is one of the course's minimum requirements. After two unexcused absences, each additional unexcused absence will result in a 1/2 grade reduction in the final grade. Serious illness, family crisis, participation in team sporting events, and religious observances, however, are valid reasons for missing class. You must provide written proof for an excused absence (i.e. the above reasons), preferably in advance. It is your responsibility to make up what you have missed (including obtaining notes from a classmate) and to understand that it will not be possible to compensate fully for a missed class.

Completion of all workEdit

Completion of all assignments is a requirement for passing the course.

Late workEdit

All assignments must be turned in on time. No work will be accepted more than seven days after the original due date. The paragraph assignment cannot be accepted late at all, and the other daily assignments will not count if more than 48 hours late. Late work is penalized by a full letter grade for the first day late, and 1/3 of a letter grade for each subsequent day late.

Academic honesty and citation requirementsEdit

You must read and understand the 2010-2011 Student Handbook section “Academic Honesty,” and the statement on plagiarism at

All work submitted for this course must be your own; any idea of another person must always be cited clearly and specifically. (This is just as true of loosely repeated ideas as of quoted ideas. And an "idea" is anything that contributes to the quality of your work: for example, not just literary analysis, but also the selection of which passages are discussed.) You may discuss the readings with your classmates but must not collaborate on any individual written assignment unless instructed to do so. If you ever have any question about proper citation or the propriety of collaboration, please consult with me. The penalty for using ideas that are not your own, in any assignment, without proper attribution, may be a failing grade in the course. I have imposed this penalty before: it is painful, and I do not want to do it again. Violations could also result in expulsion from college or a record of dishonesty that would exclude you from professional school. The Academic Honor Code also requires your refusal to tolerate dishonesty in quizzes and exams (copying, using any aids, or communicating).

For every secondary source you have used or consulted, please make absolutely certain that anything in your work attributable to it (ideas, evidence, argument, words) is completely and specifically cited. This goes for all secondary sources, recommended or otherwise, including web content I link, the introductions to our textbooks, etc. In short, you must carefully track how sources have helped you and report this fully. The principle is that you should receive credit for your own contributions to your work, not, for example, someone else’s clever idea to link two passages to each other.


It is Union College policy to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities. If you have any disability or special concern, please let me know what your needs are in order that they may be accommodated. All discussions will remain confidential to the extent permissible by law. Students with disabilities needing academic accommodations must also: (1) register with and provide documentation to the Dean of Students Office; (2) bring a letter to the instructor from the Dean of Students Office indicating what academic accommodations you require. This must be done within the first two weeks of the term. For more information about services available to Union College students with disabilities, please contact the Dean of Students Office: Shelly Shinebarger, Director of Student Support Services, Dean of Students Office,, (518) 388-6116.

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