Published Date

October 4, 1998

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom


Ancient, Teaching Methods

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education



My emphasis for the AHA project has been on the teaching and primary source aspects of the proposal, rather than on the digitizing process.

From a teaching innovation perspective, I have continued to employ my Doing World History approach which emphasizes teaching the students to become world historians. To this end, I teach them five world history methods (Big Picture, Diffusion, Syncretism, Comparison and Common Phenomena). As homework the students write journal entries applying the methods to the reading assignments. In class, they use their essays to create charts and maps in groups. I could elaborate on this at length, but my article on this topic has already been published and it is available on my Cal Poly website. For the AHA project, Fall quarter I had two taping sessions of my HST 101(ancient world history) class to demonstrate the methods in classroom application, one of a regular class and one of the final exam.

With respect to primary sources, I made one substantial change to my HST 101 course. Ordinarily I use two longish works for that course, one from Greece and one from India. The Odyssey and the Ramayana were my choices for this term. I decided to add Confucius’ Analects as an experiment and to provide a primary text from each of the three classical civilizations. To review and update myself on Chinese philosophy I read Mote’s volume on the Chinese intellectual tradition. I also read the Analects carefully, constructing thought questions as I read. From this study I devised thought questions for the students I also did a very careful reading of the Ramayana which helped me sharpen the directed readings questions for that work. You will notice that I try to stay with a limited number of big pieces of literature. This selection process allows the students time to catch on to the peculiar nature of each civilization. I have had poor luck trying to treat many little snippets from several cultures. It can be done, I understand, but it would involve devoting the whole course to primary source interpretation. I am not willing to sacrifice treating the great world historical processes in order to concentrate on primary sources alone.

I didn’t need to change my syllabus, beyond adding the Analects to the reading list, as I already had emphasized collaborative group work based on Doing World History. The daily assignments and activities, however, needed to be modified to reflect the new emphasis on primary sources. This involved specific assignments on the three works, plus comparative journal questions about them. In addition, I experimented with bringing in a selection from the I Ching and having the students in groups answer a hypothetical question from an individual and a king in the manner of the trigram. I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the groups applied the trigram’s principles to specific questions. I also experimented with having the students interpret artifacts pictured in the textbook, specifically pictures of cave paintings, neolithic Venuses and Catal Huyuk. Again, the sophistication of their appreciation of the nuances of interpreting artifacts exceeded my expectations. One idea I have for future work involves creating interpretive guidelines for treating artifacts. I find most source books offer guidance for literary sources only.

I also attended two conferences as part of my research for this project. At the California Classical Association conference at L.A. State I attended a session devoted to accessing websites for the ancient world. Hence, I have an extensive list of resources for source materials in ancient history, although it was skewed towards Greek, Roman and Mediterranean material at the moment. Expanding it to include other areas is one of my future goals. At the same conference I heard presentations on the virtual reality project on ancient Rome which is on the web, and an interesting treatment of Pompeii which revealed important cross cultural information about the Empire in the first century. At the National Council for Social Studies conference, I collaborated on a presentation about Doing World History with Bill Zeigler, a high school teacher who is using Doing World History in his classes. This was very helpful, as I could see from his students’ work that the methods are transferable and work for high school students. I also picked up an interesting adaptation he makes in using the method. When the groups make their presentations, he has other students in the class criticize the charts. This insures that everyone listens to the presentations, as no one knows when he or she will be called on. I have adopted this practice this quarter in my HST 102 class.

A ten week quarter is very short, so I could not make too many changes this year. About 20% of the class topics were directly different due to the project, and the whole course was sublty changed through its experimental and primary source emphases. In addition, I did more research on both texts and artifacts which I will be able to work into the course down the road, and which can be included in the digitizing process. Since I like to rotate the ancient reading material from year to year, I looked into the possibility of finding parallel readings from the great civilizations, like the Odyssey and Ramayana. The Iliad and the Mahabharata make an obvious pair, so I did some background reading on the Mahabharata. (Greek was my major, so I needed no more work on the Iliad). Here, once I got beyond the background outline it became clear that the only manageable thing to do was to compare the Bhagavad Gita with the Iliad. There is a very interesting parallel in these works, as both Arjuna and Achilles challenge the system of their societies. The resemblance ends there, however, as the resolution of their challenges is very different. Another pair would be the Enuma Elis and Hesiod’s Theogony. This pair offers a different world historical problem as Hesiod is clearly derivative from the Enuma Elis. Virgil’s Aeneid similarly harks back to the Homeric epics as well as to Apollonius’ Argonautica. Another literary genre would be drama, where Greek and Indian plays can be profitably compared.I consulted with Bill Jones, my AHA partner from Mt San Antonio College, about these ancient texts, and he assures me that they are all already digitized.

The search for parallel texts, as well as research for my upper division course on Greece, led me to Walter Burkert’s book on the orientalizing period of archaic Greece. He uncovered a world historical phenomenon that had never been appreciated. And that is the importance of the growth of the Assyrian empire in disseminating Mesopotamian and eastern Mediterranean influences into the Greek and Italian worlds. Assyrian conquest of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean brought the Greek world into direct contact with their eastern neighbors. This is reflected in literature, the Iliad and Odyssey particularly as well as Hesiod, in the Greek adoption of the Phoenician alphabet, and in religion and art as well.From a teaching perspective, the world historical linking of these areas helps make sense out of material that is usually taught in isolated chunks, with no relationship to each other. This is exciting stuff for the ancient course!

I also did some research into archaeological materials and into the problem of interpreting them. I read in Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology by Christian Scarre (Random House, 1995). It provides a good introduction on archaeological methods and offers pictures of the major prehistorical and ancient civilizations. I am toying with the idea of using it as the textbook for HST 101 and combining it with primary sources methodology and Doing World History. The Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology offers several interesting articles about various interpretive schools which I also looked into. I have developed a few principles for treating artifacts, but I am not happy with them yet. Briefly, the following questions should be considered: (1) What is the context in which the artifact was found? (2) If possible, describe the function of the artifact. (3) If activities are presented in pictorial form, what are the activities? What do they reveal about the society? (e.g. economics, religion, science, social structure). (4) Can any societal values be derived from the artifact? (5) What understanding of technology and science does the artifact’s existence reveal?

Along these same lines, I questioned several of my more computer literate colleagues about accessing museum websites in order to refer students to particular artifacts. They all assured me this could be done through links. If this is true, one of my future activities will be choosing representative artifacts for inclusion in our project.

Finally, I did some research into teaching theory and practice, including topics such as collaborative learning, motivational techniques and building self-esteem. At this time, my greatest concern is with motivation. I am open to suggestions in any of these areas–or others.