Teaching Ancient War and Peace

The Visualising War and Peace project is laying the foundations for a major five-year study of current practice and future approaches to teaching ancient war and peace within primary, secondary and tertiary education. Please read further to find out more; if you are interested in taking part in our inaugural workshop (provisionally planned for late October, 2024), please email us at viswar@st-andrews.ac.uk.

The study of ancient history, archaeology, literature and art involves repeat encounters with war. Few of those delivering Classics or Classical Studies education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels are experts in war or peace studies, and even fewer have been trained in trauma-informed teaching practices. Current habits of teaching ancient war and peace have their roots in 19th century military history, with an emphasis on weapons/equipment/technology, tactics and strategy, and (usually male) leaders. Too little attention is paid to the second-order impacts of conflict (famine, disease, sexual violence, displacement, and more), to the diversity of people impacted by it, to everyday experiences, and to ‘the human front’. Compounding this, there is even less coverage of ancient ideas of peace and conflict prevention/resolution, or of ancient experiences of peacebuilding or pockets of peace amid conflict. 

The time is right for new research into current patterns and future directions for teaching ancient war and peace, across the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. Engagement with approaches in other academic disciplines (peace studies, critical military studies, feminist and post-colonial studies, migration studies, education studies, childhood studies) has the potential to enhance war and peace pedagogies within Classics. Consultation with professionals responsible for designing and delivering different school-level subjects (history, politics, religious and moral education, philosophy, citizenship teaching, and wellbeing, among other areas) also has much to contribute. Drawing on inclusive practices in childhood studies, this project has ethics permissions in place to engage with young people (aged 9-18), to better understand their concerns and interests and to co-develop new pedagogic principles and practices in dialogue with them. Finally, prompted by psychological research into the benefits of transrational alongside cognitive learning, we want to explore creative learning methods (such as speculative history, useful fiction, and autoethnography) which can helpfully address the skewed nature of our surviving sources for ancient war and peace (which foreground elite, male experiences). 

The urgent need for fresh approaches to teaching ancient war and peace reaches well beyond the classroom. Research into the militarization of childhood underlines the role that education can play in socializing young people into visualizing armed violence as normal, natural, impressive, even desirable; arguably, the teaching of ancient warfare has been particularly prone to this tendency. The flip side of this is that enhanced peace literacy can significantly improve inner peace and wellbeing, interpersonal relations, and conflict resolution in different spheres of life; hence our interest in investing more research and resources in young people’s explorations of ancient discourses and experiences of peace. A further pressing issue is the increase in the numbers of trauma-experienced young people within our education systems, some of whom have direct lived experience of war/conflict; this requires more trauma-informed practice than is currently in place. Ancient warfare has long been perceived as so distant in time/myth that the real impacts on real people have often been airbrushed; however, it offers a valuable opportunity, through the study of both history and storytelling, for young people to develop critical awareness not only of the impacts of war itself but also the legacy of entrenched habits of war and peace storytelling, which continue to inform the ways in which we wage war or understand peace today. 

Opening Workshop

As outlined above, an enhanced approach to teaching ancient war and peace is desirable for many reasons, not only to equip students of Classics to visualize ancient warfare and peacekeeping/peacemaking in more holistic ways but also to contribute to their wider war and peace literacy, with real-world ramifications. Our inaugural workshop aims to bring together experts on war and peace studies (within and beyond Classics) with experts on pedagogy (from the school sector, peace education institutes, and pedagogic studies) to set the agenda for a five-year research and impact project, which will produce publications, develop training materials, design and pilot new teaching resources, and contribute to policy-making in this space.

Taking place over two days, the workshop will be structured around 4 panels (current practice; war pedagogies for the future; peace pedagogies for the future; creative curricula), each with 3-4 speakers and substantial discussion time. Our initial findings will be summarized in the first instance via a series of 4 blogs (aligning with the panels) on the Visualising War and Peace website. This workshop is designed to lay the foundations for a collaborative research and impact project going forward, which will involve major grant applications, a range of publications, the development of teaching materials and training resources, and recommendations for wider policy change across the sector.