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April 8, 2022


Unlimited Duration


This course includes:

Unlimited Duration

Badge on Completion

Certificate of completion

Unlimited Duration


One of the most important questions for any student of the ancient world to address is 'how do we know what we know about antiquity?' Whether we're thinking about urban architecture, or love poetry, or modern drama, a wide range of factors shape the picture of antiquity that we have today. This course, Library of Alexandria, encourages you to reflect upon and critically assess those factors. Interpreting an ancient text, or a piece of material culture, or understanding a historical event, is never a straightforward process of 'discovery', but is always affected by things such as translation choices, the preservation (or loss) of an archaeological record, or the agendas of scholars.


This OpenLearn free course encourages you to reflect upon and critically assess the factors that shape what we know about antiquity, as well as offering some insight into how different approaches to antiquity – whether through texts, material culture, or modern receptions – can work together. It is important to be aware of how studying the ancient world is always, at heart, an interdisciplinary endeavor, a fact which the case study in this free course demonstrates particularly well. You will explore the ancient Library of Alexandria, a great institution of learning and scholarship founded by the Ptolemaic rulers of Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.

Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:
  • Understand the ancient and modern significance of the Library of Alexandria
  • Critically assess the evidence in the different accounts of its destruction
  • Understand the ways in which different modern contexts and ideologies shape our interpretations of historical events.

Course Curriculum

    • Approaching the Library of Alexandria 00:30:00
    • The Universal Library? 01:15:00
    • The Destruction of the Library 02:15:00
    • Reimagining the Library 02:30:00
    • Conclusion 00:30:00

About the instructor

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Open University UK