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Holiday History Camps

Jennifer and Jane

Two Alexander the Great Holiday History Camps run in July-August 2017

Civilizations in Contact ran two new Holiday History Camps on Alexander the Great in Cambridge in July-August 2017. The first took place from 31 July to 2 August, involving students from Beijing, China, arranged for us through First Landing Education in Cambridge. The second camp was held on 9-10 August 2017 with students from the UK participating. These were the fourth and fifth camps we have run so far.

What did the Chinese students make of Alexander the Great?

The Chinese students had heard of Alexander the Great, whom they knew as Yalishanda dadi 亚历山大大帝, but they did not know very much about him. For one thing, they did not know that he lived at a time (356-323 BCE) that was contemporary with the Warring States period in China (5th century-221 BCE). They also were not very clear where Greece was, not to mention the Kingdom of Macedonia. It helped them get their bearings when we turned on the layer in the GIS software showing present political boundaries; this enabled them to see the present location of the places mentioned in the text by Arrian, which was the text we used.

We were fortunate to have three full days with these students, and we needed this time to get across all the ideas and hold all the activities we had planned. On the first day we had a lecture on Alexander by Dr Daniel Unruh, who has a PhD from the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge. Then we began getting used to the GIS mapping software in the Geography Department. In the afternoon of the first day the students had an interactive introduction to the Art of Debating presented by Marianne Fletcher-Williams. She was assisted by her husband Professor Alun Williams of the Vet School, who chaired a practice debate as well as the final debate on the third day. We were also very lucky to have on our team Ms Fan Peiwen 范佩文, whom we called upon to be our translator.

On the second day, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, who holds a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, lectured on Alexander's activities in Egypt, telling us also about his later conquests and finally his death. The students particularly enjoyed hearing the stories about Alexander's horse Bucephalus. During the discussions we talked about comparisons that could be made between Alexander and the First Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang. In the afternoon Dr Unruh took the students for a tour of the Classics Collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum. There was a competition between the girls and the boys for the best map of Alexander's expeditions, and the girls won. Their winning map appears below.

Map by Jennifer, Jane and Juliet 


The final debate was held on the morning of the third day. Then the students were presented with certificates for completing the course and we said good-bye. We were grateful to University of Cambridge PhD students Chuchu Zhang and Chaowei Xiao for their help in arranging and logistics.


The Alexander the Great Holiday History Camp on 9-10 August 2017

Civilizations in Contact also ran an additional Holiday History Camp for UK students on 9-10 of August. The main lecturers were again Dr Daniel Unruh and Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. Dr Robert Harding, who also has a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, set up a blog for the Camp, and led the tour of the Classics Collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as the tour of Cambridge, on the second day. We had an abbreviated version of the debate in the afternoon of the second day, and awarded certificates to the participants.

The address of the blog is as follows:

Please see below for one of the maps the students produced:


Map by Helen and Madeleine


We were grateful to Jeanette Hawkes, Shadia Taha, and Fan Peiwen for their help with the camp, and to Tina Schivatcheva for observing the teaching and other activities. 

For more information, on these and other Holiday History Camps, please contact Dr Sally K Church (skc1000 at, Director of Civilizations in Contact; Affiliated Researcher, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Research Associate at the Needham Research Institute and at the Centre for Development Studies, University of Cambridge.


Our third Holiday History Camp on 5-6 April 2016

On the 5th and 6th of April 2016 we held our third camp on Alexander the Great. We were based at the Geography Department of the University of Cambridge. The participants, aged 13 to 17, came from all over England, including from Durham, Somerset and Stockport.

Dr Daniel Unruh, who completed his PhD last year in the Faculty of Classics, lectured and led the academic side of the Camp. The education side was managed by Juljana Mandra, who is studying for her PhD in the Faculty of Education. The students stayed at Jesus College for B&B, ate lunch each day at the Fair Shares Café at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, and had dinner and evening activities at the Friends Meeting House.

A guided tour of the Fitzwilliam Museum's Greece and Rome collection, complete with a coin-handling session, was provided by Dr Martin Allen of the Museum, and followed by a tour of Cambridge under the expert guidance of Ian Melvin. 

This camp’s debate, on the topic "Did Alexander deserve to be called 'Great'?" was very successful. The blog created for the Camp, including some arguments for and against the debate topic, and maps made by the participants, can be found here:

Here are some comments we received from parents:

Feedback from participants

"I would like to express my thanks to you and your team for what sounds like a fantastic couple of days. The girls' expectations were high but you exceeded them - they absolutely loved it from start to finish! Such a valuable experience. Thank you once again for everything."

"[My daughter] had a great time and learnt a great deal as well as making new friends - thank you for the opportunity." 

"[My son] had a great time !"


Eight out of nine students said that the Camp made them more interested in history, and the ninth said "I was already interested in history!" Here are some more of their comments:

"I love stories and I'd like to further research Alexander to fill in any gaps."

"[It] whetted my appetite. Finally I learnt about something I have wanted to for a long time, want to learn more."

"[It] introduced ancient history."

" . . . the course gives me an insight into classical history in a little more depth."

Feedback from parents

"There are so many unanswered questions to explore."

When asked what challenges they faced and how did they overcome them, two of them said "Debating". The others said the following:

"Debating against a motion I agreed with. I evaluated the points and it was interesting to form an opposing argument."

"Often coordinates were not correct. I overcame this by checking multiple different sources and finding the one closest to where it should be."

"Finding the coordinates of places with different names today. We compensated by researching further what happened to the places and then finding the coordinates of the place with a modern name."

"Trying to find the route that Alexander took. By reading in depth of the account that we had."

"Mapping, but we then researched more about it."

"I very much liked the mapping system we used."

"I enjoyed the range of activities; they were vary varied but were all very fun."

Feedback from teachers

"Engaging and the teachers were very friendly and knowledgeable."

" . . . it was very interesting and I learnt lots about history, geography and classics."

"I met many like-minded people and learnt much about Alexander's history. I've also made many new friends."

"I was very pleased to do the debate."

"Exceeded my expectations due to friends made."

"I learnt many interesting things across many different subject areas."

" . . . we did a range of interesting activities as  a team."

" . . . it's a good opportunity to explore topics further and try new things."

" . . . it was useful and enjoyable. "

" . . . it was useful, creative and fun"

"I feel that I know more about Alexander the Great."

"Learnt about the route Alexander took on his campaign."

"Visualisation of Alexander's route."

"Put Alexander's conquest into perspective for me."

"To see what the world was like in his time."

"Practiced finding information online and from a text."

"To find useful information about Alexander for the debate."

Comments from parents, teachers and participants on our past camps:

“I just wanted to say thank you for making the course so enjoyable for [my son], and for all your help organizing the transport to and from the college. He really had a great time and made new friends…. Please let us know if there any other courses like this coming up. I’m sure he would love to come back!”  – A parent

“I would like send you a very warm thank you on behalf of [my student] who was positively enchanted by the two days he spent on the course. I also would like to share with you the delightful account of his stay that he took time to write for our school bulletin. Thank you again for helping [him] attend this event.”  – Classics Enrichment & Latin Tutor

From our questionnaires, in response to the question "Which roles did you like best?":

“Cartographer as it allowed me to see the route develop as we progressed through the course”

“Historian, using sources to find the places and coordinates”

“The Data manager because you got to research all the cities he went to and record it on a map”

“The cartographer, as you got to see maps and plot the routes”

“Researcher because it was interesting to see the modern names for ancient settlements and the challenge of trying to find the relevant information”

“Cartographer, as I had to work out the best way to convert the positions”

“I liked being the researcher the best because you were able to learn more about the individual locations whilst you found their coordinates. You could also learn their names today, and how they changed over the years”

“Cartographer , because I enjoyed seeing where Alexander went and figuring out his route (e.g. he can’t go through mountains but he can cross rivers)”

“I liked finding the coordinates of places and watching them appear on the map.”

“I enjoyed the role of the Historian the most because it required gaining a good understanding of the context and situations surrounding the journey of Alexander, looking at why, not only where, Alexander went to certain places”

“Cartographer was fun because you got to draw the routes, but I also liked blogging”

“Blogging because it was creative and fun. Cartographer because I liked connecting the places in order and looking in the text to find his route”

“Researcher – I discovered and learnt about new parts of Persia and its history”

“Blogger! I’m a writer.”

Thanks so much  to all the others who helped, including Peter Cornwell, Marianna Fletcher-Williams, Dr Robert Harding, Jeanette Langford, Iyad Nasrallah, Dr Shadia Taha and Simin Zeng.


Earlier Camps

Holiday History Camp, April 2015

Our second Full-Scale Holiday History Camp in August 2015

We had a very successful second Holiday History Camp this August involving 23 young people from all over England. The model was similar to the first one (please see the description below). Dr Daniel Unruh lectured and led the academic side of the Camp, and the education side was managed brilliantly by Juljana Mandra, who is studying for her PhD in the Faculty of Education. The Fitzwilliam Museum provided us with coin-handling sessions and we toured the Classics exhibit in the museum. The participants toured Cambridge under the expert guidance of Ian Melvin. The blog created for the Camp, including the maps made by the participants --one map is in Greek -- can be found here:

Our first Full-Scale Holiday History Camp in April 2015

In April 2015, Civilizations in Contact ran its first full-scale Holiday History Camp. The Alexander the Great Holiday History Camp was advertised on the mailing lists and websites of The Cambridge School Classics Project and The Classics Library. Over 50 people responded, and eventually 26 young people between the ages of 11 and 17 from all over England signed up and joined the two-day camp. Some of those who came from outside Cambridge stayed for one or two nights at Fitzwilliam College

This time the academic side of the two-day project was led by Daniel Unruh, who recently completed his PhD thesis in the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge. He was assisted by Juljana Mandra, who made huge contributions to the teaching and learning that took place. The reading and other activities were held in English rather than Greek this time, as the participants were native English speakers. However, many of them had begun studying ancient Greek in school, and also out of school in cases where the ancient language was not offered. At least one student did his own English translations during the camp of passages from the Greek text which he found online.

The camp was a huge success. The young people were divided into five groups, each of which produced a map. The five or six participants in each group all took turns playing the four different roles (Historian, Researcher, Database Manager and Cartographer). In addition to producing the maps, they also worked hard on a blog, which they put together from images and text that they created themselves, with the help of two members of the Cambridgeshire ICT Service in the county's Department for Education, Sally Elding and Craig Thompson. The blog can be found here:

Mapping the expeditions

Civilizations in Contact is immensely grateful to the Department of Geography for allowing us to use their facilities, and to the Faculty of Classics for helping us to publicise the project. We were greatly assisted by Dr Ingo Gildenhard and Max Kramer of the Faculty of Classics, Laila Tims of the Cambridge School Classics Project, Stephen Jenkin of The Classics Library, and Dr Mia Gray, Mike Bithell and Adam Strange of the Department of Geography.

Director Dr Sally Church would like to thank the following members of the CiC support team for helping to make the project a success: Peter Cornwell, Dr Larysa Dyadyusha, Marianna Fletcher-Williams, Dr Robert Harding, Jeanette Langford, Juljana Mandra and Dr Shadia Taha. The Fitzwilliam Museum kindly allowed the participants to view their Classics collection, and we were fortunate to have a brief tour of Cambridge led by a wonderful tour guide, Angela Brown.

Plans are being made to build on this success and run more Holiday History Camps like this in the future on this and other subjects.

Link for Participants



The Pilot Project in 2014

The Holiday History Camp is a new venture run by Civilizations in Contact. A pilot project was held in the spring of 2014 to map the expeditions of Alexander the Great at the Department of Geography using GIS software. Four native Greek-speaking teenagers from East Anglia took part in this programme, led by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, who has a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, and by Juljana Mandra, a current PhD student in Education. The participants, who were all students in the Cambridge Greek School, took turns playing the roles of Historian, Researcher, Database Manager and Cartographer as the text of Arrian was read to them (using the modern Greek translation) and they set about plotting the places mentioned in the text and drawing the routes between them. Lively discussions were also held on the historical and ethical issues raised in the text.