Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit

Unit rationale, description and aim

What is a city? Who is a city for? As growing numbers of peoples migrate to cities to live and work, the ability to analyse and apply interdisciplinary knowledge of urban life is an important contemporary skill. Cities are more than large population centres; they offer characteristically distinctive cultural, political, and social experiences. Especially crucial to such urban life are shared public things. From roads and crowds, to statues and graffiti, cities are defined by what we have in common. But this public quality of cities may be disappearing. As cities change, who are we becoming? How should we live together?

This unit offers a critical examination of the city and urban life. Students will examine texts and contexts to reconsider the idea of the city, using ancient and contemporary Rome as a case study. With a history spanning more than two and a half millennia, Rome offers a unique opportunity to interrogate the meaning of “city.” How is “Rome” an answer to the question what is a city? How is this city, especially when compared with its ancient self? How else might Rome be in the future? To engage these questions, students will explore a variety of topics, including for example walls, roads, spaces, the public and the private, and sustainability. Readings will include the work of authors such as Livy, Tacitus, Machiavelli, Benjamin, and Arendt (amongst others), allowing students to trace the changing fabric of the idea of the city.

The aim of this unit is to introduce students to the idea of the city, to encounter Rome as a particular manifestation of “the city” in its past and present, as well as learning new ways to consider how else a city can be.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe key aspects of Rome as a city in ancient and contemporary contexts (GA4, GA5).

LO2 - Analyse the social contexts and ideas in texts that reflect on and are related to the idea of the city (GA1, GA4, GA8). 

LO3 - Apply interdisciplinary knowledge of city life to evaluate complex real-world urban issues that emerge from the works studied (GA3, GA4, GA6, GA8).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 


Topics will include:

  • The concepts of the public and the private
  • The urban environment of contemporary Rome (including roads, walls, spaces, crowds, and graffiti)
  • Public Things
  • Mechanisms of privatisation
  • The ancient city of Rome
  • Memorialisation of ancient Rome and its influence on contemporary Roman life
  • Ordinary, daily urban life in comparative perspective
  • Mapping Roman infrastructure
  • The city as a site of politics
  • Urban deterioration and renewal
  • Sustainability practices

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This 10 credit-point unit is undertaken in intensive seminars and site visits in Rome.

This unit employs two formal ways of learning and teaching. Seminars will apply the Socratic method and are structured to promote collaborative deep learning. Students will explore ancient and contemporary texts and concepts, a process that requires them to demonstrate their investigative, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Collaborative deep learning will require students to learn specific theories and concepts, and develop these concepts in comparative perspective. Through site visits, students will engage in activities including mapping, interrogating structures, and exploring case studies of the material condition of  the city. These activities, as well as promoting analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of seminar content, are designed to build skills appropriate to the study of the city as a changing material manifestation of political and social thought.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit consists of three assessments: The investigative task requires students to demonstrate knowledge of mapping urban spaces; the research task develops students’ skills to research topics, critically analysing how the ancient and contemporary Roman urban systems respond to key political, social, cultural, and economic challenges; The final written analysis task requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the topics covered in this unit through critical analysis and written argument. The assessment tasks for this unit are designed for you to demonstrate your achievement of each learning outcome. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1: Investigative Task

The purpose of this task is to develop students’ knowledge of urban spaces, political, and geographical concepts and ideas and encourage students to make connections between ancient and contemporary spaces. 


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA8

Assessment Task 2: Research Task

This task is designed to provide students with the opportunity to apply key political and historical ideas and concepts to the interdisciplinary study of specific sites in and around of Rome, at the same time utilising a range of relevant source materials to draw conclusions on the changing social and the political life of Rome.


LO2, LO3

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA6, GA8

Assessment Task 3: Written Analysis Task

This task enables students to demonstrate the skills, understanding and knowledge they have acquired and/or developed during the unit through the construction of an appropriately referenced and sourced, evidence-based, argument. The task also allows students to demonstrate their ability to communicate their ideas and arguments clearly in written form. The lecturer may designate this task to be in the form of short answer responses, test/s, take-home exam, or final essay. 


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8

Representative texts and references

Aldrete, G.S. (2008). Daily life in the Roman city: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Arendt, H. (2018). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benjamin, W. (2002). The arcades project. Trans. by H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Cheramie, K and A. de Michelis. (2020). Through time and the city: Notes on Rome. London: Routledge. 

Hartnett, J. (2020). The Roman street: Urban life and society in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Rome. London: Cambridge University Press.

Harvey, D (2019). Rebel cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. London: Verso.

Honig, Bonnie (2017). Public things: Democracy in disrepair. New York: Fordham University Press.

Livy (2002). The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of The history of Rome from its foundations. Trans. by A. de Sélincourt. London: Penguin.

Stambaugh, J. (1988). The ancient Roman city. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tacitus (2005). The annals of imperial Rome. Trans. by M. Grant. London: Penguin. 

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