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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Margaret Alison Wylie
ARCHY 467
Seattle Campus

Research Ethics in Archaeology: Conservation, Accountability, and Stewardship

Advanced survey of ethics issues that arise in archaeology including: accountability to descendent communities; professional codes of conduct; response to looting and commercial exploitation of the record; and the implications of a conservation ethic and principles of stewardship for archaeological practice.

Class description

Archaeological practice raises profoundly challenging ethics issues. The central question we will address in this seminar is: to whom and to what are archaeologists accountable? How do (or should) archaeologists respond when their research goals -- to advance our understanding of the human, cultural past -- comes into conflict with the interests of those affected by archaeological research? In particular, what responsibilities do archaeologists have to those whose cultural heritage they study? Do archaeologists have an obligation to protect the archaeological record -- to "save the past for the future" -- and how is this balanced against destructive investigation of the record? Should archaeologists work with archaeological material that has been looted and commercially traded? How should archaeologists navigate conflicts between the demands of employers, oversight agencies, and research goals when they work in industry or in government?

These questions are at the center of debates that are changing the way archaeology is practiced. Most urgent are issues of accountability raised by descendant communities, especially Indigenous, Native American, and First Nations communities who call for a decolonization of archaeology. An ethic of stewardship has been proposed in response to these issues; one central aim of this course is to draw out the implications of stewardship ideals for archaeological practice.

We begin with framing questions and then turn to the analysis of cases that raise, in concrete terms, these multi-dimensional issues of accountability. Readings will include selections from: Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engaging Descendant Communities (Collwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008), Embedding Ethics (Meskell and Pells, 2005), and Ethical Issues in Archaeology (Zimmerman, Vitelli, and Hollowell, 2003).

Student learning goals

To develop a normative and historical framework for identifying and addressing ethics issues in archaeology.

To foster skills of critical analysis of ethics issues that arise in practice.

To articulate and assess the implications of an ethic of stewardship for archaeology.

To build a case-based understanding of strategies for respectfully and constructively working with diverse stakeholders in archaeological contexts.

General method of instruction

Seminar format with the emphasis on active student participation.

Recommended preparation

Students with a background in either archaeology or philosophy/ethics background are welcome.

Class assignments and grading

The primary requirements are close critical reading of assigned texts, active participation in class discussion, and short writing assignments linked to readings and presentations. The details are subject to change, but I anticipate the following format for class presentations and writing assignments: - case-based class presentations and "ethics bowl" format discussion; - regular reading responses; - at least one short analytical paper.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Margaret Alison Wylie
Date: 10/05/2009