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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Margaret Alison Wylie
ARCHY 508
Seattle Campus

Histories of Archaeological Theory and Practice

Advanced history of archaeological theories and traditions of research practice. Topics include the formation of scientific and humanistic research traditions in anthropological archaeology; comparative global histories of archaeology; object biographies and histories of craft practice in emerging research traditions; and critical histories of inequality and marginality in archaeology. Offered: A.

Class description

Archaeology has not been much studied by professional historians of science, but archaeologists have been prodigious historians of their own field, and they have put histories of various kinds to work in a number of quite different ways. In this seminar we will explore the variety of internal histories that are in play, identifying several distinct genres of history-making ranging from the kinds of sweeping histories of disciplinary formation that can be useful in helping you get your bearings within established research traditions, through program-defining histories that have legitimated one after another "new archaeology," to a range of critical counter-histories that call into question pivotal ideas and forms of practice that are now taken for granted. We will consider, as well, examples of histories that play a direct role in archaeological research, recontextualizing evidence that we thought we understood and bringing into view new interpretive possibilities. The goal of this course is to cultivate an historically grounded understanding of archaeological theory and to explore the possibilities for putting this understanding to work in contexts of research design and research practice.

Anchoring texts include Trigger's History of Archaeological Thought (2006), for a broad comparative framework within which to diverse national traditions of archaeological practice, and Patterson's social histories of anthropology and of archaeology (2006 and 1996), which explore the conditions that have shaped successive "new archaeologies" and their rivals. We will also consider more specialized histories of research on particular problems, like Grayson's Establishment of Human Antiquity (1983), Meltzer's Search for the First Americans (1993), and Rowley-Conwy's Origins of the Three Age System (2007); studies of influential figures and regional research traditions, as examined in Browman and Williams' New Perspectives on the Origins of Americanist Archaeology (2002) and in Christenson's Tracing Archaeology's Past (1989); and critical histories of the interests served by archaeology, and of how the boundaries between professional and avocational, scientific and 'fantastic' archaeology have shifted over the years.

Student learning goals

To understand the problems to which particular archaeological theories and traditions of practice are a response.

To situate contemporary theory debates in historically and socially specific contexts of practice; to understand what interests drive these debates.

To develop historically grounded skills of critical analysis in assessing the goals and standards of practice that underpin contemporary practice.

To develop an historical analysis of archaeological theory relevant to research design and practice in an area of active research interest.

General method of instruction

Seminar style discussion, informed by weekly reading responses.

Recommended preparation

This course is primarily oriented to graduate students, but advanced undergraduates may enrol with the instructor's permission. A background in archaeology is recommended.

Class assignments and grading

Weekly reading responses; seminar presentations; a research paper on the history of a particular debate or concept, research community, program or technique.


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.
Last Update by Margaret Alison Wylie
Date: 12/21/2012