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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Margaret Alison Wylie
ARCHY 570
Seattle Campus

Seminar in Archaeological Theory

Detailed consideration of a particular archaeological theory or closely related set of theories, including their methodological and epistemological bases. Prerequisite: ARCHY 497, ARCHY 498.

Class description

The focus of this seminar is the history of archaeological theory and practice, specifically, the formation of scientific, and counter-scientific, ideals in the context of North American anthropological archaeology. Trigger's History of Archaeological Thought (2006), will provide comparative breadth, situating these tradition-specific histories in the context of divergent national traditions of archaeological practice, and Patterson's Social History of Archaeology in the United States (1996) will be the anchor for an exploration of the conditions that 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) and Meltzer's Search for the First Americans (1993); 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.

Histories of archaeology can help you get your bearings within established research traditions, tracing the formation of pivotal ideas and forms of practice that are now taken for granted. They can also contribute to the design of new research, bringing into view questions that have been set aside, disrupting settled interpretive conventions, resituating evidence that we thought we understood. The goal of this course is to cultivate an historically grounded understanding of archaeological theory in both these senses, and to explore the possibilities for putting this understanding to work in contexts of research design and research practice.

Student learning goals

To understand the problems to which particular archaeological theories are a response, especially the theories associated with the "New Archaeology" and its antecedents.

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 historically grounded analysis of archaeological theory relevant to research design and practice in an area of active research interest.

General method of instruction

Seminar format: discussion based on weekly reading responses.

Recommended preparation

Background in archaeological research in at least one field area, and familiarity with contemporary theoretical debate in Americanist archaeology are recommended.

Class assignments and grading

Seminar presentations; weekly reading responses; a substantial 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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Margaret Alison Wylie
Date: 06/10/2008