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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Margaret Alison Wylie
ARCHY 574
Seattle Campus

Meta-archaeology: Philosophy and Archaeology

Examines philosophical issues raised in and by archaeology, including theories of explanation and model building, analyses of evidential reasoning and hermeneutic interpretation, debates about ideals of objectivity and about science and values. Recommended: ARCHY 570. Offered: jointly with PHIL 574; Sp.

Class description

Archaeologists routinely confront and debate philosophical issues: about the scientific status of the field, its orienting goals, the nature of its (cultural) subject matter, and the challenges inherent in working with an archaeological database. The aim of this course is to selectively examine the philosophical underpinnings of archaeology as articulated in and through debates about these issues. The focus this quarter will be on questions about evidential reasoning.

Our point of departure is historical: arguments for a "new archaeology" (scientific and anthropological) that date to the early and mid-20th century, alongside an examination of the philosophical sources that inspired these disciplinary ideals and reactions against them (the logical positivism of Hempel and the contextualism associated with Kuhn). In later sections of the course we focus on issues that have been pivotal in contemporary debate: the role of interpretive understanding (vs. explanation); the nature of evidential reasoning both in forming and in evaluating claims about the cultural past; relativist challenges and ideals of objectivity.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This is a seminar course: the focus will be on close reading and question-driven discussion of the assigned texts.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Active participation in seminar discussion: 10% In-class presentation (facilitate seminar discussion): 10% Reading responses (every second week): 15% Term paper (case-based analysis of evidential reasoning): 65%


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: 10/15/2011