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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Angela E. Close
ARCHY 402
Seattle Campus

Archaeology and Social Difference

Examines case studies in prehistoric archaeological record for intersections of socially constructed differences including age, gender, and class. Contrasts past perceptions of difference with projection of modern differences backward to validate the present. Prerequisite: ARCHY 205; either ARCHY 105, ARCHY 303, or ARCHY 401.

Class description

Today, we recognize that gender, age and class are social constructions of identity. Throughout history, these constructs have been legitimized by claims of very deep roots in the past, and archaeology, the only social science of the deep human past, has long been used to project the present into the past. The course will begin with consideration of the theoretical basis of socially constructed difference, and what correlates this might have in the archaeological record. We will then critically examine how one might (reliably?) identify past social identities, by means of focused case studies of a chronological and geographical variety of societies. We will begin with pre-human and non-human (primate) communities, in which the social construction of identity should be at its least. We will then move on through various stages of human social and economic development – foragers, early food-producers, middle-level societies - to the early “complex societies”. In each of these societies, all very different from our own, we will try to identify the intersections of gender, age and class as they might then have been perceived, rather than how they are now perceived. In prehistory, we rely entirely upon the material traces of human behavior – technology (in the very broadest sense), spatial and contextual information – to reconstruct difference. We study what people did, as opposed to what they might have said they were doing. This enables us to move beyond the dichotomies of modern thought (as “male” vs “female”), to accept ambiguity, and to appreciate that, ultimately, even “sex” is a social construct.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


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 Angela E. Close
Date: 03/17/2009