ARA3031 : Historical Archaeology of Britain 1500-Present

  • Offered for Year: 2012/13
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Jane Webster
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module focuses on the archaeology of the period 1500-present within the British Isles. It begins with an examination of the ‘consumer revolution’ after 1500, and looks at the role of archaeology in studying artefacts and consumer tastes in the early modern period. We then move on to look at archaeological approaches to key changes in British landscapes and townscapes from 1500-1800, and include here an examination of the impact of the dissolution of the monasteries, the Civil War, and colonial expansion ‘at home’ in Britain.

The middle section of the course looks at the Industrial era (c.1750-1900), exploring the aims and methods of industrial archaeology (an archaeological discipline in its own right), and looking at the social changes resulting from industrialisation. The final part of the course explores the archaeology of the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on changing attitudes to death after 1900, the First and Second World Wars, and the emerging archaeology of modern mass consumerism.

Throughout this module we make use of contemporary documentary sources (from probate inventories to factory inspectors reports), examining the ways in which historical archaeologists utilise these documents alongside excavation data in writing the history of the recent past. We also examine the relationship between archaeology and heritage presentation, exploring the sometimes contentious issues that surround the public presentation of recent historical phenomena.

The aims of this module are:
1. To develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the material culture of the period 1500-present
2. To expand students’ understanding of the relationship between documentary sources and archaeological data that characterises historical archaeology as a discipline
3. To examine and engage in debates about the range of interpretative frameworks available for modelling cultural change in Britain after 1500
4. To foster an understanding of the role of archaeology in studying the very recent past

Outline Of Syllabus

A Lec       Introduction to the course/defining ‘post-medieval’ and ‘historical’ archaeology
B Lec       ‘Consumerism and the global world of ‘things’ c.1500-1750
A Lec       Artefact studies: themes, issues and approaches
B Lec       Willow Pattern: reading ceramics from the inside out
A Lec       Tudor landscapes: the archaeology of houses and gardens
B Lec       The first colony: historical archaeology in Ireland
A Lec       James Deetz in the UK: the archaeology of the Georgian period (1714-1830)
B Sem       Housing culture: reading Deetz and Johnson
A Lec       Landscape change in the age of ‘improvement’: from enclosure to the polite landscape
B Sem       History and heritage in the slave trade port cities
A Lec       Industrial archaeology in the UK today: aims, themes and issues
B Sem       Steel city: the archaeology of Sheffield
A Lec       The archaeology of 19th century labour
B Sem       From home to factory: history, archaeology and textile workers
A Lec The archaeology of the post-medieval dead
B Sem       Grave concerns – Spitalfields and its impact on the archaeology of the recent dead
A Lec       The contemporary past: themes and issues in 20th and 21st century archaeology
A Lec       What is artefact biography?
A Lec       The archaeology of industrialised warfare: WW1, WW2 and beyond
B Sem:       Artefact biography: three details case studies
A Sem       20th century artefact studies
B Lec       Christmas: a material culture history
Two essay writing classes A Bibliographies and referencing and B Proofreading

We have SIX two-hour practical classes, scheduled fortnightly:

1 (Week 1)       Using historical documents: a guide to available resources (with case study on the historical archaeology of slave shipping)
2 (Week 3)       How to make a cup of tea: exploring the tea ritual in England
3(Week 5)       Ovenstone miners’ cottages I: researching 19th century household goods.
4 (week 7)       Ovenstone miners’ cottages II: researching 19th century household goods.
5 (week 9)       18th century graves and how to record them: St Andrews Church, Newcastle
6 (week 11)       How to eat your dinner: the material culture of dining practices from 1600-1900

We also have a fieldtrip to Beamish museum (6 hrs) to investigate everyday material culture in the Georgian farmhouse (and much else besides). Your entrance fee to Beamish will be paid for you.
This trip will need to take place on a Saturday: details to be arranged.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion531:0053:001/3 of guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture151:0015:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading531:0053:001/3 of guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical62:0012:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork16:006:00Field trip to Beamish Museum
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study521:0052:001/3 of guided independent studies
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures offer a broad overview of the historical archaeology of one of four selected case-studies areas. Seminars examine one aspect of that week’s overview in greater depth. These sessions always involve some group work, and are designed to tie in to, and support, the set written work. Advance (group) preparatory work is required for the seminars. The 6 practical sessions involve ‘hands on’ study of artefacts in museum collections, and/or historical documents.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M50Assessed Essay (2,000 words) due Week 8, Semester 1
Written exercise1M50Assessed 20th Century Artefact Biography (2,000 words) due Week 12, Semester 1
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Assessment 2 (20th Century Artefact Biography) comprises a study of 20th century artefacts, and in most cases will involve oral interviews with grandparents, parents, elderly friends etc. Students study a ‘display group’ (for example, items on a windowsill, or a mantelpiece) and undertake research (including where possible the recording of oral memories) on the identity and transmission histories of the items, and the associated memories of those who have owned/known them. As an alternative, students can select a single war memorial and carry out research on the memorial, and selected individuals named on it.

The lectures provide a broad overview of the historical archaeology of the period/theme under study. The seminars and practical sessions will examine one aspect of that week’s overview in greater depth. These are designed to tie in to, and support, the set written work.

ERASMUS students at Newcastle One 2,000 word essay to be handed in by 12.00 p.m. of the Friday of the first week of the assessment period. This will replace all work required of domestic students. It remains the case that, if an ERASMUS student specifically requests that s/he be permitted to do the same assessments as the domestic students, that option remains open to them. No variation of the deadlines will be allowed except on production of medical or equivalent evidence.

Reading Lists


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