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Module

ARA2001 : Archaeological Theory and Interpretation

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Chris Fowler
  • Lecturer: Dr Jane Webster
  • Teaching Assistant: Miss Erin Harrison
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

The last fifty years have seen some radical changes in how we study the past. The majority of these stem from the recognition that the past must be actively interpreted in the present. During this module we will explore the major trends in archaeological theory over the last fifty years and consider how each of these assists in the interpretation of the past. Such theoretical trends have not only shaped archaeology but also played an integral role in many other disciplines, including anthropology, history of all kinds, geography, philosophy, sociology and cultural theory. For that reason, topics covered in this module are of wider relevance as they provide a guide to the ideas characteristic of the modern and postmodern world in which we live. Nonetheless, while the course is designed to address theoretical perspectives on the past, emphasis will be given to the practical deployment of theoretical perspectives in interpreting the past.

This module aims to develop an awareness of the relationship between archaeological interpretation and theoretical reasoning, to provide a detailed understanding of developments in archaeological theory over the last four decades, and to illustrate the impact of different theoretical approaches on our understanding of the past and on present social, cultural and political contexts. It also aims to develop your ability to recognise and critically evaluate differing theoretical perspectives and communicate these to others.

Outline Of Syllabus

Weekly structure, 2020-21
Topics
1. Introduction: the importance of theory ; Culture as history
2. Culture as process
3. Society and culture as political: Marxism and post-processual archaeology ; Culture as meaning
4. Contextual and post-structuralist archaeologies
5. Archaeology and lived experience
6. Agency and theories of practice
7. Identities that matter, identities in practice
8. An ontological turn: agency and materiality revisited
9. New materialism and assemblage theory ; Conclusions

Further detail of likely topics for recorded lectures, 2020-21 (total 2hrs week):

1. Introduction: the importance of theory; Culture as history      
-Why study theory?
-Grand narratives: Romanticism and the Enlightenment
-Grand narratives: Modernity
-Social evolution, progressivism and typology
-Culture-historic archaeology
-Functionalism and the ladder of inference
-Introduction summary, and module structure

2. Culture as process      
-Early critiques of culture history
-Positivism
-Culture as adaptive process
-Key tenets of New Archaeology
-Analogy and ethnoarchaeology in processual archaeology
-Social evolutionism revisited
-Summary of processual archaeology

3. Society and culture as political: Marxism and post-processual archaeology
-Culture as meaning      
-Post-processual critiques of New Archaeology: structuralism, Marxism and feminism
-Classic Marxism in archaeology
-Structuralism
-The archaeological record: fossil, text, or fallacy?
-Symbolic and structural archaeologies
-Culture, politics and ideology: Neo-Marxism in archaeology

4. Contextual and post-structuralist archaeologies      
-Culture revisited: Contextual archaeology
-Analogy and ethnoarchaeology in contextual archaeology
-Critiques and refinements of contextual archaeology
-Deconstruction
-‘Sites for the production of meaning’
-Semiotics and semantics
-Systems of knowledge as contextual
-Critical theory and the public context of archaeology
-Feminist critiques of archaeology

5. Archaeology and lived experience      
-Hermeneutics
-A four-fold hermeneutic?
-Hermeneutics as process
-Phenomenology
-Phenomenology in archaeology
-Temporality and taskscape
-Archaeologies of the senses and experience

6. Agency and theories of practice
-Agency introduced
-Agency and structure: structuration theory
-Archaeologies of inhabitation
-The mutual constitution of people and things: objectification
-Actor network theory
-Theories of practice
-Habitus, practice and identity

7. Identities that matter, identities in practice      
-Sex and gender
-Performativity
-Personhood
-Ethnicity
-Post-colonial theories
-Post-colonial theory in archaeology
     
8. An ontological turn: agency and materiality revisited
-Epistemology and ontology
-Flat ontologies
-Symmetrical archaeology
-Entanglement theory and material engagement theory
-Materiality and materials
-Relational ontologies
-Multiple ontologies

9. New materialism and assemblage theory ; Conclusions      
-Assemblage theory
-Assemblage theory in archaeology
-Materialization and dematerialization
-Relational realism
-Coda: Theories return; old methods are reinterpreted; core concepts are repeatedly re-evaluated…
-Coda: Why and when do themes and theories change? Who are archaeologists, who makes use of archaeology; who does archaeology serve; what is the value of archaeological interpretation?

Seminar content (1 hour/week):
1. Introduction to assessments and resources
2.-9. Each week the seminar will critically evaluate a key text. Reading briefs to guide student evaluation of of the text will be provided at the start of the module. These seminars require advance preparation (structured guided learning).

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials361:0036:00Lecture recordings and supporting materials
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion661:0066:00Guided independent studies
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading441:0044:00Guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Online synchronous seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities92:0018:00Seminar preparation using reading briefs
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery91:009:00Weekly open discussion surgery - online synchronous
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study181:0018:00Further independent study
Total200:00
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

A series of subject-specific lectures will provide an introduction to the aims and objectives of the module, its forms of assessment, and a detailed outline of notable developments in archaeological theory over the last four decades. Alongside the lectures students will attend weekly seminars. These will act as workshops where students, lead by the seminar leader, analyse key texts in archaeological theory. This will assist in preparation of all forms of assessed work. A weekly drop-in surgery hour with the module leader will provide opportunity for students to discuss their learning, ask questions about the content, and raise queries about assessment preparation.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M50Essay, 2000 words
Essay2M50Essay, 2000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay topics will relate to debates covered in lectures, seminars and group presentations and assess students’ abilities to analyse or compare these positions.

Submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.
Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

Reading Lists

Timetable