Meta-Archaeology: Philosophy & Archaeology

ARCHY 574 / PHIL 574

Seminar meetings: T/Th 5:00-6:50, Denny 146

Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie
Office hours: Wednesdays 2:00-3:30
SAV M396 / 543-5873 /


Course 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. We begin by considering antecedents to the New Archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s, and then turn to an examination of the philosophical sources that inspired its explicitly “positivist” ideals: the positivist models of confirmation associated with Hempel, and some prominent critques of these due to Popper and to Kuhn. We Later sections of the course focus on issues that have been pivotal in internal debate about the viability of such models: 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.

All assigned readings are available through the University of Washington on Electronic Course Reserves: follow the ERes link (above left).

This is a schematic outline; for details see the requirements file posted under "Assignments" (upper left).

Seminar participation and presentations:

Written assignments: