Course syllabus
Reading Response Board
Presentation Schedule
Essay Guidelines
Essay Drop Box
ARCHY 467, Fall 2009
Research Ethics in Archaeology

Instructor: Alison Wylie

Office: Savery Hall M396
Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:00-3:30 / by appointment

M / W 6:00-8:20, Savery 162

November 11 2009, 12:47 AM
NOV 16/18: Missing week plans
- revisit Warren and Brown for further discussion: in particular, let's discuss the alternative, "civil" (vs legal) framework for addressing "cultural property" issues that they advocate, and consider what assumptions these presuppose.
- read one additional chapter from _Cultural Appropriation_: Coleman and Coombs, "Broken Record" (I'll attach this one)

Artifact day:
As a jumping-off point for this discussion on Monday, either bring or describe some piece of  "material culture" that is important to you; is its significance captured by the kinds of interests described by Warren, Brown, or others we've been reading?

First essay discussions:
Do please send the members of your presentation group a copy of your first essay, and read each others' essays with an eye to discussing, on Monday:
- what possibilities you see for building on / refining / extending the conceptual analysis each of you have developed in this first paper;
- how this analysis relates to the cases or concrete examples we've been discussing.

October 5 2009, 1:50 PM

OCT 6:  We have a new seminar room: Savery 162. To get into Savery Hall after 5:00 pm you'll need to use one of the main entrances (across from Kane Hall or facing the quad).

OCT 4:  Also,  rather than fix a "reading response" rotation for the whole quarter, you should each chose one of the next two weeks to  write your first  reading response, and then sign up for two additional weeks later in the quarter when you give me preferences for your presentation topics. Sign-up sheets will be posted shortly.

Course Description

Archaeological practice raises a number of challenging ethics issues. With the majority of practicing archaeologists now employed in private industry (contract archaeology) or the public sector (culture resource management), archaeologists find themselves caught between the goals and standards of their profession and the demands of diverse employers, oversight agencies, and stakeholders. Further conflicts arise between research goals and the commitments entailed by a conservation ethic: these are especially sharply drawn in debate about the professional use of looted or commercially traded material. But most urgent and most transformative are the issues of accountability raised by descendant communities, especially Indigenous and First Nations communities who regard archaeological sites and artifacts as part of their cultural heritage and often see little value in archaeological research. An ethic of stewardship has been proposed in response to these issues; one central aim of this course is to critically assess the implications of stewardship ideals for archaeological practice.

To establish a framework for addressing this broad range of issues, we begin with readings that situate the development of archaeological ethics principles and codes of conduct—and especially the ethic of stewardship adopted by the Society for American Archaeology in 1996—in the context of broader debate about research integrity and accountability in science and the professions. To see how principles of archaeological ethics play out in practice we turn to case-based analyses of specific issues that are an immediate concern for archaeologists working at home and abroad: archaeological responses to looting and commercial trade in antiquities; the implications of a conservation ethic for archaeological practice; the conflicts archaeologists negotiate in connection with the demands of professional practice; and, most importantly, issues of accountability to descendant communities and to communities affected by archaeological research.

A detailed list of weekly readings is available in the course syllabus: follow this link for a downloadable PDF.

Course syllabus


The following texts are available in the bookstore:

  • Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson (eds.), Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engging Descendant Communities (AltaMira Press, 2008).
  • Lynott and Wylie (eds.), Ethics in American Archaeology, 2nd edition (SAA Special Report Series, 2000).
  • Zimmerman, Vitelli, and Hollowell-Zimmer (eds.), Ethical Issues in Archaeology (AltaMira Press, 2003).
  • Recommended: Scarre and Scarre (eds.), The Ethics of Archaeology: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice (CUP, 2006).
Additional assigned readings are available in a password protected course webfolder; please contact the instructor for access.

Course requirements

Participation and presentations (20% of the final grade):

  • Active participation in seminar discussion: this is essential and will require close critical reading and analysis of the assigned texts.
  • Presentations - Research Ethics: in this initial section of the course, all students all students will asked to search out discussions of, and report back to class on, key ethics concepts that arise in the assigned readings, examples of ethics principles and codes adopted by a range research fields other than archaeology, and by a cross-section of archaeological societies and interest groups.
  • Presentations - Case Based: in these sections of the course, teams of students will develop and present an analysis of a case each week that illustrates the ethics issues addressed in the readings assigned for that week. These presentations can take the form of a debate, with members of the team representing different interests in and responses to the issue in question, or a problem-posing and problem-solving format. In any case, the purpose of these presentations is to generate active discussion.

Written assignments (80% of the final grade):

  • Reading responses (20%): A short response to one of the assigned readings (1-2 paragraph, maximum 1-page) will be required three times during the quarter. All students are required to write one reading response in the first section of the course, and choose two "Focal Issues" on which to write responses in later weeks (a rotation will be set up in the second week of classes). These responses should be posted on the course website the evening before the first class in the week assigned and everyone in the class should be sure to read posted responses before the class meeting.
  • Short papers (60%): The major requirement of this class is a series of three short papers, each equally weighted. These will include one that presents an careful exegesis and assessment of one of the issues or positions presented in the framework literature assigned in the first section of the course, and two that develop a case-based analysis in two of the topic areas discussed in the "Focal Issues" section of the course. In the case of these latter two papers it will be crucial to choose a concrete example (or set of examples) in terms of which the implications for various affected parties can be clearly articulated. These papers will be due as follows:  (1) foundational issues in research ethics - October 26; (2) conservation issues or commercial trade - November 23; (3) cultural heritage issues and accountability to descendant communities - December 14.