Seminar meetings: Winter 2013 M/W 4:30-6:20
Savery Hall 359

Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie
Office hours: Tuesays 1:30-3:30
SAV M396 / 543-5873 /

  • Note new room: SAV 359
  • Presentation and reading response schedule is now available in the course GoPost

Course description

Archaeology has not been much studied by professional historians of science, but archaeologists have been prodigious historians of their own field, and they have put histories of various kinds to work in a number of quite different ways. In this seminar we will explore the variety of internal histories that are in play, identifying several distinct genres of history-making ranging from the kinds of sweeping histories of disciplinary formation that can be useful in helping you get your bearings within established research traditions, through program-defining histories that have legitimated one after another “new archaeology,” as well as a range of critical counter-histories that call into question pivotal ideas and forms of practice that became entrenched as archaeology professionalized. We will consider, as well, examples of histories that play a direct role in archaeological research, for example, recontextualizing well understood evidence in ways that bring into view new interpretive possibilities. The goal of this course is to cultivate an historically grounded understanding of archaeological theory and to explore the possibilities for putting this understanding to work in contexts of research design and research practice.

The anchoring texts for this seminar are Trigger’s History of Archaeological Thought (2006), which provides a broad comparative framework within which to situate diverse national traditions of archaeological practice, and Patterson’s social histories of anthropology and of archaeology (2006 and 1996), which explore the conditions that have shaped successive “new archaeologies” and their rivals. We will also discuss selections from more specialized histories of research on particular problems, like Grayson’s Establishment of Human Antiquity (1983) and Rowley-Conwy’s Origins of the Three Age System (2007); studies of influential figures and key sites or objects of inquiry, as examined by Gere in Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism (2009), by Sommer in Bones and Ochre (2007), and by Hingley in Hadrian’s Wall, A Life (2012); and critical histories that underpin demands for equity and social justice in archaeology of the kind developed by Thomas in Skull Wars (2000), Watkins in Indigenous Archaeology (2000) and by contributors to Grit Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States (1999).


This course will be run as a seminar, with the emphasis on discussion informed by weekly reading responses. Members of the seminar will lead discussion in at least one class each week. Graded assignments include weekly reading responses, seminar participation and presentations, and a research paper on the history of a particular debate or concept, research community, program or technique. See the syllabus for details. You'll also find the requirements, and a presentation/reading response schedule posted in the course DropBox and GoPost.

Texts Ordered

  • Bruce Trigger. A History of Archaeological Thought. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Thomas Patterson. A Social History of Anthropology. Berg, 2006.
  • Thomas Patterson. Toward a Social History of Archaeology in the United States. Harcourt Brace, 1995.

For an outline of weekly readings
and details of the requirements