Excavations: an Introduction to Archaeology
Imagine unearthing a long forgotten artifact from the ground and holding it in your hands for the first time, standing under the scorching sun and heat. What can such an object tell us? Archaeology is the scientific attempt to understand the past—and particularly the ancient world—through human materials, geography, and other methods and technologies. Yet, core to the romance of archaeology is the idea of “discovery”—although what the archaeologist discovers is often well known to locals, be it the remains of an ancient settlement, the pathways of long-abandoned trading routes, or rock reliefs carved up high in the landscape. How, then, can we understand archaeology, historically and as a modern, scientific discipline? What new techniques and theoretical frameworks do contemporary archaeologists utilize in archeological practice, and why? What kinds of knowledge, what kinds of histories, does the archaeologist uncover—and for whom?
In this course, we will explore the techniques, methods, and complex history of archaeological field work, as we attempt to make sense of archaeology both as a science (with pretensions to neutrality) and as an artifact, itself, of the construction of modern systems of knowledge. Reading excerpts from the field diaries and travelogues of influential archaeologists, we will examine archaeology in the historical context of Western exploration, expansion, and ascending global dominance. What is archaeology’s relationship to nationalism, colonialism, and Western paradigms of historical writing and study? Next, we’ll compare historical archaeological methods to contemporary practices and self-understandings: How, in the aftermath of post-colonialism, have archaeologists re-evaluated their research methods? As we go, we will consult case studies from a variety of geographies and material cultures, and examine archaeological data through multiple frameworks, from materialist and Marxist approaches to cognitive archaeology, gender, and embodied histories. Throughout, we will ask: Who owns and controls the past? Can archaeology ever claim to be objective? Is archaeology destructive in nature? How can it be pursued non-destructively—and without reinforcing knowledge systems rooted in Western imperial history? Readings will be drawn from works by Ian Hodder, Lynn Meskell, Rosemary Joyce, Michael Shanks, and Christopher Tilley.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 13 — October 04, 2023