ARCHY 469 A: Special Studies In Archaeology

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SAV 168
Ben Fitzhugh

Syllabus Description:

This class will explore core ideas or conceptual frameworks guiding archaeological research for the past half century. Students will read and discuss exemplary expositions of different theoretical paradigms and their applications in archaeological case studies. Short essays and mock debates will challenge students to understand the goals and assumptions of different approaches, and the role they play in effective research. A final paper will go deeper on a topic of choice.

A variety of (often overlapping) theoretical approaches, paradigms and positions will be examined. These cover the field between Processualism and Post-processualism, Materialist and Idealist, Scientific and Interpretivist, Environmental and Social. Topical consideration will be given to Darwinist, Ecological, Marxist, Practice/Agency, Feminist, and Indigenous perspectives.

  • Outcomes- Students who complete this class will have:
  • Deeper understanding of archaeology as a problem-oriented research tradition
  • Deeper understanding of archaeological literature
  • The ability to frame research questions in the context of appropriate theory
  • Improved skills in logical analysis and framing of research
  • Preparation for more advanced study in archaeology


Students are expected to complete assigned reading for a given class period the day before the class and to post provocative questions for discussion and clarification on the course Discussion Board.

The main textbook for this class is

Matthew Johnson's Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (2010: Second Edition[you must have this edition - the first edition from 2000 is significantly out of date]). Wiley-Blackwell.

The text is available from the University Bookstore. This text is a fairly well balanced review of archaeological theory, especially since 1960. While I do not share all of the author’s views, I am impressed with his effort at balance and agree with many of his pragmatic and constructive positions. Even so, most subjects are necessarily treated superficially. Therefore, you are required to read one or more primary articles or book chapters each class period, in addition to the assigned textbook chapters. These will be assigned and made available as Canvas “Assignments”.

Important: Many of the key texts in archaeological theory are one or more decade old. You need to be familiar with a number of these “classics” to understand what is happening in archaeology today. Most if not all of the historically significant theoretical and epistemic frameworks that we will study continue to be influential in archaeological practice around the world today (culture historical approaches, especially so). We can argue about whether some should be abandoned as “out-of-date”, but you need to understand them to make sense of archaeological thinking today.


Class will include a mix of mini-lectures, discussions, student presentations and the occasional debate and guest lecture.  You will need to come to class prepared, having read the assignments and submitted responses on the class Canvas site as prompted.

Class Discussions:

This seminar will require informed discussion of theoretical concepts. You must complete all assigned readings before class and be prepared to discuss their content. As an aid in this process, you are expected to post comments and questions for clarification and discussion about each reading assigned.  These are due by 9am on the day of class. Most classes will then include discussions about those readings guided by the issues raised in your online posts. Students are expected to engage actively in discussions as this is the only way to really gain a robust understanding of this material. Class participation will be a significant portion of your final grade and will be assessed in part through your timely reading posts and your thoughtful participation in class discussions.

Research Paper:

Instead of a final exam, each student will submit a research paper on a topic of archaeological theory that you find particularly interesting or problematic (those are the same thing right!?). The topic is up to you, but should be approved before you commit. In selecting a topic, feel free to get advice from other archaeology faculty or graduate students. A title and paragraph about your topic is due by the beginning of class on October 18. A first draft of your paper is on November 22. I will return your paper with comments within one week. Complete, revised papers are due December 9. Papers should conform to the style guide of American Antiquity.


You will be assigned two take home essays during the quarter, each of which will require you to articulate a position on a controversial topic and defend it before reflecting on other positions in the debate. The essays will serve as preparation for in-class debates, and you will be encouraged to come “in character” to create a lively and fun activity.


  • Class participation

    • Posts: 25%
    • Active discussions: 15%
  • Debate topics
    • Take home prep essays (2): 10% each
    • Debate participation (included in class participation)
  • Research Paper
    • Initial abstract/title: 5%
    • Rough draft (on time for credit): 15%
    • Final draft: 20%
Catalog Description: 
Consideration in detail of specific archaeological topics, either methodological or substantive in content, of current interest. Offered occasionally by resident, new, or visiting faculty. For advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Prerequisite: ARCHY 205.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
May 4, 2017 - 9:50pm