ARCHY 234 A: Trash and Dirt

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 11:20am
* *
Peter V. Lape
Peter V. Lape

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to

Trash, (Shit), Dirt
ARCHY 234, Spring 2021


What is this class about?
How do we develop a sense of disgust? What is the life cycle of cultural objects? How do people “clean up”? Where does your trash go? What can shit tell us about human history? What is considered “dirty” in different cultural contexts and different historical moments?

We'll try to answer these questions and more in this anthropologically and archaeologically centered exploration of the diversity of human practices of defining and handling dirty stuff. We will explore how the UW handles its “trash” and “shit”, Seattle’s history of dumps and junk yards, how people in other parts of the world and at other times in history have managed trash and sewerage. We will make trips to some trashy and shitty places, consider intestinal parasites and the information embedded in them, and explore the amazing, hidden universe of waste.

Meet your instructor, Peter Lape:
I am an archaeologist and museum curator. My job is to carefully dig up people's trash, analyze it, and then store it in beautiful, museum-quality containers forever. These days I mostly dig up trash from 3,000-4,000 year old sites in the islands of eastern Indonesia, but I also find it fascinating how contemporary people in these islands deal with trash and shit. When I was a kid, one of my favorite Saturday activities was to take our household trash to the dump with my dad (we lived in the country and didn't have trash pickup). Car junkyards and building salvage warehouses are current favorite haunts of mine. I hope to share the joy of exploring these and other local places where our city deals with trash, sewerage and recycling.

How to contact me outside of class meeting times:
Please use the Canvas message system. Please start your email with "Hi Dr. Lape" or "Dear Dr. Lape", use a helpful subject heading, and put your name at the bottom. Also, please be nice, spell things correctly, and use complete sentences. I will answer your message as soon as I can, but I also have an actual life outside of work and try limit email writing to normal business hours. I'm also happy to meet with students any time. Message me or catch me after class to make an appointment.

What can you learn in this class?

  • I hope you will figure out the strange and wonderful ways anthropologists and archaeologists see the world around them,
  • use that perspective to delve into the ways humans interact with and think about material objects, particularly how we "dispose" of the ones we consider "dirty,"
  • and apply your new anthropological and archaeological understanding of trash, shit and dirt to real global problems.

What are the assignments and how are grades calculated?
This is a discussion-oriented course with minimal instructor lectures. For this to work, we all need to do the assigned reading on time and be prepared to participate in enthusiastic talking and questioning when we meet as a group.

I find grading to be a deeply unpleasant task, and I wish we could all just enjoy our time together learning new things. But UW doesn't work that way, so here is how I will figure out what grade to give you at the end of the quarter:

  • 20% class participation, peer review and in-class activities
  • 30% reading responses
  • 10% junkyard/salvage yard trip and response
  • 20% short papers (room inventory and cell phone biography)
  • 20% final paper

Note: There will likely be changes to the syllabus over the course of the quarter to allow for guest speakers, field trips and inclusion of any newly published research, so check this Canvas site frequently. However, criteria and due dates for major assignments will not change.

How to contact me outside of class meeting times:
Feel free to use the Canvas message system or email. Please start your message with a polite greeting and use a helpful subject heading. Also, please be nice, spell things correctly, and use complete sentences. I will answer your message as soon as I can within normal business hours.

I hold weekly office hours on Zoom, Wednesdays 12-12:30 pm. Feel free to drop in anytime (there is a waiting room to allow one student at a time). I will also be on Zoom about 10-15 minutes before class and am happy to chat and answer questions then too. If none of those work for you, message me to set up an appointment.

What are the rules and policies?

Zoom protocols:

It isn't possible to replicate the in-person class environment on Zoom, but this is how we will attempt to make these meetings fun and inspiring (and hopefully not exhausting and soul crushing).

  • You will need to log in using your UW NetID to be allowed in to Zoom sessions.
  • Please turn your camera on for class discussion and breakout rooms, unless it seriously impacts your internet bandwidth; you can turn your camera off while someone (me or a guest) is doing a lecture or presentation
  • Please have your preferred name (first and last) and your pronoun preference set on your Zoom profile.
  • Feel free to use the chat for questions that come up during lectures.
  • Zoom class sessions will be recorded and made available after each class; due to the importance of seminar discussion in this class, my preference is for students to join the synchronous (live) class sessions, but you have the option to view or review class lecture and discussion at any time in the quarter.

Other normal-times policies:

  • Late submissions will not be accepted unless you make alternate arrangements prior to the due date. Get those assignments in on time or accept the consequences.
  • Please do not email asking for a summary of a class you missed (that is why the sessions are recorded), but I am happy to answer any other questions at any time via Zoom chat during class, via Canvas message outside of class or during office hours on Wednesdays 12-12:30.
  • I welcome ongoing feedback about the class. Please feel free to send me suggestions for improvement at any time during the quarter.
  • You are expected to produce your own work in this class. Plagiarism or any other form of cheating will not be tolerated. There won't really be any good opportunities to cheat, actually. All students are expected to uphold the University of Washington standard of student conduct.
  • I am committed to meeting the needs of all class participants. The Disabled Student Services (DSS) Office coordinates academic accommodations for enrolled students, University staff, and academic personnel with documented disabilities. I am happy to discuss ways of expanding access to this class that are not only mandated by law.
  • College can be a difficult time, especially during a global pandemic. The UW has comprehensive Counseling and Mental Health Services, including individual and group counseling as well as 24/7 counseling and crisis support through My SSP.


Catalog Description: 
How do we develop a sense of disgust? What is the life cycle of cultural objects? How do people "clean up"? Where does your trash go? What can sh*t tell us about human history? What is considered "dirty" in different cultural contexts and different historical moments? Archaeologically centered exploration of diversity of human practices in defining and handling dirty stuff.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
March 5, 2021 - 9:52pm