ARCHY 234 A: Trash and Dirt

Spring 2023
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm / BRK 007
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Welcome to

Trash, (Shit), Dirt
ARCHY 234, Spring 2023
Monday and Wednesday 10:30 AM -12:20 PM
Burke Museum East Classroom

Tell Barri, Syria

Tell Barri, NE Syria, composed entirely of garbage (8,000 years of food waste, pottery and building rubble), note person in white shirt for scale.

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 Seattle handles its “trash” and “shit”, economies of recycling and reuse, and 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.

Where is our classroom?
We meet in the classroom in the lower lobby of the Burke Museum. Enter the Museum through the main doors by Off the Rez Cafe, and head down the stairs under the Baird's Beaked Whale skeleton. All UW students have free entry to the Burke with your Husky Card, so feel free to check out the museum (show your Husky Card to the front desk folks if you want to visit the rest of the museum).

NOTE: The Burke is closed on Mondays, so I will let you in via the lower lobby doors at 10:30 for Monday classes.

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. Here is how I will figure out what grade to give you at the end of the quarter:

  • 20% reading and field trip responses (usually due at 11:59 PM the night before each class)
  • 20% Short Paper #1: Inventory your Room + 2 peer reviews (due April 9)
  • 20% Short Paper #2: Track your Trash + 2 peer reviews (due April 23)
  • 20% Short Paper #3: Explore Re-use + 2 peer reviews (due May 7)
  • 20% Short Paper #4: Follow your Shit + 2 peer reviews (due May 28)

Note: There may be changes to the syllabus over the course of the quarter to allow for guest speakers and inclusion of any newly published research, so check this Canvas site frequently. However, criteria and due dates for major assignments will not change. Check the Extra Credit page for opportunities as they come up over the quarter.

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 Tuesdays 1:30-2:30 pm. Feel free to drop in anytime at my office in Denny 129. If that time does not work for you, message me to set up an appointment (Zoom or in-person).

What are the rules and policies?

  • If you are feeling ill, do not come to class. Get in touch with me and we'll figure out ways you can keep up with the class.
  • 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.
  • I welcome ongoing feedback about the class. Please feel free to send 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.
  • We are 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. We are happy to discuss ways of expanding access to this class that are not only mandated by law.
  • College can be a difficult time. 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.
  • Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.
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 Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
June 21, 2024 - 8:21 am