MA in Historical Archaeology

Course director: Dr Jonathan Finch

At a glance

Study at the cutting edge of post-medieval archaeological investigation

Why choose this course?

Historical Archaeology is the study of relatively recent documented periods, from the end of the Middle Ages to the 21st century. It is one of the most rapidly expanding aspects of archaeology, dealing with many exciting issues that relate directly to the world we have inherited today, drawing on a diverse range of material and documentary sources.

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The skills you develop working with material culture, landscapes and archival sources, as well as presenting short papers and writing essays and your dissertation, will provide an unrivalled insight into the past and present and prepare you for a wide range of jobs and careers, as well as further research. 

  • Explore dynamic and globally significant themes, from capitalism to colonialism.
  • Gain practical training in analysing and interpreting evidence, from excavations and standing buildings to landscapes and material culture.
  • Develop knowledge and skills that will give you a head start in many heritage, historic-environment and other post-graduate careers and research.
  • Study in the archaeological capital of Britain – experience historical archaeology in action.
  • Access state-of-the-art facilities, including laboratories, libraries and internationally important archives, resources and collections in York.
  • Receive career and research advice and guidance from staff with significant professional knowledge and experience. 

What does the course cover?

The MA in Historical Archaeology examines themes such as the development of consumption and capitalism, colonialism and globalisation from British and international perspectives. It builds out from the unique experience of Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to consider the global impact of changing economic, political and cultural values as the modern world took shape.

We examine data sources including excavated material alongside material culture from museums and collections, standing buildings, landscapes and documentary sources of all kinds, which relate to both the UK, its former colonies and the wider world.

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Who is it for?

This course is ideally suited for students from a wide range of backgrounds, which need not necessarily include Archaeology. The course appeals to anyone interested in the material culture and landscapes of the post-medieval period. Past students have included graduates of History, Art History, Heritage, English Literature and many more subjects, as well as mid-career professionals looking to enhance their knowledge, expertise and qualifications.

What can it lead to?

The course provides you with highly valued and transferrable skills, knowledge and experience essential for a wide variety of careers. Many students go on to further study or take up employment with a range of organisations both within and outside the heritage sector, including the civil service and law firms, heritage consultancies and museums. See what our alumni have to say about the course:

Annie Gray 3

“I loved studying Historical Archaeology at York. The MA course was an inspiration! It provided the foundation for my PhD and I was able to turn an interest into a passion.”
Annie Gray (2004), historic food and dining consultant

“The breadth of the course was extremely wide-ranging and was the most enjoyable part, perhaps because it meant stretching me to learn, but that’s what university is all about!”
Linda Smith (2014), Landscape Consultant

Course content

Discover the principles, practices and applications of historical archaeology

This one-year MA course is taught via a combination of lectures, workshops and tutorials. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter skills modules of your choice. In the final term, you will develop your research skills by producing a dissertation and presenting an assessed lecture.

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AUTUMN AND SPRING TERMS

During the autumn and spring terms, you will study two core modules, each worth 20 credits. These are:

Making of the Modern Nation (Issues in historical archaeology 1)
Understand the aims, objectives and social relevance of historical archaeology and explore current themes in an international context. Examine changes in society, economy and culture, exploring themes of rural and urban life, improvement, country houses and estates, settlement and poverty, death commemoration and memory.

Global Connections (Issues in historical archaeology 2)
Discover the archaeology of the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean and understand the role of historical archaeology on a global scale. Explore the main themes in historical archaeology and colonialism. Develop a deeper understanding of the methods, theories and approaches commonly applied in historical archaeology.

You will study two further 20-credit modules and four shorter 'skills' modules from this table

We always try to give everyone their first choice of modules, although this cannot be guaranteed. Some skills modules required by particular programmes may be over-subscribed. Take a look at the full modules list for scheduling information, as some modules run concurrently.

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SUMMER TERM

In your final term of study, you will carry out research for your dissertation and give an assessed lecture on your dissertation topic.

Here are some examples of previous dissertation topics:

The legacy of lead production in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
An assessment of patterns of estate tree and woodland planting, in the nineteenth century.
An examination of the social relationships articulated in eighteenth century estates in Co. Cork, Ireland.
Picturing the Poor: the visual construction of rural poverty in the Shenandoah Valley.
From Garden City to Council Estate: the development of Tang Hall, York.
The Woolsey Trunk: nineteenth century childhood identity and the life course in Sacramento, California.
Landowners and industrialisation: investigating the relationship between the Duke of Bedford and the 19th century mining landscape of the Tamar Valley.
Gertrude Jekyll’s York designs: an examination of the relationship between the Arts and Crafts home and the landscape.

This programme is also available for study as a Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in Historical Archaeology.

“The choice of independent research for the dissertation allows real breadth, with the opportunity to study anything from 18th-century gardens to 20th-century rubbish tips.”
Max Elliott (2014), PhD student

Staff

Inspirational teaching from leaders in the field

The MA in Historical Archaeology is taught and directed by Dr Jonathan Finch, a leading figure in post-medieval archaeological research and discovery. He has conducted fieldwork with students on sugar plantations in Barbados, as well as excavating a Yorkshire manor house which was demolished in the 1770s. He is currently excavating a First World War training camp in the Yorkshire Dales as part of an HLF funded project for the centenary commemorations. He has also published widely on eighteenth and nineteenth-century landscapes, as well as monumental commemoration.

Departmental teaching is supplemented by lectures and seminars from visiting researchers, academics, heritage professionals and practitioners, and extra-curricular seminars by guest speakers (link to YOHRS seminars). The department also contributes to the interdisciplinary Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies.

Optional modules on the course are taught by leading specialists in each field. These include Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones, Dr Kate Giles, Dr Sara Perry and Prof John Schofield.

Max Elliott 1

“The members of staff are so passionate about the subject and their enthusiasm is infectious. The MA was so inspirational it has led me to apply for further postgraduate study.”
Max Elliott (2014), PhD student

Careers

Essential skills for wide-ranging careers

This course will give you a thorough grounding in the rapidly growing field of Historical Archaeology and equip you with valuable skills and experience for a career in this and related fields. It also provides valuable transferable skills which are recognised across a wide range of professional graduate careers.

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By the end of the course you will:

  • be familiar with current research agendas and a broad range of issues in historical archaeology.
  • have detailed knowledge of topics and themes using material from Britain, Europe, North America, Africa and the Caribbean.
  • have developed key skills to organise information and arguments in a critical and independent manner in written form and in presentations.
  • have undertaken an extended piece of independent research on a topic of your choice in the field of historical archaeology.
  • have delivered a short lecture on a chosen topic in historical archaeology.

Course postgraduates have gone on to work with many organisations, including landscape and environmental consultancies, professional bodies, heritage organisations such as English Heritage and the National Trust, the media and museums.

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Others have used the skills gained to pursue careers in other sectors, including:

  • Local government and development
  • Civil service and law
  • Chartered surveying
  • Computing and IT services
  • Business and administration
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Education
  • Accountancy and financial services

Others have gone on to pursue PhDs in the UK and overseas.

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Find out what some of our alumni have said about the course and how it improved their career prospects:

“The course enabled me to turn an interest into a passion, and the encouragement and support I received from my tutors gave me the confidence to turn that into a career.”
Annie Gray (2004), historic food and dining consultant

Alumni

Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MA in Historical Archaeology have gone on to take up varied careers and further study, using the skills and knowledge gained during their studies at York.

Here’s what some recent graduates had to say about the course:

Linda Smith (2014), currently working as a Landscape Consultant

“I really enjoyed the seminars, being able to discuss not just on the topic but issues around it; it led to a much deeper understanding. Taking turns to present a short paper on the topic was a good exercise in working out the nub of the issue, fleshing out the problem and historical material to understand what was behind it. The breadth of the course was extremely wide-ranging and was the most enjoyable part, perhaps because it meant stretching me to learn, but that’s what university is all about!”

Max Elliott (2014), currently PhD student:

Max Elliott 2

“The MA in Historical Archaeology at the University of York gives students the flexibility to follow their own interests, within a supportive and enthusiastic environment. The choice of independent research for the dissertation allows real breadth, with the opportunity to study anything from eighteenth century gardens to twentieth century rubbish tips. I was lucky enough to join the excavations at Breary Banks camp and worked on the finds, eventually writing my dissertation about the bottles excavated and early twentieth century consumerism and branding.

“The course has a real focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which is matched by the staff expertise and this means that your seminars are often at the forefront of contemporary archaeological thinking. The members of staff are so passionate about the subject and their enthusiasm is infectious. The MA was so inspirational it has led me to apply for further postgraduate study. I cannot recommend this course highly enough to anyone interested in the archaeology of the recent past.”

Annie Gray (2004), currently historic food and dining consultant:

Annie Gray 4

“I loved studying Historical Archaeology at York. The MA course was an inspiration! It provided the foundation for my PhD and I was able to turn an interest into a passion, and the encouragement and support I received from my tutors gave me the confidence to turn that into a career.”

Entry

To apply for this course, you will need:

  • A good honours degree (upper second or first class) or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution in Archaeology or a related field, such as History, Art History, Geography or English Literature.

Non-graduate applications will be considered from those with three years practical or professional experience, broadly related to the topics within historical archaeology or those disciplines listed above.

Applicants are normally interviewed before an offer is made.

apply now button

First, check our How to apply page, which explains what information the Department needs from you.

 

Photo of Dr Jonathan Finch on site‌‌

Historical archaeology is one of the most dynamic areas of archaeology, examining compelling issues such as modernity and capitalism on a global scale through artefacts, landscapes and documents. York offers unrivalled depth of expertise and opportunity across a range of historical archaeology projects, from the Caribbean and Africa to Europe and the UK.

Dr Jonathan Finch