MSc in Archaeological Information Systems

Course Directors: Dr Sara Perry & Dr Gareth Beale

 

At a glance

Vocational training in advanced information technology

Why choose this course?

The MSc in Archaeological Information Systems course will provide you with applied practical experience and critical theoretical engagement with a full range of computing systems and technology used for publishing, archiving, analysing, visualising and presenting archaeological information today.

The University of York’s Archaeology Department has been at the forefront of researching and developing archaeological computer applications since the early days of digital practice in the discipline and has hosted the first online peer-reviewed e-journal for archaeology since 1996. It also hosts the world-leading Archaeology Data Service, which is the UK’s national digital data archive for the historic environment.

• Gain applied practical experience in internet applications, database design and management, GIS technology, CAD and computer modelling systems.
• Build a broad foundation of expertise in archaeological computing applications. 
• Access the University of York’s world-leading expertise in e-publishing and digital archiving. 
• Develop IT knowledge and skills that are highly valued in heritage-sector careers.
• Access a full suite of research computing hardware and software
• Receive tailored careers advice from staff with significant experience of recruiting within the sector.

York is one of the best places to study Archaeology, Heritage or Conservation. The Department has an excellent reputation and is one of the largest Archaeology teaching centres in the UK. The historic City of York is rich in architectural and archaeological treasures and resources which you will have easy access to during your studies. 

To find out more see: Why study post-graduate Archaeology in York?

What does the course cover?

Through a combination of academic studies, practical training, research and work placements, you will:

• Develop vital knowledge of the digital and internet technologies used for disseminating, publishing and archiving archaeological information.
• Learn practical skills in 3-D modelling, GIS, CAD and other technologies used for analysing and visualising archaeological information.

The course provides a detailed introduction to the broad range of information systems used in archaeology, and provides the opportunity to apply these systems in practice. The work placement and dissertation enable you to specialise in a particular technique or approach, giving you valuable practical experience in your areas of interest.

Who is it for?

The MSc in Archaeological Information Systems is designed for people who have a basic grounding in computer literacy and an interest in archaeology and heritage, and who wish to follow vocational training in archaeological information systems.

What can it lead to?

Many of our graduates go onto careers in archaeological computing, working in contract units or county-based records organisations. Others have founded their own consultancy businesses. Some apply their computing skills in more mainstream archaeological work, in museums, or in the wider world. Others have pursued further research at doctoral level. Find out what our alumni and current students have to say about the course.


“The MSc programme in Archaeological Information Systems allowed me to build a strong foundation in archaeology and technology focusing on GIS, CAD and database management.” 
Eric Thurston (AIS, 2007), Historic Preservation Specialist, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Content

Insights and inspiration in archaeological information technology

This one-year MSc course is taught via a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter skills modules of your choice. You will also gain valuable practical experience of applying information systems in the workplace on a work placement module. Finally, in the summer term you will develop your research and presentation skills by producing a dissertation and giving an assessed lecture.

AUTUMN AND SPRING TERMS

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

Digital publication and web technologies

Develop your knowledge of the principal digital and internet technologies used for disseminating, publishing and archiving archaeological information, and understand how to apply them. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies and applications.

Analysis and visualisation

Assess the main digital technologies used for analysing and visualising archaeological information, including 3-D modelling, GIS, CAD and VR technologies. Explore the application of these technologies, and understand their relative advantages and disadvantages.

You will study two further 20-credit modules. These could include any of the following from a longer list:

Cultural heritage management 1: concepts, principles and practice

Learn the principles, concepts and philosophy of managing and conserving cultural heritage, alongside heritage-management processes, practices, legislation and policies.

Analysing historic buildings

Discover the skills required for analysing and recording the archaeology of historic buildings, and understand buildings archaeology in the context of heritage and conservation practice.

Context and practice of gathering field archaeology data

Discover the main concepts and methods of modern fieldwork and how they impact on data gathering. Understand how and why archaeological fieldwork has developed over time.

Concepts of landscape

Gain a thorough grounding in approaches to landscape archaeology and address issues associated with interpreting the cultural landscape. Learn to critically review work on a wide variety of landscape types.

Cultural heritage management 2: museums, audiences and interpretation

Evaluate the ways cultural heritage is interpreted in education, the media and tourism, and how new technologies are used. Examine community participation in managing sites or artefacts, social inclusion and access to historic places.

Interpreting historic buildings

Learn the skills required to discern the function and meaning of historical building types and develop a critical understanding of the way building types can be interpreted.

Analysis, interpretation and dissemination of field archaeology data

Discover concepts and methodologies in analysing, disseminating and archiving field data. Understand how field data analysis has been affected by research agendas, IT technologies and organisational factors.

Themes in the historic landscape

Understand key themes and analyse and interpret different activities in the historic and cultural landscape. Critically reviews published work on landscapes from all over the world.

Themes in the prehistoric landscape

Develop a detailed understanding of the key themes in prehistoric archaeology. Analyse and interpret different activities in the cultural landscape and review published work.

You will also choose four shorter ‘skills’ modules . These could include any of the following from a longer list:

Working on the web

Learn the principles of effective web design and develop the skills required to create simple web pages.

Database design and implementation

Understand the applications of database technology in archaeology, and learn the basic principles of relational database design.

Geographical Information Systems

Learn how to use GIS equipment, examine how it can be applied in archaeology and explore the issues it raises.

Virtual reality modelling

Gain practical experience in three-dimensional computer modelling, and understand its uses and limitations.

Debates in museum theory and practice

Enhance your awareness of current issues in museums and explore relationships between museological theory and practice via a hands-on exhibition project.

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.                                      

Archaeological Information Systems placement

During the first two terms, you will have the option to gain practical experience of working in a professional, academic or heritage environment. You will be able to work on projects that help you develop new skills or put into use the skills gained on your taught courses.

Organisations offering placements range from museums and heritage centres to local planning authorities. Although optional, most students take the placement because it not only provides excellent work experience, but is an invaluable addition to your CV.

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.

This programme is also available for study as a Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in the Archaeological Information Systems.

Placement

Put IT intelligence into practice

Your work placement is a key feature of the course, providing valuable experience of using IT in an archaeological work environment. The placement offers you the chance to gain practical experience in a professional, academic or heritage environment. You will be able to work on projects that help you develop new skills or put into practice skills gained from your taught courses.

Aims

  • To provide experience of computer applications within a workplace in the historic environment sector.
  • To consolidate knowledge and understanding of computer applications from one or more of the taught modules.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing your placement you should have:

  • gained detailed knowledge of how information technology is applied in the workplace in the historic environment sector, under the guidance of experienced professionals.
  • developed an understanding of the contexts in which IT is applied, and of real world limitations.
  • developed your IT skills in one or more of the core areas covered by the taught programme (i.e. database design, web technologies, digital archiving, electronic publication, CAD, GIS and virtual reality modelling).

Placement providers

Although the organisations offering placements change from year to year, and you have the option of proposing other providers that match your specific interests, the following list is a good indication of some of the choices available: 

  • Yorkshire Museums Trust
  • Archaeology Data Service
  • City of York Council
  • Internet Archaeology
  • York Archaeological Trust
  • Centre for Christianity and Culture
  • L-P: Archaeology
  • On Site Archaeology
  • Council for British Archaeology
  • West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
  • English Heritage
  • National Trust

Former MSc students have said...

“Through the programme’s internships, I was able to work with the York Archaeological Trust conducting web-based GIS research and English Heritage’s Aerial Survey Unit analysing photogrammetric methods for landscape surveying.”

Eric Thurston (AIS, 2007), Historic Preservation Specialist, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Staff

Learn from the pioneers of archaeological computing

Lecturers and tutors for this course are among the pioneers in the application of information systems to all areas of archaeology. Many are involved in international research projects with various European, North American and other partners. The following staff with expertise in archaeological computing provide teaching, guidance and support for this course:

Dr Sara Perry

Director of Studies, Archaeological Information Systems MSc programme. Sara’s research focuses on the ways archaeologists present the past to both academic and non-academic audiences through various media.

Professor Julian Richards

Director of York’s Centre for Digital Heritage and The White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH). Julian specialises in the archaeology of Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age England.

Michael Charno

Digital Archivist & Web Developer, Archaeology Data Service. Mark specialises in GIS and spatial technologies.

Tim Evans

Digital Archivist, Archaeology Data Service. Tim specialises in electronic archives and publication.

Jo Gilham

Digital Archivist, Archaeology Data Service. Jo’s specialisms include databases, GIS, XML and XHTML.

Dr Helen Goodchild

Fieldwork and Project Officer. Helen’s interests include landscape archaeology, geophysical survey and computing applications in field archaeology.

Dr Penny Spikins

Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origins. Penny’s research interests cover issues in GIS, early prehistoric archaeology and small-scale ethnographic societies.

Dr Holly Wright

European Projects Manager, Archaeology Data Service. Holly is a specialist in web design, semantic web and linked data.

Dr Gareth Beale

Research Fellow for Centre for Digital Heritage. He specialises in the application of 3D computer graphics and digital recording and is Co-Director of the Re-Reading the British Memorial Project.

Judith Winters

Editor of e-journal Internet Archaeology. Judith is a member of the Council for British Archaeology's Publications Committee.

Careers

Launchpad for archaeological IT careers

The MSc in Archaeological Information Systems offers practical, careers-focused training for many essential roles in the professional world of archaeology. By the end of the course you will:

  • have examined how computers are applied in archaeology and their impact on the development of the discipline
  • understand the concept of the internet, be able to find and use relevant information and add materials to it
  • have the skills to evaluate critically the claims made for different computer applications and select the correct application for a given problem
  • have an understanding of authoring tools and be able to create an electronic text
  • have an understanding of database design and be able to design and implement a simple relational database
  • have an understanding of CAD and GIS and be able to create effective applications in each
  • have an awareness of digital archiving principles, resource discovery and metadata.

Many graduates from this course go on to careers in archaeological computing with contract and county-based records units, or found their own consultancy businesses. Some apply their computing skills to more mainstream archaeological settings, such as museums, or in a range of the others sectors and roles, including:

  • Archive management
  • Social media management
  • Local government and development
  • Computing and IT services
  • Business and administration
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Education

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

Alumni

Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MSc in Archaeological Information Systems have gone on to take up pivotal information technology roles in archaeological and related organisations worldwide.

Here’s what some recent graduates have said about the course:

Eric Thurston (AIS, 2007), Historic Preservation Specialist, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

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“The MSc programme in Archaeological Information Systems allowed me to build a strong foundation in archaeology and technology focusing on GIS, CAD and database management. Through the programme’s internships, I was able to work with the York Archaeological Trust conducting web-based GIS research and English Heritage’s Aerial Survey Unit analysing photogrammetric methods for landscape surveying. The degree has propelled my career and on my return to the US has opened the door to many opportunities where GIS is integral to the position. In my current role, my GIS background has allowed me to change the way we work by streamlining our efforts for more effective disaster support.”

Ash Scheder Black (AIS 2012), Computer Modelling & SQL Server Applications, Tucson, Arizona, USA

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‘‘I chose to study Archaeology because I have a deep and abiding fascination with the past. The University of York offers an outstanding programme and location. The assessed lecture and the opportunity to work with professional researchers as peers were most rewarding. York is an amazing heritage city and there is no end to the joys and rewards of living in North Yorkshire.’’

Marcus Smith (AIS 2003), Operations Developer, Swedish Antiquities Board

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‘‘I chose to study the MSc in Archaeological Information Systems (AIS) because my main two interests in archaeology were Viking-Age runic inscriptions, and computer applications in archaeology.  The MSc in AIS has given me employable skills both within archaeology and more generally.’’

Geoff Arnott (AIS 2007), Director, Heritage Technology Ltd

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“The AIS course is a MUST for anyone wishing to pursue a career in any aspect of digital archaeology.   The blend of practical application and theory, together with superb teaching and facilities, equip you with the skills needed to embark upon a successful career both academically and commercially.”

Entry

How to apply

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.

Other applicants may be considered in exceptional circumstances, for example those with considerable IT experience.

You will be expected to provide evidence of some basic familiarity with a range of IT applications and an aptitude for computer-based skills.

We interview most applicants, unless you live or work overseas.

Apply now

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

Apply online

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The use of computers in archaeology is entering a new phase of unparalleled development. Digital technologies stand today as powerful methodological and analytical tools used in all aspects of archaeological practice across all subfields of the discipline. This course will give you the applied technical skills and intellectual background required to flourish in this important and expanding area of archaeological discovery.