Accessibility statement

History and Theory

ARC00005, 20 credits

Module leader: James Taylor


The study of the past is always political. We are subject to biases from our own social and cultural perspectives, which can influence how we view and react to archaeological interpretations and practice. This module sets the scene for developing essential critical analytical skills by challenging you to think about how our philosophies and experiences shape the questions we ask of the past. Through a combination of lectures and seminars you will learn to critique the strengths and weaknesses of past and current approaches to Archaeology, and debate key papers that have shaped the development of Archaeology world-wide..

Module credit: 20 credits
Teaching methods: 16 lectures, 15 seminars (1 hour each)
Practical element: 6 self-guided field trips in York (1-2 hours each)

The module is examined through essays, in which you will set out a reasoned critique of thetheoretical perspectives you find most convincing or influential. The module forms the foundation for exploring the politics and philosophy of Archaeology in modules in the second and third year.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module and its assessment, students should be able to:

  • appreciate that all archaeologists apply theoretical principles to their work, consciously and unconsciously
  • recognise that interpretations of data may differ because of the theoretical positions of archaeologists
  • have a basic understanding of the principles and applications of Culture history, Processualism, Marxism, Structuralism, Postprocessualism and various other critical approaches and be able to place their development and application within a historical, political, international context
  • begin to appreciate the links between theory and practice and to understand how the wider social and political context of archaeology has influenced the development of the various theoretical positions within the discipline
  • understand the role of British archaeology in the development of the discipline world wide and to recognise the influences of other regional archaeologies on the development of theoretical debates within the wider discipline
  • begin to appreciate which theoretical positions they feel are most appropriate for their own studies, and which relate to their wider world view
  • learn to work in small teams to produce seminar output, and improve their oral presentation and argument skills within the seminars


This module will provide the following skills:
  • Self management: you will need to learn to be very organised and plan your time so that you can dedicate about 10 hours of your week to reading in advance of the seminars
  • Communication: you will be able to develop your verbal communication skills in seminars and your written skills through writing essays
  • Team working: you may want to suggest to some of your seminar group that you form a study group and work together in a team in order to get to grips with more of the reading and for further discussion
  • Social, cultural and global awareness: you will be reading about cultures and customs from around the world and will learn to appreciate the diversity of views and related ethical issues
  • Application of IT: you will be using the internet to access electronic journal articles as well as word processing for writing essays

The theory module was a valuable part of the year , and improved my knowledge of Archaeology.