Accessibility statement

Practical Skills: Buildings History


Module leader: Dav Smith


The module will explore the ways in which buildings can be researched historically, using both primary and secondary sources and archive visits. Basic training in research will be provided.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Carry out basic information and literature searches on historic buildings, using a range of research resources
  • Identify and locate relevant archive sources for historic buildings
  • Analyse and interpret a range of cartographic, pictorial, plan and documentary sources related to historic buildings
  • Develop basic palaeography and transcription skills
  • Critically evaluate the use of such sources in the interpretation of historic buildings

Further information

This module builds on the first year module Field Skills where students gain experience of conducting a buildings survey, and of using resources generated from archive research.

Through the term, students will be expected to develop their skills by combining the analysis of primary records in archives with the critiquing of a buildings history report which makes use of primary records (students write their own specialist report in the co-requisite module the following term so it is important that they understand good practice). The formative assessment is designed to provide training and a similar summative assessment is handed in at the end term. Students will be encouraged to keep an archive notebook throughout the term and in week 10 they will be also be assessed on the archive skills they have acquired during practical sessions and on their ability to “think on their feet” in a class test.

The module will provide basic knowledge and skills related to the location, analysis and interpretation of a range of documentary sources which shed light on buildings history. Students will be introduced to the range of sources used by buildings historians and archaeologists, including buildings histories, site reports and to a range of electronic resources, such as archive catalogues, including those of the National Archives. They will learn basic analytical and interpretative skills such as how to interpret site and plot summaries, phased plans, and documentary sources. The importance of these phenomena in relation to the interpretations developed in site reports will be discussed, as will the role of buildings in contributing to our understanding of sites and archaeology more generally. Students will also consider the relationship of buildings archaeology to other specialisms within 'buildings history'.

Teaching will alternate between classroom-based analyses of internet resources and published reports, and archive-based sessions at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, next to the Raymond Burton Library. Here, students will be provided with a unique opportunity to handle, analyse and interpret a range of primary sources in each session. Initial training will be provided in good archive practice, particularly in the conservation and handling of documents. Students will work in small groups, rotating around different documents, sharing ideas and thoughts and making notes to practice for the week 10 practical test.

Finally, the course will allow students to reflect critically on how archaeologists and other buildings historians bring together documentary and material evidence in the analysis and interpretation of buildings through the publication of finds reports and other building histories. This will provide students with an opportunity to compare, contrast and critique different approaches and will provide an important introduction for the work to be undertaken as part of the summer term's 'team project' on archive sources.


This module not only provides practical skills in a certain area but also gives students the opportunity to develop the following skills:

  • Self management: it is of vital importance that you learn the practical skills this term so you can apply them next term to your team project so you will need to manage your time well and spend about 10 hours a week in independent study
  • Communication: you will be learning how to communicate the results of work and should be developing both your written and verbal communication skills
  • Team working: although the focus of team working comes next term it is a good idea to begin to work with others in the group and think about how to lead, and follow, effectively
  • Problem solving: this module will require a capacity for analysis, synthesis and the ability to evaluate information from a range of sources
  • Social, cultural and global awareness: you may be considering case studies from an international context within this module. You should also appreciate the ethical issues involved.
  • Application of IT: you will be using the internet for a range of sources and you will be using word processing packages for presentation of your work
  • Application of numeracy: you will be thinking about how to interpret data