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Archaeologies of Colonialism in the British Atlantic World - ARC00023M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jonathan Finch
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

Historical archaeology has never been more relevant. Movements like Black Lives Matter have highlighted the extent to which colonial legacies sustain inequalities and impact our society. ‘Empires of Improvement’ focuses on colonialism and decolonisation in the Atlantic World, c.1600-1840. Drawing upon archaeological and historical research, it examines how colonialism shaped and forced modernity into existence. These powerful stories will be encountered and analysed through fascinating evidence, such as material culture of enslaved people, the architecture of colonial towns, and the landscapes of plantations.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module aims:

  • To critically examine the archaeology of globalisation over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
  • To understand the role historical archaeology can play in understanding the foundations of contemporary issues of inequality
  • To develop an understanding of postcolonial and decolonial theory and how these can be applied in historical archaeology

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Critically evaluate the archaeology of the Atlantic World and how colonialism has been entangled within everyday life.
  • Evaluate the methods, theories and approaches commonly applied in historical archaeology, and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of case studies from around the world relating to buildings, landscapes, and monuments.
  • Critically discuss the ways in which dominant theoretical approaches in archaeology have impacted on historical research, particularly post-colonial perspectives.
  • Convey complex ideas in an analytical framework through essay writing

Module content

Colonialism is the central theme of the module. It begins through developing an understanding of postcolonial and decolonial theory and how historical archaeology has approached the subject, before critically evaluating the archaeology of the New World. The module investigates the material lives and landscapes of North America and the Caribbean, analysing the experiences of enslaved people and colonisers. There is the opportunity to build up detailed knowledge on case studies such as Jamestown, Thomas Jefferson’s house Monticello, and the Jamaican Maroon War. Within each week, we will think critically about how archaeology can study the important themes of colonialism, capitalism, and empire. Through being interdisciplinary, this module incorporates material culture, landscapes, excavations, documents, visual culture, and more, allowing us to examine the themes in depth.

The module focuses on a range of significant topics, including the African Diaspora and Atlantic Slave Trade, plantation archaeology in North America and the Caribbean, and protest and resistance to slavery and colonialism through the seismic Haitain Revolution to maroon communities in Jamaica. The case studies allow for us to understand the local and global together, whilst also permitting us to consider the ways archaeology can contribute to understanding historical entanglements, colonial inheritances, and contemporary memorialisation.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

  • Finch, J. 2013, 'Inside the Pot House: Diaspora, Identity and Locale in Barbadian Ceramics ', Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 115-130.

  • Ogundiran, A. and Falola, T. (eds) 2007 Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and African Diaspora. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

  • Silliman, S. 2010. Indigenous traces in colonial spaces: Archaeologies of ambiguity, origin, and practice, Journal of Social Archaeology 10(1): 28-58.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.