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Special Topic: Historic Houses - ARC00054H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Matthew Jenkins
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

This module brings together the academic study of historic house interiors with contemporary heritage interpretation and conservation. How are these interiors interpreted to the public? What stories do we choose to tell and are there other stories (particularly revolving around marginalised social groups) that would be more inclusive and engaging? How do we balance the need to conserve these historic houses with the need to generate revenue and keep them open? How have different disciples (archaeology, art history, history) explored these houses in different ways? 

Students have said that ‘Matt Jenkins is an excellent teacher, he has a genuine love for the material he is teaching and I only wish I had another module with him.’ Matt’s ‘passion for historic buildings is very apparent in the way he teaches’ and ‘The course has been incredibly fun and useful’. 

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

Special Topics focus upon the archaeology of a well defined time, space or theme and the modules seek to allow students, in small groups, to focus upon primary source material and to apply to it the theoretical and thematic perspectives learned over your first and second years. The aim is to facilitate the acquisition of deeper knowledge of one aspect of the past than has been possible in more general courses.


Specifically this module aims:


  • To examine the scholarly approaches to and range of evidence for British domestic interiors from the late medieval period to the end of the 19th century. 

  • To evaluate and critique the challenges surrounding the management of historic interiors, particularly in relation to heritage interpretation and conservation.

  • To develop research, analytical and communication skills.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of Historic Houses
  • critically discuss and assess the key theories, methods and debates, and their limitations
  • critically evaluate primary data and evidence
  • communicate an in-depth, logical and structured argument, supported by archaeological evidence

Module content

We follow two strands in this module. The first provides a broad overview of the major themes, including:

  • What are the different sources we can use to investigate historic interiors? 

  • What is the current heritage climate for historic house museums? How are different interpretive methods used in these museums, such as costumed interpretation and digital heritage?

  • What are the conservation challenges and are there tensions with the need to keep the house open to visitors?  


The second strand aims to bring all these major themes together by focusing on a series of case studies, ranging from the medieval period to the 19th century. This allows us to explore the different ways that scholars have analysed these houses, as well as how heritage and conservation theory plays out in practice. In the assessment, students are encouraged to focus on the areas of the module that most interest them.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: The marker will share written feedback with you in a timetabled one-to-one meeting and you will have the opportunity to ask further questions about how to improve your work before your summative assessment. If you are unable to attend the feedback session, your tutor will share the formative feedback with you digitally.

Summative: Written feedback sheets will be uploaded to your e:vision account (your personal University of York online services account) within 20 working days of the submission deadline, along with your overall mark for the module. If you have any questions about your mark and/or your written feedback, you will be able to sign up for office hours with the marker.

Indicative reading

  • Vagnone, F. D., Ryan, D. E., Sorin, G. (2016) Anarchist's Guide to Historic House Museums. London: Routledge.

  • Johnson M (2010) English Houses 1300-1800: Vernacular Architecture, Social Life. Pearson: Harlow.

  • National Trust (2011) The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Detailed reading for the module will be available via YorkShare (the University's virtual learning environment). When you have enrolled on a module, you will be able to access the full reading list.


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.