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Special Topic: Historic Houses - ARC00083H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Matthew Jenkins
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

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?

Related modules

A directed option - students must pick a Special Topic module and have a choice of which to take

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

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 should 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 explores how academics have studied these interiors. In the past, this has led to a focus on style and famous architects and patrons. More recently, academics have become increasingly interested in the role of women (and gender generally), the lives of servants, connections with slavery and the complexity of public and private spaces.

These two strands will be combined in a series of case studies, ranging from the medieval period to the 19th century. This allows us to analyse how these themes play out in practice and explore the complexity surrounding them. In the assessment, students are encouraged to focus on the areas of the module that most interest them.


Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pre-recorded presentation
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders in class

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

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.

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.