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Unit information: Material Culture (H) in 2015/16

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Unit name Material Culture (H)
Unit code ARCH30042
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Saunders
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This course aims to give students a broad understanding of many of the ways in which objects function in human societies, in the recent as well as more distant past. The unit will provide a comprehensive introduction to the interdisciplinary study of 'objects in cultures'; it will demonstrate how societies create objects which in turn create individual identities, and reify cultural traits. Students will learn how material culture can be analysed by assessing its 'social life', and the nature of its interactions with those who make it, and those who subsequently come into contact with it. Objects may be large (a landscape), or small (a hand-axe or mobile phone), artistic, sophisticated, or regarded as waste and debris - all are material culture and can reveal relationships between humans and the artefacts they make. The theories and case studies of material culture anthropology will equip students to examine their own worlds from new perspectives.

The Unit aims to:

  • provide students with a detailed appreciation of an anthropological approach to the study of objects.
  • enable students to recognise and understand a range of case studies, and how the theory of material culture can offer new ways of analysing objects
  • provide students with a sound understanding of the relationship between material culture approaches and aspects of technology, landscape, art, and individual and cultural identity
  • enable students to recognize the distinctive aspects of the ways in which the relationship between theory and empirical data can provide new insights into cultural activity

Intended Learning Outcomes

The Unit will provide students with the abilities to:

1) demonstrate familiarity with the diverse range of case studies which demonstrate the potential of an interdisciplinary approach to material culture

2) demonstrate an appreciation of the complexities of recognising the relationship between theoretical approaches to material culture and the kinds of information which can be gained

3) demonstrate a sound understanding of the 'social lives' and 'cultural biographies' of objects, regardless of age, location, or cultural affiliation

4) present sustained and structured argument, in writing and verbally.

Teaching Information

Weekly 2-hour lecture/seminar.

Assessment Information

  • 1 formal essay of 3,500 words (75%) ILOs 1-4

Students will research a particular topic or aspect relating to material culture studies.

  • 1 oral presentation of 20 mins (25%) ILOs 1-4

Students will present a study of a particular topic or aspect relating to material culture studies, but different from the essay.

Reading and References

  • Appadurai, A. (ed.) 1986. The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Marshall, Y. and C. Gosden (eds). 1999. The Cultural Biography of Objects. World Archaeology 31 (Issue 2).
  • Buchli, V. (ed.) 2002. The Material Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.
  • Editorial. 1996. Journal of Material Culture 1: 5.14.
  • Miller, D. (ed.) 1998. Material cultures: Why some things matter. London: UCL Press.
  • Tilley, C., W. Keene, S. Kuchler, M. Rowlands, and P. Spyer (eds). 2006. Handbook of Material Culture. London: Sage.