Bachelor's degree (or equivalent);
Recommended: Archaeological Theory (BA3).
Human history is shaped by materials, and our future will be too. Without a thorough understanding of the material powers that make us, we are not well-equipped to create a more sustainable future. An archaeologists’ perspective is crucial to this understanding.
The impact of materials on the shaping of human societies is easy to recognise in the prehistoric record. In fact, we have named entire epochs after them: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. Once written sources start to appear, materials fade into the background. But that does not make materials any less important.
Materials are the fundamental building blocks of societies, and it is for this reason that our relations with materials matter; both in the past and in the present.
Concrete - opus caementicium - was a crucial material for the Romans, and it is the most used construction material today. Iron has changed the world at least three times: in the Iron Age, the Industrial Revolution, and in the late 19th century, with the invention of cheap steel. Nitrogen is problematically abundant nowadays, but for the last 12,000 years it was extremely hard to procure, making dung and human faeces valuable materials. Plastics are considered a stratigraphic marker for the Anthropocene.
During this course we will look into the different theoretical frameworks that help us understand our relationship with materials. In particular we will discuss the recent developments happening under the header of New Materialism, such as Material Engagement Theory, Material Agency, Entanglement and Craft Theory.
This is a theory-heavy class, but the theory is used to think through some of the most fundamental materials that have shaped societies through the ages. The brute material reality is never far off to push back on our theoretical ponderings.
7 lectures in which necessary theoretical background is explored, explained and discussed;
Inquiry-based learning in groups: Each group consists of 4-5 MA students and 1-2 RMA students who will act as editors. At the end of this course, your group will have produced an edited volume on a particular material, discussing this material from different theoretical perspectives.
Knowledge of theoretical frameworks that are part of the New Materialisms;
Knowledge of and insight into several key materials;
Understanding how to assess and evaluate different theories and how this affects archaeological reasoning;
Understanding of archaeology as a discipline of things;
Ability to write a chapter from a distinct theoretical position;
Ability to define research questions and one's own line of inquiry;
Ability to work in a group on an edited volume;
Linking knowledge gained form archaeology to today’s social challenges.
Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.
Mode of instruction
21 hours of interactive lectures;
Weekly readings – interactive documents;
Co-authored chapter in edited volume (75%);
Edited volume as a whole (25%);
Discussion questions and participation in class (rounds off grade);
Prior to class students read the assigned literature and submit discussion points.
A fail for your individual chapter automatically leads to a fail for the course and you will need to do a retake (even if the grade of the edited volume is high enough to tip the scale in your favour).
A retake is only possible if other requirements are met, including attendance and assignments.
All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.
Late submission will result in a lowering of the grade (0.5 point per day).
As an introduction to this course please read the opening article to the series on materials on De Correspondent:
Alternatively, you can acquire three months access to this medium using the code materialen20.
Literature may change following new publications (see course syllabus).
Lecture 1, Overall introduction:
LeCain, T. J. (2017) The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past. Cambridge University Press (Studies in Environment and History). doi: 10.1017/9781316460252. P. 1-22.
Read chapter 1: Fellow Travellers.
Kuijpers, M. H. G. (2019) ‘Material is the Mother of Innovation’, in Mignosa, A. and Kotipalli, P. (eds) A Cultural Economic Analysis of Craft. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 257–270.
Lecture 2, Introduction New Materialisms:
- Witmore, C. (2014) ‘Archaeology and the New Materialisms’, in* Journal of Contemporary Archaeology*, 1(2), pp. 203–246. doi: 10.1558/jca.v1i2.16661.
Lecture 3, Material Agency:
- Boivin, N., 2008. Material Cultures, Material Minds: The Impact of Things on Human Thought, Society, and Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Read chapter 4: The agency of matter. pp. 129-180.
Lecture 4, Materiality and cognition (Material Engagement Theory):
Malafouris, L. (2019) ‘Mind and material engagement’, in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. doi: 10.1007/s11097-018-9606-7. 1-17.
Overmann, K. A. and Wynn, T. (2018) ‘Materiality and Human Cognition’, in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, pp. 1–22. doi: 10.1007/s10816-018-9378-y.
Lecture 5, Entanglement:
- Hodder, I. 2011. 'Human-thing entanglement: Towards an integrated archaeological perspective' in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17(1): p.154–177.
Lecture 6, Craft theory:
Ingold, T. (2018) ‘Five questions of skill’, cultural geographies, 25(1), pp. 159–163. doi: 10.1177/1474474017702514.
Kuijpers, M. H. G. (2018). An Archaeology of Skill: Metalworking Skill and Material Specialization in Early Bronze Central Europe. London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis group (Routledge studies in archaeology).
Read chapter 3: Craft Theory.
Lecture 7, An exemplary case study / Summary and final thoughts:
Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.
General information about registration can be found on the Course and Exam Enrolment page.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.
For more information about this course, please contact dr. M.H.G. (Maikel) Kuijpers.
This year we are collaborating with the Royal Academy of Art, the Hague. MA students Industrial Design will participate under the heading of Archaeology for future Design.