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Urban archaeology


Admission requirements

BA degree (or equivalent) in Archaeology or other relevant discipline.


The ‘urban revolution’ swept through Europe after 1,000 AD and the Low Countries became, together with Italy, the most urbanised area in pre-industrial Europe. Together with history and cartography, archaeology is essential to understand the transformation that villages underwent in becoming towns and cities. However, it was only in the 1980s that archaeologists began to systematically record uncovered material remains in medieval towns; urban archaeology as an academic discipline only developed after that. An ambitious new generation of scholars will be welcomed.

The focus of this course will be on the transformation of villages into towns and the archaeology of public health. An ongoing, underlying theme is that urban archaeology not only deals with archaeological data but also with information from historical sources. In order to assign meaning to uncovered archaeological remains, written records often have to be consulted. And although interdisciplinary research is an asset, the risks of misinterpretation must be mitigated whenever possible.
Case studies will be derived from the Low Countries and North-Western Europe.

The course is open to RMA-students. Although they will be participating in the same classes, their assignments will differ. RMA-students will be expected to play a major role in the class discussions. In addition, they will write an essay in which new directions for research are formulated.

Course objectives

MA students will gain:

  • Knowledge of key terms and theories, such as Gordon Childe’s urban revolution; urban graveyard theory, Body Social and Body Politic; Public affair principle, Michael Brian Schiffer’s Pompeii premise;

  • An ability to apply key terms and concepts to a case study;

  • An ability to transform concepts into research/field strategies and to convey their ideas to (non-) specialists;

  • Knowledge of golden rules for historical archaeologists (the importance of a [historical] time line and the concept of ‘Getrennt Marschieren, zusammen schlagen’);

  • Oral presentation skills;

  • An ability to work in a team;

  • Critical reading skills (‘What if you were the editor?’);

  • Writing skills (e.g., becoming familiar with the CARS model);

  • An ability to properly formulate and present an argument and demonstrate a precise and academic approach to an archaeological issue.

For RMA students, in addition to the above:

  • An ability to critically evaluate scholarly opinions;

  • An ability to review the significance of regional/local research in terms of broader issues;

  • The ability to shift quickly between a micro-scale view to a macro-scale view;

  • The ability to formulate new directions in research.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Student presentations.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×22 hours of lectures (1 ects);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ects);

  • Entry test, assignments and presentation (2 ects).

Assessment method

  • An entry test (10%) will be held in the first class. One week prior to the course start, the assigned reading list for the test will be announced;

  • Group presentation (10%);

  • 5 assignments (15% × 5 = 80%).

Every student will hand in 5 assignments. The deadline for the assignments is Sunday before the class, 11 pm. No extensions will be granted. Assignments should be submitted through Turnitin. PowerPoint presentations should be submitted through File Exchange.
More detailed instructions for the essays and the presentation will be available on Blackboard. These instructions are strict, for instance, if you hand in an essay after the deadline, the score for the assignment will be 1; if references are lacking, the score for the assignment will be 1.
Each week there will be either an assignment (essay or poster) or a presentation due.
As the final grade consists of seven scores (1 entry test, 5 assignments and 1 presentation), there will be no retake.

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

Chapters from:

  • C. Rawcliffe, Urban Bodies: Communal Health in Late Medieval English Towns and Cities. Woodbridge (2013);

  • J. Schofield & R. Leech, Urban Archaeology in Britain, CBA-report, no. 61 (1987);

  • J. Schofield & A. Vince, Medieval Towns: The Archaeology of British Towns in Their European Setting. London (2009);

  • J.M. Swales & C.B. Feak, Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essentials Tasks and Skills. Ann Arbor (2012).


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact mw dr. R.M.R. van Oosten.