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Advanced urban archaeology


Admission requirements

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


The ‘urban revolution’ swept through Europe after 1000 CE 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 both MA and 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

  • 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;

  • Ability to apply key terms and concepts to a case study;

  • 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;

  • 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);

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

  • Ability to critically evaluate scholarly opinions;

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

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

  • Ability to formulate new directions in research.


Course schedule details can be found in the RMA and RMSc time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Student presentations.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ec);

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

Assessment method

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

  • Group presentation (10%);

  • 5 assignments (80%, equally weighed).

Every student has to hand in 5 assignments, that always include references.

  • 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.

A retake of the course is not possible, but the individual grades can be compensated.

Each week there will be either an assignment (essay or poster) or a presentation due. The deadline for the assignments is on Sunday 11 pm, before the class. Please note that the deadline for the individual essays are strict.

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

Reading list

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

More literature will be announced during the course.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.


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


Compulsory attendance.