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Current issues: Interaction and change in Asia


Compulsory attendance


Prerequisites and restrictions

BA degree (or equivalent) in Archaeology or a relevant discipline. (As the theme of this course is complementary to the 1st semester optional course Identity and Landscape in Asian Archaeology, participation in the latter is advised).
SAP and exchange students: admission after approval by the Graduate School of Archaeology.


This seminar focuses on the impact of cultural interaction, as it is visible in the archaeological record—an important current issue in archaeology. The course will concentrate on various aspects of interaction in Asia (e.g. exchange, migration, trade, colonisation, warfare), and their impact on the development of Asian societies and their “identities”.
During the first part of each seminar we will assess theoretical or methodological approaches with a broader relevance (e.g. archaeological, anthropological, historical research).
During the second part, we will focus on specific case studies of interaction in East and Southeast Asia, in which maritime contacts and trade relationships will receive special attention. Themes may include: Prehistoric long-distance exchange networks; migration and contacts between groups with a different culture, subsistence or technological basis; trade and interaction among complex societies or early states (“peer polity interaction”); historically documented relations between states and less complex societies (assessing the applicability of “core-periphery” and “World Systems” theory).
Some of the questions asked are: How is the expression of identity linked to, and impacted by, changing patterns of local and regional interaction? What is the role of cultural transmission on changes in social structure and symbolic values? During each seminar, articles and case studies will be evaluated and discussed. Furthermore, students are required to choose their own case study, present it in a 10-minute PowerPoint paper, and submit a paper about the case study, feedback on the presentations and insights from the course.

Learning outcomes

  • Knowledge of and insight in the most important issues of cultural interaction;

  • Knowledge of and insight in the relevant theories and approaches concerning archaeological evidence on exchange, interaction and identity;

  • A deeper understanding of various practical examples of different interaction, identities and ethnicity;

  • A deeper understanding of the various ways in which such evidence is interpreted;

  • Ability to critically assess the different approaches and papers and express one’s own properly argumented opinion;

  • Ability to choose and research a small case study relevant to one of the themes of the course;

  • Ability to present a 10-minute PowerPoint-presentation on this case study and being able to handle a stimulating discussion afterwards;

  • Ability to write an analytical on this case study.

Mode of delivery



  • Active participation during class discussions of the texts;

  • PowerPoint-presentation on a chosen case study;

  • Essay reflecting on the chosen case study, incorporating theoretical insights from the course.

Reading list

An assortment of texts and articles, including sections/chapters from:

  • C. Renfrew & P. Bahn, “What contact did they have? Trade & Exchange”, chapter 9 in: Archaeology: Theory, methods and practice. Thames & Hudson (2008);

  • A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things. Cambridge University Press (1986);

  • A. Weiner, Inalienable Possessions. The paradox of keeping while giving. University of California Press (1992).

Time schedule

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