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Research themes in historical archaeology


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

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


The central focus of the course is the urbanisation of Dutch towns from around 1200 AD-1800 AD; considered in the light of an archaeological perspective. In this period towns emerge, grow, extend and gradually lose their former close ties with the rural hinterland (a process of deagrarisation). During this period the appearance of towns underwent a complete transformation; the most visibly dramatic of which was the shift from wooden to brick building materials. The path and the rate of urbanisation differ from town to town and are more or less proportional to economic and population trends.

The fact that theory plays a minor role in historical archaeology will be addressed and considered in relation to the abundance of archaeological and historical evidence. Special emphasis will be placed on the confrontation between archaeological evidence and historical sources.
An example of an assignment topic would be taking historically dated sites (demolished castles, shipwrecks, coin hoards etc.) to date artefacts.

Short background: In the Netherlands and Germany is it recognised that one of the problems is the absence of an absolute chronological framework of ceramics and other datable material. A rare example of historically dated ceramics is a set of stoneware mugs dated by Janssen (1988), using the historically known date of demolition of the castle in which they were found as a terminus ante quem. Today, many more historically dated sites are available, could Janssen’s 1988 exercise be repeated?
Choose an artefact, select historic dated sites and try to date your artefact. Pay special attention to the reliability of the combination of archaeological and historical information.

Course objectives

  • Ability to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the major themes and current debates in historical archaeology and consider them in national and (to a lesser extent) international context;

  • Ability to profitably combine historical sources with archaeological evidence, drawing and presenting conclusions in a structured and discriminating manner;

  • Ability to find relevant literature;

  • Ability to acceptably present and write an argument and show evidence of an accurate and academic approach to archaeological issues.


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

Mode of instruction

Seminar. During class a theme will be explored by reading fragments of publications, using archaeological/historical sources and then confronting those sources with other views and insights. Attendance and active participation are necessary and will affect your final mark.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class;

  • A small number of written assignments submitted via Blackboard;

  • PowerPoint presentation.

Reading list

  • N. Engberg et al. (eds), Archaeology of Medieval Towns in the Baltic and North Sea Area. Publications of the National Museum Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 17. Copenhagen (2009);

  • A more extensive required reading list will be announced during class.


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

Contractonderwijs: all information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudent is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).

Contact information

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