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Unit information: Material Culture (C) in 2021/22

Unit name Material Culture (C)
Unit code ARCH10013
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Carrier
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This course aims to introduce students to ideas about objects and to achieve a broad understanding of many of the ways in which objects function in human societies, in the recent as well as more distant past. The unit will provide a comprehensive introduction to the interdisciplinary study of 'objects in cultures'; it will demonstrate how societies create objects which in turn create individual identities, and reify cultural traits. Students will be introduced to how material culture can be analysed by assessing its 'social life', and the nature of its interactions with those who make it, and those who subsequently come into contact with it. Objects may be large (a landscape), or small (a hand-axe or mobile phone), artistic, sophisticated, or regarded as waste and debris - all are material culture and can reveal relationships between humans and the artefacts they make. The theories and case studies of material culture anthropology will be introduced in order to equip students to examine their own worlds from new perspectives.

The Unit aims to:

  • Introduce students to a detailed appreciation of an anthropological approach to the study of objects.
  • enable students to recognise and understand a range of case studies, and to introduce theories of material culture and show how they can offer new ways of analysing objects
  • provide students with a sound understanding of the relationship between material culture approaches and aspects of technology, landscape, art, and individual and cultural identity
  • enable students to recognize the distinctive aspects of the ways in which the relationship between theory and empirical data can provide new insights into cultural activity

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

1) demonstrate familiarity with the diverse range of case studies which demonstrate the potential of an interdisciplinary approach to material culture

2) demonstrate an appreciation of the complexities of recognising the relationship between theoretical approaches to material culture and the kinds of information which can be gained

3) demonstrate a sound understanding of the 'social lives' and 'cultural biographies' of objects, regardless of age, location, or cultural affiliation

4) present sustained and structured argument, in writing and verbally.

5) explain and evaluate anthropological and archaeological data from multiple theoretical standpoints.

Teaching details

Weekly lectures

Bi weekly one-hour seminars

Supported by self-directed activities. Seminars to include group tasks and student-led discussion.

Assessment Details

  • One summative essay of 2,000 words, ILOs 1-5; one formative essay of 1,000 words, ILOs 1-5


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. ARCH10013).