Towards Modernity: Postmedieval and Historical Archaeology

Module code: AR2042

The postmedieval or ‘historical’ period is generally defined as the last 500 years. Many scholars see this time period as the ‘modern era,’ characterised by the emergence of capitalism and the global economy, increased interaction between ‘foreign’ peoples and the rise of multiculturalism, and drastic transformations in technology.

In these ways, the archaeology of postmedieval and historical societies is the study of ‘us’ and how we came to be. Archaeologists studying this time period usually work with multiple lines of evidence, ranging from historical documents to oral histories and human bodies to excavated artefacts.

This module will introduce you to the history of the closely related fields of postmedieval archaeology and historical archaeology, particularly as they unfolded in the UK and the USA. We will consider the basic methodologies and theories employed in the archaeological study of the historic period before delving into the major themes studying and debated by historical archaeologists today. These themes range from basic questions about the nature of modernity to more specific queries about how capitalism transformed the world.

Topics covered

  • What is modernity?
  • History of the field in America and the United Kingdom
  • Theory in historical archaeology
  • Data sets in historical archaeology
  • Colonial North America
  • Slavery in colonial Africa
  • Religion
  • Consumption
  • Human-animal relations
  • Landscape
  • Industrial agriculture
  • Foodways
  • Poverty
  • Power and resistance
  • Heritage
  • Working with the public


  • 20 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of seminars
  • 128 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 2,000 words (60%)
  • Project, 1,500 words (40%)