The Archaeology of Colonialism in the Americas

Module code: AR3085

Colonialism and its legacies structure the modern world today, both at home and further afield, responsible for inequalities in wealth and opportunity, attitudes to race and gender, configurations of power and knowledge. The 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landfall in the Americas, and the subsequent expansionist settlement of the American continent by Europeans and Africans moving into indigenous lands, sparked encounters with global material, social, political, and environmental consequences.

Archaeology, a discipline born in the 19th century at the height of European and settler colonialism, is often described as a tool of imperialism for the way it collected, created, and racialized the 'exotic' and 'primitive' other. Nowadays archaeology more often characterises itself as being a tool for decolonisation, priding itself on giving voice to dispossessed and colonised peoples ignored by history books, collaborating with descent and local communities, and asking difficult questions about ownership and heritage.

More broadly, and regardless of time and place, the archaeological study of colonialism has changed our discipline by stimulating new theories of material culture, leading to the development of historical archaeology, challenging western scientific approaches to the past, and engaging with postcolonial theory and practice. This module engages with all these topics through a specific focus on the archaeology of the Americas, and interrogating case studies from across North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean, from prehispanic times, to 1492, to the present day.

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