Kia ora! On this year’s Day of Archaeology, I’m preparing lectures for the World Archaeology survey course at The University of Auckland. Lecture prep may not be among the more glamorous activities in which an archaeologist might be engaged (see this post on grading for additional thoughts on this). But for me, teaching the introductory survey course is one of the most rewarding parts of being an archaeologist because it gives me a great excuse for reading research outside of my area of specialization. Even though my own research doesn’t bear directly on Neanderthals, early New Guinean agriculture, or the origins of Taíno (yet), I get to stay up to date with those and other parts of prehistory as I prepare lectures. And I get to talk about this stuff with a bunch of students who are not only new to archaeology, but new to learning in a university setting, which is a blast.
Because it is a survey course, some of the material doesn’t change dramatically from year to year: Thomsen still develops the Three Age system, and Pleistocene sea level decline still connects Asia and North America. But many closely held ideas in archaeology are actually kind of contentious, such as East African origins of genus Homo or the broad spectrum revolution. This gives me opportunities to brush up the lectures with some new ideas and get students to think critically about the way archaeologists interpret their finds.
Each semester I try to pick at least one lecture and fully revamp it. Last year, I added a new lecture looking at the development of village life, drawing on examples from Europe, the Carribean, and the American Southwest. We look at what the definition of village is, and why village settlement is different. This year, I’m putting together a new lecture on the rise of the state in South Asia. I want to try and find something that will spark the interest of as many students as possible, so I try to keep the material we cover diverse.
The course just started this week, so Monday’s lecture is on the history of archaeology from the late 19th century onward. Today I’ll be reading Robin Derricourt’s recent biographical article on Gordon Childe’s career while I update my slides. See you in class!