Ruins: Archaeology, Ethnography, and History

Spring 2023
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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“By definition ruination is an ambiguous term; both an act of ruining, a condition of being ruined, and a cause of it. Ruination is an act perpetrated, a condition to which one is subject, and a cause of loss.” - Ann Stoler, Imperial Debris

Wherever we go, ruins are a part of the landscape. They may be old or new; intentional or unintentional; created by humans or by natural events; in advanced stages of decay, or carefully preserved to reflect a specific vision of the past. Both the abandoned brewery in Tumwater and the archaeological site of Pompeii, for example, are ruins, and in spite of their differences, they have the capacity to reflect history and past materiality in similarly compelling ways.

In this program, we will explore the forces that create, shape, and conserve ruins. Using local and global examples of ruined sites, buildings, and other ruinous landscapes, as well as human interaction with these ruins, we will learn how ruins form an important, tangible part of our human experience.

Archaeology has always had a very direct relationship to the ruins of past human activities. On the one hand, archaeologists create ruins through excavation, intentionally uncovering and displaying the material past of ancient cultures for contemporary audiences. Archaeologists also curate and conserve ruins, so that they will be preserved in their excavated, and possibly restored, state. For the archaeological portion of this program, students will learn the basic methods of archaeology, including archaeological history and ethics, data gathering and research question formation, and survey a wide collection of archaeological ruins, from the Parthenon to Angkor Wat. Intimately connected with the study of archaeological sites is the global heritage industry. International organizations like UNESCO aim to protect and conserve natural and historical sites that are important to global human history. Students will investigate how these locations are chosen and preserved, who the stakeholders are, and what happens to these sites and their communities, both locally and in the global imagination.

Students will also be introduced to ethnographic and archival research methods as part of our studies of ruin sites and histories. We will pay particular, close attention to the contemporary meanings and ongoing uses of ruins as shelters, sites of play, places of memorial or mourning, and sacred or haunted spaces. How do people use and inhabit ruins, in the present? What hazards and possibilities do ruins pose for the communities in which they are situated? We will approach these questions through on-site observations, detailed ethnographic notebook entries, and a review of historical documents, culminating in a more in-depth, collaborative research study.

Much of our emphasis will be on key episodes in Pacific Northwest History, including the history of Salish peoples, labor history, and Asian American history, up to the present. In addition to our readings and archival studies, we will embark on a number of day trips and an overnight trip to visit ruin sites, study local history, and make sense of the shifting meanings of ruins in local geographies. Students successfully meeting program expectations can earn the following credits: 4 - Archaeological Methodology, 4 - Heritage Ethics, 4 - Introduction to Ethnography, and 4 - Pacific Northwest History.


Spring 2023 Registration

Academic details

Preparatory For
public history, education, archaeology, history, urban planning
Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$250 for overnight field trips and supplies


In Person or Remote
In Person
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 D1107 - Workshop