Unmasking the Material World: Constructing Narratives in Archaeology and Creative Writing

Fall Open
Class Standing
Kristin Coffey
Ulrike Krotscheck

Every single object that humans make and use contains explicit and implicit values. These values can be multi-layered and complicated, depending on the function, form, history, and use of the object in question. In addition, each object contains the potential for multiple stories about itself, its maker, its users, and its more general socio-historical context.

In this program, we investigate how our relationship to objects – our material culture – are critically important to understanding human history and lives in the past and today. We will take an interdisciplinary approach to expose the stories, values, meanings, and practices found in objects. If material artifacts are products of human conflicts, culture, values, and creativity, then it is possible, through them, to understand dynamics that are otherwise invisible to us.

This two-quarter program will introduce students to the study of material culture of the past (archaeology) and its use in constructing different kinds of narratives (creative and critical writing) about those pasts. To begin, we will take day trips to museums, historical sites, cemeteries, and other locations, to learn about the stewardship of objects as cherished artifacts, coveted consumer goods, donations, and waste. Students will document these field trips in designated field notebooks. Students will also complete weekly readings and associated writing assignments. A special thematic focus of the fall quarter will be on the ancient Mediterranean world, especially Greece and Rome: we will investigate how artifacts from these ancient contexts can help us understand the lives that their makers and users lived. In the winter, we will focus on examining the literary craft of historical fiction depicting Ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In addition, during fall each student will begin to engage in a research process, building a proposal for a significant writing project to completed in the winter, which will incorporate both historical research and crafting fiction. Winter quarter work will focus on close reading historical novels and developing each student’s individual project. Students will complete a series of outlines, drafts, revisions, and edits, culminating in a final paper presented in the last week of the program. This is a reading and writing intensive program in the Humanities: Culture, Text, and Language in World Societies and Literary Arts and Studies pathways. Students interested in material culture studies, and how objects shape our interpretation and re-creation of the human past, will benefit from this program.


Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10068

Academic Details

archaeology, classical studies, cultural studies, literature, writing


$50 each quarter for museum tickets


In Person (F)
In Person (W)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 C1107 - Workshop