BA Ancient History and Archaeology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Sites to Statues: Understanding Heritage in a time of Culture Wars

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE34602
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module explores the different ways in which the past is produced and reproduced in the present, and thus is highly politicised. By critically examining the notion of heritage itself, this course examines both how the past lies at the heart of the sense of identity of many cultures and the stories cultures tell about themselves. With case studies drawn from across the world, it will explore how the texts, ideas, objects and sites of earlier cultures are appropriated and employed by later cultures. It explores (for example) the tourism which thrives around ancient sites and finds, how past sites can create a strong sense of place and belonging, but also how heritage can also be contentious. The material culture, texts, stories and ideas of the past can be used in conflicting ways to promote different interests. The course also examines the recent phenomenon of heritage destruction and iconoclasm, seeking to understand why some cultures can view archaeological monuments as idolatrous. Heritage at a global level has never been more contested or under threat from this and other pressures: building and infrastructure development, climate change, and widespread looting to feed a thriving antiquities trade. This course is ideal for anyone thinking of a career in heritage, museums or galleries, or those ambitious about working for government institutions/non-government organisations in the UK or abroad; it is also ideal for those wanting to understand the ways in which the past is deployed in modern political and cultural

discourses. It will familiarise students with planning legislation, monument protection and conservation practice, both in the UK and through bodies such as the World Heritage Organisation, whilst at the same time critically analysing how heritage value is understood and reproduced within these “authorised” frameworks. The opportunity to contextualise this within real world practice is provided in the course assessment where students will critically analyse the agendas at play within a museum or a museum display. Further, through assessed group seminars, students will critically debate a number of contentious heritage issues such as calls for the repatriation of cultural remains (e.g. Parthenon Marbles or Benin bronzes), as well as the display or reburial of pre-Christian human remains, questions of authenticity, tangible and intangible heritage, the ‘dark’ heritage of sites of trauma and remembrance, and battlefield/conflict archaeology.



  • 1. To enhance understanding of the historical, social, cultural and political context of the use of heritage (Lectures, Seminars);
  • 2. To raise awareness of the contested and contentious nature of heritage in a global setting (Lectures, Seminars);
  • 3. To develop skills in martialling and critically appraising contrastive arguments on heritage (Seminars) and the public display and dissemination of heritage (Critical Heritage Analysis);
  • 4. To improve knowledge of the legislation, policy and ‘best practice’ guidance relating to sites, monuments and finds, in both the UK and at an international level (Lectures, seminars);
  • 5. To develop advanced skills of both individual research (Critical Heritage Analysis) and those of working as part of a research team (including leadership skills), and communicating effectively in both written and oral formats (Seminars and Hand-out).


Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

· Describe and illustrate the range of sites, objects, monuments, traditions, knowledge, practices and performances which can be classed as examples of heritage (tangible and intangible) and show how they are deployed by different communities to gain a sense of identity (Lectures, Seminars, Fieldtrip), with the opportunity to examine this further at a heritage site of their choice (Critical Heritage Analysis);

· Show an awareness of the national and international legislation/guidance relating to heritage protection (Lectures, Seminars), and describe how and why it has changed over time (Seminars);

· Understand and articulate threats to archaeological and cultural heritage, e.g. environmental, cultural, economic, political (Seminars, Fieldtrip);

· Critically discuss the range of different interest groups and claimants using heritage assets (public and professional), and evaluate issues relating to ownership, responsibility towards its future conservation, perceived significance and cultural/economic potential (Lectures, Seminars, Critical Heritage Analysis, Fieldtrip);

· Articulate examples of contentious heritage and discuss real-world based solutions or resolutions to these dilemmas (Seminars, Critical Heritage Analysis, Fieldtrip). · Develop an in depth understanding of the themes of the course through a site of their choice (Critical Heritage Analysis)

Intellectual skills

  •  Think critically about the role of heritage in identity-making (personal, community, nation-state, ethnic or other interest groups) (Lectures, Seminars, Essay, Fieldtrip);
  • Express contrastive views over heritage issues and ethics and reception, using a range of primary and secondary literature (Seminars, Essay);
  • Critically evaluate competing claims to heritage and propose ways in which disputes over the past could be mediated (Seminars, Essay);
  • Critically examine the reception of different aspects of classical antiquity and ancient Egypt (Lectures, Seminars, Essay, Fieldtrip)


Practical skills

  • · Utilise a range of primary and secondary archaeological and heritage literature and online resources to support critical arguments about the use of the past (Group Seminars, Critical Heritage Analysis).
  • · Develop skills in real-world, primary analysis by exploring the themes of the course in relation to a specific heritage site (Critical Heritage Analysis).


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Present contrastive view in a balanced manner, and offer critical evaluations of contentious/conflicting uses or interpretations of the past (Seminars, Essay);
  • Work effectively as part of a team, demonstrating leadership or responsibility for a particular aspect of both research and oral presentation (Seminars);
  • Demonstrate an ability to both propose views, evaluate others’ arguments and mediate dispute (Seminars);
  • Develop a research question independently (Essay);
  • Retrieve information (quantitative, qualitative and spatial) from a variety of sources, assess its significance according to a given set of standards and subject-specific knowledge, and present results in a professional written format (Essay);
  • Reflect upon and respond to critical feedback (Group Seminar, Essay).


Employability skills


Assessment methods

Group  Presentation 

NB: Because this is a split-level course and seminar groups will be made up of L2 and L3 students, L3 student assessment is differentiated by an expectation to take more leadership within group work itself, and to include an explicit reflection on the transferable and employability skills gained from the exercise in their presentation reflection.

Reflective Report & Script 25%


NB: Because this is a split level course, this assessment differs from L2 by being longer and focussing on a whole heritage site, whilst level 2s do a shorter museum exhibition assessment.



Feedback methods

Feedback methodFormative or Summative
Written feedback

Summative: Group-led Assessed Seminar written feedback sheet (for group oral presentation AND for written individual submission)

Formative: Feedback on Critical Museum Analysis 

Oral feedbackFormative: Group-led Assessed Seminar – joint feedback from planning session with module director


Recommended reading

· Cobb, H., and Croucher, K. 2020. Assembling Archaeology: Teaching, Practice and Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

· Fairclough, G., Harrison, R., Scofield, J. and J.H. Jameson (Jnr). 2007. The Heritage Reader. London, Routledge.

· Harrison, R. (ed) 2010 Understanding the politics of heritage. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.

· Harrison, R., 2012. Heritage: critical approaches. Routledge.

· Hicks, D. 2020. The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. London: Pluto Press.

· Janes, R.R. and Sandell, R., 2019. Museum activism. London: Routledge. · Lucas, G. 2001. Critical Approaches to Fieldwork. London, Routledge.

· Lucas, G. 2012. Understanding the Archaeological Record. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

· Schofield, J., Carman, J. & Belford, P. (eds.) 2012. Archaeological Practice in Great Britain: A Heritage Handbook. New York: Springer Verlag.

· Smith, L. 2006. The Uses of Heritage. London, Routledge.

· Smith, L. and Watson, E. 2009. Heritage, Communities and Archaeology. (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology). London, Gerald Duckworth and Co.Ltd.

· Smith, L., Wetherell, M. and Campbell, G. eds., 2018. Emotion, affective practices, and the past in the present. Routledge.

· Staiff, R., Bushell, R. and Watson, S. eds., 2013. Heritage and tourism: Place, encounter, engagement. Routledge.

· West, S. (ed) 2010. Understanding heritage in practice. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stuart Campbell Unit coordinator
Ina Berg Unit coordinator
Hannah Cobb Unit coordinator
Melanie Hind Unit coordinator

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