Kathryn Denning
Department of
Home Research Courses
Teaching Overview

At present, I teach undergraduate courses which range through several fields of anthropology: archaeology and material culture, socio-cultural anthropology, and biological anthropology. In my teaching, I also draw upon the history and philosophy of science, and broader social theory.

Previous Courses Taught


AS/ANTH 2150 6.0 A

(Course Credit Exclusion:  AS/ANTH 2140 6.0)

Course Description: What does it mean to be ‘civilized’?

What can we learn from the rise and fall of previous civilizations? How have ancient cultural legacies shaped our world? How were past lives like our own? This course introduces students to anthropological archaeology's view of ancient civilizations, and illuminates the web of connections that links them to our 21st century global civilization.

The course begins by surveying anthropological principles, archaeological methods, and theories about the emergence of complex societies. We then explore ancient Old World civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, Africa, and the Mediterranean. Next, more particular attention is given to the ancient New World civilizations (Aztec, Maya, Inka), and complex societies of North America (Mississippian, Iroquois, and Northwest Coast cultures). Themes investigated include ancient writing systems, belief systems, human-environment interaction, urbanization, culture contact, imperialism, colonization, slavery, and the historic collision of the Old and New Worlds.

Throughout, the course also examines the history of archaeology itself – how and why archaeology developed – and ponders the implications. The course concludes by appraising the forces, positive and negative, currently affecting archaeological heritage. These include descendant communities, repatriation, looting, tourism, the antiquities trade, the political deployment of archaeology, and the destruction of archaeological sites.

Format: Two lecture hours and one tutorial hour.

Evaluation: To be announced in the first week of classes.

Projected Enrolment: 150

Course Access Features: some spaces reserved for Anthropology Majors.

HUMANITY'S JOURNEYS: Introduction to Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology 

AS/ANTH2140 6.0A (Y)           

Course Description: How did we, as human beings, become what we are? How do we know? This course has three main themes: first, the biological evolution of human beings and historical development of human societies; second, the methods that palaeoanthropologists and archaeologists use to study those aspects of the human past; and third, the social context of such endeavours to know the past.
The course begins with a brief introduction to basic anthropological principles and archaeological methods. We then consider human biological evolution, and modern human variation. This course then becomes primarily concerned with culture, rather than biology, and proceeds to cover certain key events and processes in human history, including farming, the emergence of complex technology, sedentism and social stratification. The course concludes by comparing several ancient societies (e.g. Egypt, Iroquois, Neolithic Europe, and Easter Island), and discussing how archaeology is used to understand recent historic events and contemporary life.

Throughout the course, we maintain a careful awareness of the social contexts in which archaeology is done. Topics covered include: popular representations of archaeology, political uses of archaeology, disputes over human origins, issues surrounding the ownership of archaeological objects and the study ofarchaeological human remains, and conflicts and collaborations between archaeologists and indigenous peoples

Class Format: Two lecture hours and one tutorial hour.

Enrolment: 200


THE SOCIAL LIVES OF PLACES AND THINGS: Material Culture and the Archaeology of the Contemporary Past

AS/ANTH 3520 3.0 M (Winter)   

Course Description: We are surrounded by a material world, which we make, and which makes us. One of the unique characteristics of human beings is the incredible variety of things which we create, use, distribute, cherish, discard, or remake. But what do things mean? How do we interact with them? What do they contribute to the human experience?

This course addresses the "stuff of life" - including the material things and the constructed places around us. As the physical manifestations of culture, things and places both reflect and influence social relationships. Full of meaning, they can be "read" with the techniques of archaeology and material culture studies, and understood with anthropological and interdisciplinary theory. Thus, we will examine the social lives of things and places, and consider what they say about human relationships with others and with their environment.

Case studies will range from shopping malls to graveyards, zoos, 20th century homes and industrial sites, and battlefields. We will examine material culture in traditional societies, material culture under socialism, and secondhand clothing and recycling/reuse of consumer goods. We will also consider unusual cases such as human artifacts in our solar system (e.g. Moon landing site).

Format: Three seminar hours.

Enrolment: 50


ARCHAEOLOGY AND SOCIETY: Local Pasts in a Global Present 

AS/ANTH 3130 3.0 A (Fall)    Course Director: Kathryn Denning

Course Description: How does archaeology affect society? How does society affect archaeology? Archaeology and society are intertwined, locally and globally. This course interrogates those connections, examining the twin themes of (a) the role of archaeological heritage and archaeological investigation within society, and (b) the influence of social and political forces on archaeological interpretation, governance, and practice. In exploring these themes, we consider the perspectives of ethnic communities, feminist groups, courts of law, indigenous peoples, museums, developers, antiquities markets, governments, the general public, popular media, and the archaeological community. We also consider how the archaeological past is used as a commodity, to create community, to create legitimacy, or to exert power over others. Throughout, we consider the effects of globalization on archaeological heritage. An artifact or archaeological monument only exists physically in one place at a time, but its influence can reach around the world, and endure for many centuries; our modern world demands that we understand how globalization now shapes and distributes that influence.

Format: Three seminar hours.

Projected Enrolment: 50




AS/ANTH 3510 3.0 A (Fall 2005)   

Course Description: In this course, we will examine the changing relationship between Indigenous peoples and archaeology through general readings and case studies from the places now known as North America, South America, and Australia.

Like anthropology, archaeology was born of colonialism. However, it is now increasingly postcolonial in attitude and practice, in response to Indigenous peoples worldwide who have felt deeply hurt and angered by past archaeological tendencies to treat their objects as artifacts, their dead as specimens, their oral history as irrelevant, and their ancestral lands as laboratories. Many archaeologists are now working for change; artifacts and ancestors are being repatriated to descendant communities, heritage laws are improving, and archaeological research has begun to focus on subjects of interest to Indigenous communities themselves.

Furthermore, native-run archaeological programs have emerged, helping Indigenous communities to challenge conventional history books, learn more about past lifeways including resistance to colonialization, and back up their land claims with archaeological evidence. However, challenges remain. Although the UN now considers heritage a human right, and although archaeologists and Indigenous peoples are working together, the global economic forces of tourism and the illegal antiquities trade threaten the rights of descendant communities to control their own cultural property.

Format: Three seminar hours.

Enrolment: 50


Some Previous Courses Taught


York University



ANTH 2140 6.0 -  Humanity's Journeys: Introduction to Palaeoanthropology and Archaeology. 

ANTH 3510 3.0 - Indigenous Peoples and Archaeology: From Conflict to Coalition.

ANTH 3520 3.0 - The Social Lives of Places and Things: Material Culture and the Archaeology of the Contemporary Past.

ANTH 3130 3.0 - Archaeology and Society: Local Pasts in a Global Present

York University


ANTH 2140 6.0 -  Introduction to Palaeoanthropology and Archaeology. 

ANTH 2150 6.0 - Early Civilizations: Complex Societies of the New and Old Worlds

ANTH 3130 3.0 - Archaeology and Society: Local Pasts in a Global Present

York University


ANTH 2140 6.0 -  Introduction to Palaeoanthropology and Archaeology

ANTH 2150 6.0 - Ancient Civilizations: Cities, Urbanism, and Early States

ANTH 3000N 3.0 - Barbarian Europe

McMaster University


Anth 3AS3: Archaeology and Society
Anth 3E03: Knowing the Past: Archaeological Reasoning

McMaster University


Anthropology 3WW3: Contemporary Issues in Archaeology: Local Pasts in a Global Present
Social Sciences 1SS3: Inquiry: Globalization
Anthropology 2FF3: Bioarchaeology / Forensic Anthropology

York University


Anth 3150: Culture, Evolution, and Ecology

University of Northern British Columbia


Feminist and Gendered Perspectives in Anthropology

Archaeology in a Digital Age

New World Prehistory

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