Universiteit Leiden

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Global Archaeology (MA)

Programme structure

This master programme enables you to study key transitions in global history, such as the emergence of farming and imperialism, both in cross-cultural comparison and through in depth engagement with regional trajectories of development in the Near East, the Mediterranean, Europe and the Americas.

Programme outline

15 ec

Comparative Courses (3 courses)

30 ec Region Focus Area (2 courses) and thesis
5 ec Archaeological Theory (1 course)
10 ec Electives (2 courses)


Your career profile, region focus area, and thesis subject determine your specialisation and your eventual area of expertise.

Some of the courses

Archaeological Theory

This course gives an overview, selective and by no means exhaustive, of what archaeological theory is currently about. You will read and reflect upon a recent handbook that provides something of a ‘state of the art’ of the philosophy of science. Note, however, that the handbook chapters are conceived here as points of departure for the individual lectures and associated readings that may wander in very different directions across the contemporary theoretical scape.

How Deep History Shaped the Human World

Why is wealth so unevenly spread across the world? Why did social development in one part of the world take such a different route than it did in another? Perhaps surprisingly, social inequality, the humanly-induced change of the natural world and several other topics that are key concerns of modern society already mattered in prehistory. Some even can be said to have originated in our deep past.

This course will outline key developments that had a deep impact on the course human history took, such as the shift to a sedentary way of life, Neolithisation of the world, the adoption or rejection of disruptive innovations such as metallurgy, or the wheel. Special attention will be devoted to the question why hierarchical societies developed in certain parts of the world, whilst more egalitarian forms of society prevailed elsewhere. 
We will discuss such developments from a global perspective, where important differences and similarities between continents and regions will be emphasized, and how they may affect the present.

How Globalisation Shaped the Human World

Globalisation can be defined as “processes by which localities and people become increasingly interconnected and interdependent”. These processes do not result in homogenisation but in a world of disjunctive flows with problems and opportunities that manifest themselves in local forms, with contexts that are anything but local. Globalisation is nothing novel nor a phenomenon exclusively tied up with (European) expansion or modernity, when the world would also become literally global: Globalisation has its history.

'Globalising World History' is important because it invites us to study human societies as interconnected and influencing each other from their very beginnings. Historicising globalisation will therefore help better understand how and when our planet became systematically connected and how connectivity works as a (historical) process.

In this course, we will continue on from the two earlier courses offered on deep history, starting with Antiquity and the Middle Ages and move towards the period we call Modernity. The case material for this course is found in Afro-Eurasia on the one hand, from the Atlantic to the Yangtze, and parts of the American hemisphere, including discussion of the Mississippian world around the site of Cahokia (AD 800–1300); the deep changes that come to define Post-Classic Mesoamerica (AD 900–1521), and the iconic “Columbian Exchange” following the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, on the other hand.

The Human Planet

For how long has human action caused (global) environmental change? How can we distinguish between natural and anthropogenic causes of environmental change? How have changes in population density, technology, and socio-economic organisation affected the nature of human impact on the environment? Did unsustainable practices cause the decline of particular societies (and vice versa)? And can modern study of past environments and societies contribute to sustainable strategies now and in the future?

Humans are particularly effective at altering their environments, and have been engaging in ‘niche construction’ for tens of thousands of years. Today, we face complicated challenges resulting from global human-caused impact on climate and biodiversity.

This course aims to contextualise the current crisis using the extended time perspective of the archaeologist. Understanding the impact of humans and human ancestors requires an understanding of Quaternary environmental change.

Region Focus Areas

Within your Focus Area programme part, you may pick two courses of a region of your choice.

  • Hunter-gatherer Archaeology
  • Key developments in European Prehistory
  • Urban Archaeology
  • Neolithisation in the Near East
  • Archaeology of the Assyrian Empire
  • Environmental History of the Near East
  • Diversities of doing Greek. ‘Hellenisation’ and ‘Hellenism’ in ancient Eurasia
  • The Archaeology of Roman Imperialism in the Western Mediterranean
  • Archaeology of the Crusades
  • Mobility, interaction and colonialism in the Americas
  • Current issues in the Archaeology of the Americas

Complete overview

In the Prospectus you will find a complete overview and full course descriptions of the courses and focus areas Global Archaeology has to offer. Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.

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