Dealing with the volume of paper for the final archaeology (A251) assessment

The world archaeology course comes with a massive course text running to nearly 800 rather large and very densely packed pages. During the course you end up reading about half of that plus a whole bunch of online texts as well which adds up to a rather substantial amount of reading over the five months.

In the final assessment for the course we need to pull out information from all over that chunk of reading and indeed more as we’ve to quote sources outside the course texts as well. That makes for a rather time consuming assessment which has been eating up massive chunks of time over the last week and it’s not completed yet.

One big difference in doing this assignment is that you can’t produce detailed notes for the essay in advance as you need to do the reading before writing each segment of the essay. That’s not to say that you can’t do any planning and in fact given the scale of the reading required you must have a plan to enable you to select out relevant information.

That plan is quite different in nature to normal essay plans though as it’s basically a framework to enable me to pick out what I need from the texts. Essentially, what seems to be required for this is to start with a rough conclusion and use that to choose examples to support it. We’re required to pick examples including a city/state, an empire and a diaspora. I’m using the Sumerian city states, probably the Spanish colonisation of central & south America and the Austronesian diaspora basically because there seemed to be enough information to support my conclusions for each of them and they fall neatly into the trade, colonisation and dispersal categories too. Not quite co-incidentally that seems to be the set that most people are running with if the course forum is anything to go by.

The consequences of those contacts are mostly easy to pick out and, as you could work out in 10 minutes yourself, basically fall in the domains of language, technology and social organisation plus, some would argue, disease. Nothing earth shattering about that but it seems a reasonable framework with which to compare each of the contact types.

Interestingly though, I wasn’t initially planning on covering the Pacific dispersal but when you start looking at the page count in the book for the diaspora segment there’s really only that and the African diaspora (ie the slave-trade) that have anything like the volume that you need for this assignment. Thus most people seem to be doing one or the other now and rejecting the option of doing something on rock-art that was initially quite popular.

It’s quite a good assignment to tie together the various strands of the course and a great way of showing the advantages of looking at the world as a whole rather than just, say, Roman archaeology. The downside is that it makes for a massive volume of reading in the final weeks of the course.

Next up for me in the historical line will probably be the medieval to modern history course which starts where the archaeology course finished and the empire one after that although it’ll be a few years before I can fit them in.

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