Skip to main content

Study information

The Deep Past, History and Humanity

Module titleThe Deep Past, History and Humanity
Module codePHL3111
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Adrian Currie (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

What we can know about the past of our species, and what can this tell us about the natures of humanity and history? To answer such questions, we’ll draw on philosophical accounts of both historical science and human history, as well as anthropological, archaeological and biological perspectives. We’ll consider whether practises like archaeology are scientific, whether historical events are discovered or created and question whether we can ever truly know past cultures. This together will help us ask what understanding humanity’s history is for. Although the module takes a philosophical approach, it will be interdisciplinary, and of particular interest to students of a historical or anthropological bent.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will cover five overlapping debates concerning the natures of history, historical knowledge and humanity. The aim is to introduce you to philosophical, archaeological and historiographical considerations of epistemology and method with the skills required to critically engage and reflect upon those considerations. In addition to theoretical knowledge and skills, you will also learn how to incorporate case studies into critical analysis. Some of the lectures will include input from practicing archaeologists, and there will likely be a field trip to tour a museum or a dig.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate deep understanding of contemporary debates about historical science and historical knowledge.
  • 2. Critically engage with a case study from humanity’s deep past and how it relates to contemporary philosophical disputes.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Demonstrate a thorough capacity to analyse and critique arguments and positions.
  • 4. Synthesize theoretical and empirical information in illuminating ways.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Critically integrate different disciplinary approaches.
  • 6. Demonstrate clear, concise and effective writing and analysis.
  • 7. Conduct independent research which engages with complex ideas.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following:

1. Are the historical sciences sciences?
2. To what extent can we gain knowledge of human culture from material remains?
3. What is the nature of events in human history?
4. Can biological and cultural perspectives on human nature be integrated?
5. What is history for?

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities16.511 x 1.5 hour lectures. Lectures cover more ground than is possible in tutorials, and are designed to establish a context in which to think about the themes and texts discussed in tutorials.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities55 x 1 Hour Fortnightly tutorials. A specific reading is assigned, and you are provided with a list of questions to be discussed.
Guided Independent Study45Preparation for lectures and tutorial participation
Guided Independent Study83.5Preparation for lectures and tutorial participation including reading and planning. Independent research for assignments.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Tutorial ParticipationFortnightly1-7Oral
Essay plan1 Page Essay plan1-7Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini-Essay 1251000 words1-7Written
Mini-Essay 2251000 words1-7Written
Essay502000 words1-7Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Mini-Essay 1Mini-Essay (1000 words)1-7August/September reassessment period
Mini-Essay 2Mini-Essay (1000 words)1-7August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (2000 words)1-7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Turner, D. (2007). Making prehistory: Historical science and the scientific realism debate. Cambridge University Press.

Cleland, C. E. (2002). Methodological and epistemic differences between historical science and experimental science. Philosophy of Science, 69(3), 447-451.

Currie, A. (2018). Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist's Guide to the Historical Sciences. MIT Press.

Chapman, R., & Wylie, A. (2016). Evidential reasoning in archaeology. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Danto, A.C. (1965), Analytical Philosophy of History, London, Cambridge University Press.

Keller, E. F. (2016). Thinking about biology and culture: can the natural and human sciences be integrated?. The Sociological Review, 64(1_suppl), 26-41.

Collingwood, R. G. (1993). The idea of history. Oxford University Press.

Key words search

Historiography, philosophy of science, archaeology, anthropology, human nature, historical science.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date