Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA48515: ‘Curating human remains’: dealing with the legacy of war and disaster from archaeological perspectives

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA48515: ‘Curating human remains’: dealing with the legacy of war and disaster from archaeological perspectives

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.
Tied to L2K609, L2K909


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To develop a critical understanding of the practical and ethical imperatives of working with human remains in politically contested contexts
  • To critically engage with the body of academic literature that addresses politically sensitive archeological work that involves human remains
  • To develop an advanced understanding of the managerial challenges of working with human remains with specific regard to managing reputational legacy
  • To develop an understanding of the methods used in the analysis of human remains to uncover the life histories of people who died in politically contested contexts
  • To demonstrate the links between local (Durham-specific) and global practices of memory-making through the curation of human remains.


  • This interdisciplinary module sits at the intersection between Political Science, History and Archeology. It focuses on contexts in which the discovery, excavation, analysis and ‘curation’ of human remains is subject to controversy and political debate.
  • To do so, the module introduces the ‘Scottish soldiers’ project as a Durham-based case study through which the practical and ethical complexities of working with archaeological human remains can be understood, problematised and applied to contexts today.
  • The module raises questions as to the ways in which academics and practitioners can work with the material legacy of war and disaster as it presents itself in the form of human remains (e.g. mass graves and other burial sites).
  • In this way it casts light on the complex decision-making processes that surround the ways in which memory narratives are created and curated after violence and suffering occur.
  • The module will investigate such challenges as they were encountered in the curation of the Scottish soldiers project in Durham (2013-2018, and ongoing), and relate them to issues of international war and and other disaster contexts today. A variety of case studies from the past will be used to reflect on the extent to which knowledge and skills or archaeologists and bioarchaeologists impact on the work of practitioners working in post-war and disaster-stricken contexts.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have, by the end of the module,
  • • To identify and understand different stakeholder interests in the aftermath of wars and other disasters, such as earthquakes etc.
  • • To develop a critical awareness of memory politics in relation to human remains
  • • To be able to understand connections between local, national and global discourses and approaches to dealing with human remains in contested political circumstances
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will, by the end of the module,
  • • To understand and analyse case studies in which the discovery, analysis and ‘curation’ of archaeological human remains was subject to political controversy
  • • To develop a methodological understanding of the possibilities and limitations of working with human remains
  • • To be able to critically analyse the linguistic, social, political and cultural challenges when developing policies and reports in relation to human remains
  • • To design a memory project that critically reflects on the ethical underpinnings of engaging with loss and suffering in times of political crisis
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able, by the end of the module,
  • • To prepare case studies for both oral and written presentations from different sources of material
  • • To demonstrate an independent approach to learning, thinking (self-)critically and creatively, and problem-solving.
  • • To use sophisticated techniques of information retrieval and management using an array of print and digital as well as art-based resources.
  • • To formulate complex arguments in articulate and structured English in an effective way, within the discursive conventions and genres of academic writing and written to high academic standards.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will be delivered as a block in workshop format over a period of two full consecutive days, and will involve a mixture of lectures, short presentations, discussion and small group work, as well as a role play based on real or constructed cases.
  • The module will also include a visit to the Fenwick Human Osteology Laboratory in the Department of Archaeology, as well as a field trip to Durham’s most important sites that relate to the Scottish Soldiers Project (cathedral, Palace Green Library Café and memorial, graveyard where the Scottish Soldiers’ remais were reburied in May 2018)
  • Summative assessment will include an article review (pre-workshop) and a report or essay (post-workshop). The case study for the essay is selected by students taking this module. This is to maximise flexibility with a view to the wide range of professional backgrounds and needs students attending the course are expected to have. The guiding questions for the essay/report are based on the themes discussed during the workshop. The article review is designed to provide students with a focused task to prepare them, through self-guided learning, for the workshop’s discussions as well as case study analysis.
  • Assessment is intended to develop students' analytical and academic writing skills. Students will receive continuing formative feedback in seminar and group discussions during the course of the module. More specifically, the students will receive formative feedback on a memory project that they will devise and present in small groups. This project will require the students to apply the knowledge gained throughout the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Workshop 1 Epiphany term 2 days 15
Preparation and Reading 135
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Pre-Course Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Article Review 1000 100%
Component: Post-course Essay Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Report 2500 100%

Formative Assessment:

The course will be heavily interactive and will include student presentations and discussions, practical exercises and role play based on case-studies and scenarios. Students will be given ongoing feedback on these exercises and will have the opportunity to seek clarification and ask further questions on the material arising from these activities throughout the course.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University