Syllabus 290W  
Queens College - Fall 2006
Representing the Past in Popular Media: Television, Film, Print, Museums, and the Internet

T, Th 6:30-7:45 PM Classroom: Powdermaker 114        Instructor: Dr. Arthur Rostoker
Office Hours: T 8:00-8:30 PM or by appointment. Office: Powdermaker 314G
Telephone: (718) 997-2856 Electronic Mail:
Required Textbooks:
Fagan, Garrett G. (ed.)
                2006 Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misreprents the Past and Misleads the Public. London: Routledge.
Feder, Kenneth L.
               2002 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, Fourth Edition, Boston: McGraw-Hill.

        The primary subject matter of this course is a systematic consideration of the ways in which textual and visual images of the human past, particularly those illustrating the activities and accomplishments of pre-literate and early literate societies (sometimes referred to as "ancient civilizations"), are mobilized in the mass media, by whom, and for what purposes. Although these representations often stand on their own, this survey will also encompass the portrayals of archaeology and archaeologists that constitute integral parts of many such productions. Our universe of inquiry includes both ostensible fact and avowed fiction, which are nevertheless often and easily confounded, conflated, or otherwise intertwined. A primary objective of the semester's work is to develop some intellectual tools that will help us to evaluate those implicit and explicit claims about knowledge of the human past that you will discover are surprisingly pervasive in modern daily life.

        Whatever else it may be, this is a writing intensive course. As such, your grade for the semester will be based primarily on successful completion of two written assignments, to be submitted in both draft and subsequent final versions of 5-10 typewritten pages each. Please honor all deadlines noted on the calendar that follows. Drafts are required. These will be returned with corrections and suggestions for improvement, as necessary. The final papers will each be accorded a maximum of 100 semester points. There will be no formal in-class examinations. However, class participation is encouraged and will be favorably recognized in the evaluation of your overall performance (maximum: 20 semester points). Please do all assigned reading by the first class meeting listed for the respective chapters, so that you will be prepared to ask questions, or to respond in an informed manner if called upon in class.

        Based on your preliminary work for the written assignments, each of you will also be required to give two brief oral presentations, worth a maximum of 15 semester points apiece. During the first three weeks of the semester, beginning immediately after our first class meeting, you are expected to keep a journal detailing all encounters with representations of the human past, whether on the street, the Internet, or elsewhere. As outlined further in the accompanying handout, these encounters should result from chance, rather than from any specifically directed search. I will ask you to summarize and evaluate the results of this exercise in your first oral presentation and more comprehensively in your initial paper.

        For the second assignment, by no later than the last class meeting in October, each of you will be asked to: select a motion picture, a novel, a museum exhibition, an Internet site, or other major piece of work that pretends to illuminate some aspect of the human past; identify the apparent motivation for its production; explain the principal thesis or theses presented; and evaluate the veracity or authenticity of the textual and/or visual images deployed for those purposes.

        More detailed explanation of the format and topics for both papers will be given in separate handouts. Any student unable to submit an assignment by the end of the semester and wishing an extension of the deadline must request a grade of INCOMPLETE, by no later than the last scheduled class meeting.

Dates Topic for Lecture and Discussion Assigned Reading
31 Course mechanics and general background.
Begin keeping individual journals (see handout).
5, 7 Science and Pseudoscience: why's and wherefore's. Fagan: Intro and Chapter 1
Feder: Chapters 1 and 2
12, 14 Faking for fun and profit. Fagan: Chapter 2
Feder: Chapter 3
19, 21 Further fakery (Finish journal keeping on Thursday) Fagan: Chapter 3
Feder: Chapter 4
26, 28 Individual oral presentations on your journal results.
5, 10 Ethnocentrism and politics (I). Fagan: Chapters 7 and 8
Draft first assignments due, in class (October 10).
Feder: Chapter 5
12, 17 Ethnocentrism and politics (II). Fagan: Chapter 9
Draft first assignments returned (October 17).
Feder: Chapters 6 and 7
19, 24 Legends and wishful thinking (I, II). Fagan: Chapter 4
Feder: Chapter 8
26 Legends and wishful thinking (III). Fagan: Chapters 5 and 6
Final version of the first assignment due, in class.
Feder: Chapter 9
31 Alternative archaeologies (I) Feder: Chapter 10
Last day to have your topic approved for the second assignment.
2 Alternative archaeologies (II). Feder: Chapter 11
7, 9 The popular media as tools for public education. Fagan: Chapter 10
Feder: Chapter 12
14, 16, 21 Oral presentations on the second assignments.
28, 30 Appropriating the realm of the fantastic. Fagan: Chapter 11
Draft second assignments due, in class (November 28).
5, 7 Who "owns" the past? Fagan: Chapter 12
Draft second assignments returned (December 5).
12 Concluding remarks. Fagan: Chapter 13