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CL7041 The Usable Past: imagining and consuming the Aegean Bronze Age

Lost In The Labyrinth

Module Organiser: Dr Christine Morris
Duration: One Term (2016-17: Jan-April)
Contact hours: 22 (1 x 2-hour seminar p.w.)
Weighting: 10 ECTS


The rediscovery of Aegean Bronze Age civilisation, towards the end of the 19th century, captured the public imagination. Its visually rich and artistically engaging images of bull leaping and snake wielding goddesses and its complex palatial architecture were considered ‘modern’ and ‘European’; thus, interpretations of the archaeological record were, from the beginning, shaped by the preoccupations, intellectual trends and ideologies of the early 20th century within Europe and beyond.

This course takes the material culture of the Aegean Bronze Age as a case study of the ‘usable past’, exploring how it has been continuously recreated, imagined and consumed since its rediscovery.  Themes will include: the construction of the Minoans as ‘the first Europeans’; Evans’ controversial creation of a ‘modern ruin’ at the palace of Knossos and the cultural heritage and conservation issues it now raises; the ethics of modern forgeries and issues of imitation and authenticity; gender and the ‘myth of matriarchy’.

We will also explore the modern reception, consumption and social biographies of Aegean material culture. Topics may include the influence of Cycladic art on modern artists such as Picasso and Brancusi, the uses of Minoan imagery in tourism and in political and ideological contexts, and the re-imaginings of the Aegean past in popular culture from modern dance to poetry, from gender identity to animé.

As part of the module, students will have the opportunity to contribute to an ongoing research project that aims to collect and contextualise modern uses and re-interpretations of Aegean material.


  • to introduce students to the material culture of the Aegean Bronze Age.
  • to examine critically how scholarly and popular perceptions of the Aegean Bronze Age have been shaped by the context of rediscovery, and by modern social, historical and ideological factors.
  • to explore through case studies how the Aegean Bronze Age has been used, consumed and re-imagined in the creative, visual and literary arts.

Working Methods

The module will be organised around specific case studies and student-led discussion seminars. We will also visit the UCD Classical Museum to handle and discuss relevant artefacts and replicas.  Guidance for reading and topics will be given in class.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • present a sound and sophisticated knowledge of Aegean Bronze Age material culture
  • evaluate critically the impact of the modern contexts of rediscovery on the characterisation of the Aegean Bronze Age
  • identify, contextualise and discuss the re-use and appropriation of Aegean Bronze Age material within modern culture.
  • apply relevant methodologies and theoretical approaches to independent work
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively both in oral presentations and discussion, and in written work.

Last updated 7 March 2017