Archaeology Expedition

In this activity, students become members of an achaelogical expedition to Harvard Yard 2000 years in the future.

Activity: Archaeology Expedition


  • To get students to think critically about architecture and the built environment around them
  • To think critically about Vitruvius De Architectura, a reliable source for studying ancient architecture

Class: Classics 98 –Junior Tutorial (Urban and Exurban Space)


Students were asked to have already read Vitruvius' De Architectura, as well as selections from A. W. Lawrence's Greek Architecture. This week-long activity, which is set 2000 years in the future, prompts students to imagine that Harvard Yard has become a ruin, and investigate the remains of the university’s architecture. In this activity, students become members of an archaeological expedition to Harvard Yard 2000 years in the future.


Class Activity:

  • The instructor distributed handouts prior to the class meeting, and asked the students to choose a building which they were to study and present to the class.
  • The instructor identified and posted relevant excerpts from a translation and commentary on Vitruvius, as well as chapters from Lawrence's handbook on Greek Architecture. The instructor also toured Harvard's campus in order to choose ideal buildings for analysis.
  • Students are tasked with composing a proposal for the study of a structure. In the case of Harvard, they chose one of four structures (Widener Library, Langdell Hall, Memorial Church, and Robinson Hall)
  • The proposal had to include a hypothesis on the function of the structure, based on evidence that would have been included in the archaeological record.


  • The presentations were the effective deliverable, which led into discussion.
  • After all of the presentations, there was a general discussion of the usefulness of Vitruvius’ text as a reliable source.


  • Students were assessed on the quality of the presentation, including their use of contextualizing images, the use of Vitruvius as a model, and their contribution to the general discussion.


  • This type of activity was used to think critically about a topic which is certainly related but not immediately perceived as relevant. In this case, students were asked to use modern architecture as a medium through which to explain or discuss expectations regarding ancient architecture.
  • The instructor noted that students came up with widely varying presentations, each focusing on different, smaller aspects of what the instructor expected them to deal with holistically. It is advised that with an assignment like this, it is important for the instructor to outline his/her expectations at the outset, and model what he/she expects from his/her students.


Submitted by Anthony Shannon, Department of the Classics, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

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