Summer 2017
Contemporary Archaeology of Outer Space

This course will be a journey through the material culture of outer space, from the surface of the Earth to the limits of the solar system. Space age artefacts include components of massive technological systems, such as satellites in Earth orbit and the terrestrial antennas which receive their signals, blast-corroded surfaces at launch pads and on the moon, and disposable cable ties which are manufactured and discarded in their millions.

Drawing on concepts from the archaeology of the contemporary past, an aim is to “presence absence” or “make the invisible visible” through foregrounding what is normally overlooked or forgotten. We will examine diverse ways of engaging with space from experimenting with gravity to exploring other-dimensional spaces. Humans take Earth gravity for granted, and yet it structures everything from physiology to architecture. When contrasted with microgravity environments such as the International Space Station, what appears ‘normal’ becomes just one set of choices from many available in the solar system. The same can be said of our experience of three-dimensional Cartesian space, which is purely local rather than global or even galactic. In the interstices of space we find other forgotten things: dreams, shadows, ghosts and junk.

The scale and complexity of technology in late industrial capitalist societies means that the ‘traditional’ suite of field and laboratory techniques used by archaeologists is becoming insufficient to capture the character of contemporary objects and places. Increasingly, archaeologists are working with artists in order to produce a meaningful record of the present. Space beyond the Earth presents a rich arena to extend this bi-disciplinary collaboration.

Through lectures, screenings, workshops and fieldwork, students will be introduced to some of the theories and practices of the archaeology of the contemporary past. The course includes a field trip to the Prater, where students will investigate variable gravity environments. At the conclusion of the course, students will present their ideas in a Pecha Kucha presentation of 20 images x 20 seconds.

May 19th - 26th, 2017


Project Mercury, 1959: Gimbaling Rig in Motion.  Image credit: NASA.