What’s a human? Well, you are one, so you ought to know. What makes us what we are?
It would seem that we’re animals, we have to eat and breathe and have sex to reproduce. We shit. We die. But relative to other living creatures on Earth we’re unique. We have very complicated social behaviors. We have an inborn ability to acquire language and create symbols. We are ready to go to war and kill each other over intangible ideas and principles. What is this something extra that allows us to exceed the cognitive capacities of all the other animals?
Anthropologists have an answer for this: culture. More than any other animal, Homo sapiens relies upon learned behaviors to adapt to an manipulate our natural and social environments. In this class we will study what it means to be human by exploring the borderlands between human nature and human culture. We’ll begin by looking at cultures around the world, touching on the importance of language and the human need to lead meaningful lives. We’ll talk about how different people manage to put food on their table and question how it is that the we got to be where we are today.
In the second half of the semester we’ll turn our attention to human evolution. We’ll cover natural selection and some basic genetics before looking at what the fossil record can tell us about the humans who were here before us.
Welcome aboard. It’s going to be quite a journey.
Understanding Humans, 10th ed.
Additional required readings will also be posted to Blackboard
Evolution: The Human Story (extra credit assignments will come out of this book)
Sometimes anthropology acts like a science, sometimes its more like history. At other times it seems like we’re a branch of sociology or psychology. It’s also very philosophical. To get all these perspectives you’ll have to be a incisive and critical reader. There is a lot of reading assigned! For more reading tips see my post, How to Read a Book.