Ant 5: Syllabus

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Proseminar in Biological Anthropology (4) 

Spring Quarter 2008
(MW 12:10-1:30, 3 Wellman; CRN #66293)


Course Description
Goal and Objectives
Reading Materials
Attendance and Participation
Course Format and Expectations
Web-Based Resources


Bruce Winterhalder, Anthropology, Graduate Group in Ecology & 
Graduate Group in International Agricultural Development 
218 Young Hall; [; phone 754-4770]

Course Description 

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The catalog description for this course is not composed of inspiring stuff: “Seminar—3 hours; term paper. Prerequisite: Course 1 and consent of instructor. Course primarily for majors. Integration of related disciplines in the study of biological anthropology through discussion and research projects. Principal emphasis in human adaptation to the environment. GE credit: SciEng, Wrt.” Perhaps majors in anthropology are expected instinctively to recognize a good way to spend ten weeks, "consent of instructor," so that the description need not aim to pique curiosity. More importantly, and more to our advantage, the description says almost nothing specific about content. That is perhaps its one saving grace; it does not constrain choice. There is a lot of opportunity here for something interesting. Maybe inspiring.

I have made full use of that license and have chosen a set of materials that are quite eclectic, but with some common themes. The four books listed as required reading are ones that I know I will enjoy reading. I presume that you will enjoy them too, partly for the diverse ways that they manifest evolutionary anthropological inquiry. They range from primate behavior, to an examination of the natural history of altruism, to the archeology of a small island with large implications for the fate of the earth, to the role of culture in the longer evolution of humanity. I deliberately have avoided a common approach to courses like this one: the long course packet of readings, made up of brief excerpts from writings by dozens of notable historical and contemporary figures in the field. My preference is to take up in depth the work of a few colleagues, especially those who are passionate about their subject matter and who pursue it with an integrative bent.

The content of this course has some other important qualities. It tends toward the material(ist), evolutionary side of the discipline of anthropology (Dugatkin; Richerson and Boyd), reflecting my interests and expertise. It is holistic or biocultural. One book is by archaeologists (Flenley and Bahn), another by primatologists (Cheney and Seyfarth). There is a pragmatic theme that underlies several of the volumes (What practical things can you and I learn from anthropology? see especially Cheney and Seyfarth; Flenley and Bahn). All of these books have been published within the last ten years; all are quite well written.

Goal and Objectives

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By the end of the course you will understand how different evolutionary anthropologists go about their work. You will have a solid understanding of an equal number of subdisciplinary fields. And, you should have a variety of examples and reasons to appreciate and communicate the living, practical importance of the kinds of explanation and understanding that evolutionary anthropologists attempt to generate with their research.

You also will have acquired or reinforced a variety of practical skills in research, writing and oral presentation.

Readings Materials

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Four books make up the bulk of the required reading for the course. They are listed immediately below. They are available at the UC Davis Bookstore. There is no course pack.

Cheney, Dorothy L., and Robert M. Seyfarth. 2007. Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dugatkin, Lee Alan. 2006. The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Flenley, John, and Paul Bahn. 2003. The Enigmas of Easter Island. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd. 2006. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

In addition, I will ask that you read four original journal articles, one in the citation list of each of these books.

Attendance and Participation

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This class is a student-based learning experience. Discussion of readings and student presentations make up most of the sessions. However, you will be graded on your informed participation and that requires careful, timely preparation and regular attendance.

Readings should be completed by the class period which follows the date of their assignment. The class requires a greater than average amount of reading (70-80 pages per session, on average). It requires greater than usual care in reading. And, it requires greater than usual oral participation.

Course Format & Expectations

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The twenty class sessions are spread over the following kinds of activities:

-Introductory and concluding classes (2)
-Discussion of readings (8)
-Reading Presentations (4)
-Memorial Day Holiday (1)
-Research Proposals (2)
-Lecture or "Open" (3)

Note that discussions and presentations predominate. These components of the course require your informed, verbal participation.

There are three kinds of written assignments:

a) Reading Response: This is a one-page assignment, due at the beginning of each of the classes described as a “Discussion” (8 total). Your page should consist of one or two, paragraph-long observations, followed by three to four written discussion questions. Your observation paragraphs are open-ended: they might describe in detail a particularly striking point made by the author (s), summarize and speculate on a question provoked by the text, outline an argument you have with the material, or summarize a link to another author, topic, or literature that you have read. The main goal of this exercise is to clearly and succinctly express an intellectual reaction that reflects your careful reading of the assigned materials. Please make two copies; one to hand in at the beginning of class. Be sure to include your name and the date of the class on each assignment.

b) Original Literature Précis: In this assignment, due at the beginning of each of the classes described as "Student Readings" (4 total), you are to locate, read and summarize in a one-page précis one primary research article from the bibliography of each of the books we are reading. The choice of article is yours, keeping in mind that it should report original research important to the interpretation being offered in the book we are reading. I will provide a description of a précis shortly after the quarter begins; you should be prepared to make a brief, 4-5 minute oral presentation on your article.

c) A written research proposal. This will be a 2-4 page, written research proposal, in which you will imagine yourself to be an anthropologist doing a year of federally funded follow-up work on a problem raised in one or another of the books we have read. I will provide you an outline, and will expect you to make at least one visit to office hours to discuss your ideas, well in advance of the deadline for this assignment (21 May). You should be prepared to make an oral power point or equivalent presentation of your proposal on one of the two days designated for "Student Research Proposals."


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The UC-Davis Honor Code is to be observed in this class. You are solely responsible for your work. If you are unclear about the meaning of plagiarism or other academic violations, please ask. I grade on the basis of regular, informed participation in discussion and care in written expression. I will weight these expectations as follows:

40 % Class participation and oral presentations
24 % Reading responses (n = 8)
16 % Original Literature Précis (n = 4)
20 % Written Research Proposal (n = 1)
100 % Total


Course Schedule

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Class # & Date
Reading Assignment
Class Activity

I. Introduction

1. 31 March
Cheney & Seyfarth, Chs. 1-5 Introduction
2. 2 April
Cheney & Seyfarth, Chs. 6-8 Winterhalder Fieldwork

II. II. Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind.

3. 7 April
Cheney & Seyfarth, Chs. 9-12 Discussion: Cheney & Seyfarth
4. 9 April
Dugatkin, Chs. 1-3 Discussion: Cheney & Seyfarth
5. 14 April
Dugatkin, Chs. 4-6 Student Readings, Cheney & Seyfarth

III. The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness.

6. 16 April
Dugatkin, Chs. 7-9 Discussion: Dugatkin
7. 21 April
Richerson & Boyd, Chs. 1-2

Discussion: Dugatkin

8. 23 April
Richerson & Boyd, Chs. 3-4 Student Readings, Dugatkin

IV. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.

9. 28 April
Richerson & Boyd, Chs. 5-7 Discussion: Richerson & Boyd
10. 30 April
Flenley & Bahn, Preface, Introduction, Part I Open
11. 5 May
Flenley & Bahn, Part II Discussion: Richerson & Boyd

V. The Enigmas of Easter Island.

12. 7 May
Flenley & Bahn, Part III Student Readings, Richerson & Boyd
13. 12 May
Prepare Research Proposal Discussion: Flenley & Bahn
14. 14 May
Prepare Reseach Proposal Discussion: Flenley & Bahn
15. 19 May
  Student Readings, Flenley & Bahn

VI. Student Reading Selections and Life after the BA

16. 21 May
  Student Research Proposals, I
17. 26 May
  Memorial Day Holiday
18. 28 May
  Student Research Proposals, II
19. 2 June
  Lecture: Life after the BA

VII. Conclusion

20. 4 June
No assignment Summary; Conclusions; Course Review


Web-Based Resources

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As in other topical areas, the internet offers increasingly rich resources on the subject of anthropology and anthropological careers. I encourage you to explore this beginning with the American Anthropological Association WebSite. The URL address is:

A warning: Much of what you will find in generalized searches is highly uneven in its quality.