Course Exam—ANTH 366

Evolutionary Anthropology

Evolutionary Anthropology (ANTH 336) is a three-credit intermediate-level course that provides a general introduction to various topics related to the evolution of human adaptations, including various human behaviours.  This course has ANTH 278 (Human Evolution and Diversity) or equivalent as a prerequisite and it has a Challenge for Credit option available.

Evolutionary Anthropology consists of eleven units, one assignment weighing five percent, a mid-term examination weighing thirty percent, a second assignment weighing thirty percent, and a final examination worth thirty-five percent.  The eleven units within this course cover several interesting topics, such as menopause (is it unique to humans?), evolutionary psychology, the evolution of the human language, how diet has shaped human evolution, the evolutionary origins of religion, and the future of Homo sapiens.

To receive credit for ANTH 336, students must complete the two assignments, write the mid-term and final examination, and achieve a minimum of fifty percent on both the mid-term and final examination and an overall grade of fifty percent for the entire course.  Students should note that the mid-term and final examinations for this course must be taken online with an Athabasca University approved invigilator at an approved invigilation centre.  It is the students’ responsibility to ensure your chosen invigilation centre can accommodate online exams.  For a list of invigilators who can accommodate online exams, visit the Exam Invigilation Network.

Dr. Hugh Notman has been with Athabasca University since 2007.  He wrote the course and has been the coordinator since 2011.  He normally tutors the course but while he is the associate dean in FHSS someone else is tutoring the course.  Alongside ANTH 336, he coordinates all the bio-anthropology courses, which include ANTH 278, ANTH 310, ANTH 354, ANTH 378, ANTH 384, ANTH 406, ANTH 434, and ANTH 436.  He states, “ANTH 436 is the only one I am currently tutoring.  It is a new course called Topics in Primate Cognition.  I normally also tutor ANTH 310 (Primate Behaviour) but not while I am a dean.

Dr. Notman provides a brief description of himself, stating “I am a biological anthropologist with a specialization in primatology.  That means I study primates, their behaviour, cognition and communication, and how these aspects of the nonhuman primates might shed light on the evolution of those same aspects in humans.  So, as an anthropologist I am interested in humans, but as a biological anthropologist I am particularly interested in our journey from the nonhuman primates, and what adaptive processes have shaped our evolution.”

He continues, “I have studied chimpanzee communication in Uganda and spider and howler monkey behaviour and ecology in Belize.  I also have a graduate student working on small savanna monkeys in South Africa called vervets.”

When asked to describe the course, he states “I really like ANTH 336 (Evolutionary Anthropology) because it allows students to engage with a range of topics that relate to our past and present behaviour; topics that, I think, we often encounter in our daily lives and ask ourselves “why do we do/behave like that?”.  This course takes a biological approach to some of our behavioural peculiarities, such as the origins of language, religion, menopause and even why we might choose each other as sexual partners.  So, the course is both foundational (i.e.  we review the course of human evolution, its milestones and what the fossil record says about our evolutionary past), as well as addresses topical aspects that might be of interest regarding our current behaviour.”

Dr. Notman also explains the structure of the course, “There are two mixed format exams (a mid-term and a final) and an essay assignment.  The essay format is somewhat unique (although the course is going through a revision that will enable more choice in what topic to choose).  At the moment, the essay assignment asks students to read a couple of seminal papers we provide, written by a famous biological anthropologist named Barbara Smuts, who was interested in hypotheses regarding the circumstances under which male sexual coercion in all its forms occurs in primates, and whether these same conditions might lead to its prevalence in humans in specific socio-cultural contexts.  So, she uses a cross-species perspective to ask questions about human behaviour and in this case a particularly noxious behaviour.  The essay assignment challenges students to evaluate her hypotheses from the perspective of a different disciplinary approach (such as a feminist, sociological or psychological one), and to compare and contrast the two perspectives with respect to how they might explain and predict the occurrence of male sexual coercion.  An additional part of the assignment (worth five percent) is to discuss the approach you will take to evaluating the Smuts readings with your tutor before you write the essay.  To be sure, this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is important that students are challenged to think about these issues and how we might best address them using a multi-disciplinary approach.”

He continues, “In the new revision of the course (which should be out this winter/spring) I have built in more choice in the essay topics so that you do not have to review the Smuts articles if you would prefer to focus on another relevant topic (all topic options will be provided).”

When it comes to what type of work ethic students should have, Dr. Notman says that “a good one always helps!” Haha! “There is a fair bit of reading of journal articles (mostly review articles) as there is no single textbook that covers all of the topics that the course does (although there is a text as well).  But the reading requirements are not beyond those of other 300- level courses.”

He provides advice to students who are enrolled or who are planning to enroll, stating “Make sure you talk to your tutor about your essay assignment in plenty of time to write, and keep up with the readings!”

He would recommend this course for “students who have taken an intro to biological anthropology (like ANTH 278 or equivalent elsewhere), but it is not necessary to enrollment or success in the course.  You should definitely have some familiarity with reading research articles and writing essays.”

By taking this course, Dr. Notman “hopes students will gain an appreciation for the biological approach to understanding some aspects of human nature.  This is not to say that biological explanations are the only ones, or even the “most correct”, but they certainly have much to contribute to our understanding of who we are as a species.  I hope students can evaluate aspects of their own lives, perhaps, armed with this perspective.  But the course will also show the limitations (and dangers) of using only a “naturalistic” approach to all facets of our behaviour.  Often it is easy to slip into this idea that if animals like primates do something, then it must be a “natural” inevitability for us to do the same, and that there is nothing we can do about it.  This distinction between homology (traits shared by 2 species because the traits are shared by a common ancestor) and analogy (2 species share a trait because they do the same thing, not because they both inherited them from a common ancestor – like wings on a bat and a bird) is very important when it comes to comparing humans and nonhuman primates, particularly in the realm of behaviour.”

Every course has aspects that are more difficult than others for students, and for this one, he states “Probably the essay, and perhaps keeping up with the readings, but both of these areas of potential difficulty can be easily mitigated with time management!  There is nothing that is too “hard” to comprehend; it is just keeping on top of the work, like most university courses!”

Whether ANTH 336 is a degree or program requirement of yours or the topics discussed above are of interest to you, this course will have you learning interesting topics surrounding anthropology!

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