Anthropology Courses | St. Lawrence University Anthropology

Anthropology Courses

Anthropology is the study of humanity. Its subject of study encompasses the range of human experience among the peoples of the world, and its aims are to understand what people do or have done, and why. In fact, every aspect of human beings, from their DNA molecules to their beliefs about the supernatural, from the beginnings of primate evolution to the present, raises anthropological questions. Some of the most interesting of these questions remain to be answered. For these and many other reasons, anthropology is central to the liberal arts. The anthropology program is designed to cultivate a lively curiosity about the human experience, a deeper understanding of cultures and diverse ways of life, including our own. It works toward developing an informed, comparative sense of the human experience, past and present, and of the many ways of knowing, understanding and communicating. These studies encourage critical reasoning abilities and skills that promote a life of continuous learning, which are of immeasurable value in pursuing a range of careers and goals in a world in which global diversity has become, more than ever, an inescapable aspect of life.

101. Human Origins. (Formerly 201)
This course explores the nature of humanity using a bio-cultural approach. Students learn about the history and basic concepts of evolutionary thought, the fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution, the origins of language and culture, and human biological diversification. We analyze the human species with the rest of the primates by formulating explanations concerning the biological and cultural development of the primate order over the last 65 million years. Restricted to first and second year students. Fulfills the SST01 and SS13 general education requirements. Offered every semester.

102. Cultural Anthropology.
This course introduces students to the comparative study of human cultures and societies. We will learn important anthropological concepts, methods and theories as we explore topics like subsistence and exchange, kinship and marriage, and politics and law. Throughout the course, we will learn about differences and similarities between human populations, we will consider how cultures and societies have changed over time, and we will reflect on our own culture and society. Restricted to first and second year students. Fulfills the DIV 01, DIV 13, SSC01 and SS13 general education requirements. Offered every semester. Also offered through Peace Studies.

103. Introduction to Archaeology.
A general overview of the branch of anthropology that investigates ancient societies through the material remains they have left behind. Students learn that archaeologists engage in detailed, systematic detective work aimed at answering a wide range of questions about human behavior. The course introduces students to the history of archaeology, the main goals of archaeological research and the basic techniques of excavation, site survey and artifact analysis, as well as the famous discoveries and excavations that have broadened our knowledge about the human past. Restricted to first and second year students. Fulfills the SST01 and SS13 general education requirements. Offered every semester.

104. Language and Human Experience. (Formerly 205)
We will tackle fundamental questions of what language is and how languages both create and constrain human potential. Our method for addressing these questions will be comparative. That is, at every step we will consider how languages do and do not vary across cultures in terms of their form, function and feeling. Along the way, we will examine the structure of language and the ways this structure varies across languages; we will survey the ways in which languages are transmitted from one generation to the next, and consider the ways in which languages inevitably change in the process; and we will explore language as a principal medium in which social identities are formed. No background in linguistics or anthropology is required, but a fundamental curiosity about culture and communication is expected. Fulfills the DIV 01, DIV 13, SSCO1, and SS13 general education requirements. Offered every semester.

208. Ancient Civilizations.
Students learn how and why relatively simple egalitarian societies made the transition to state-level civilizations via an overview of several “primary” civilizations of the Old World: Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Indus Valley. In comparing and contrasting these case studies, students explore key issues from an anthropological perspective: how archaeologists investigate these early social formations, what the material remains tell us about how they functioned and flourished, the critical role of the environment and geography, and how and why the civilizations declined. Fulfills the SSC01 and SS13 general education requirements. Offered on rotation. Also offered through Asian Studies.

215. Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology.
Lost continents, ancient astronauts, mysterious giants: In the mass media, archaeology has often been the subject of fantastic myths, frauds and endless speculation about what “really” happened in the past. This course critically examines various popular and pseudoscientific claims about the human past, including the search for Atlantis, the shroud of Turin, psychic archaeology and the Piltdown Man, and introduces students to the scientific goals, methodology and techniques of archaeology. How do archaeologists “know” things — how do they work within logical theoretical frameworks, systematically explore the patterns and contexts of archaeological remains, and interpret the material and scientific evidence to draw educated conclusions about past human experiences? Fulfills the SST01 and SS13 general education requirement. Offered on rotation.

225. Peoples and Cultures of Africa.
This course surveys contemporary peoples and cultures in sub-Saharan Africa through the lens of three major themes.  We will study the enduring importance and flexibility of African systems of social organization, and their relationship to religious beliefs and practices.  We will learn about patterns of production and consumption in African economies, and about power, authority, and conflict in African politics.  We will conclude by examining the ways in which cell phone use is reshaping social relations, economic activity, and political engagement.  Throughout, we will note the centrality of social relationships to life on the continent.  Fulfills the DIV13 and SS13 general education requirements.  Offered in the fall.  Also offered as African Studies 225.

241. Talking Politics.
This class is divided into two sections. First, we will explore how politics, broadly defined, has shaped languages over the past 4000 years; then we will dissect how language is used to shape the politics in today’s news. Along the way, we will explore a range of fundamental questions, including:

  • What roles do languages play in the formation of social groups?
  • How have the invention of writing and the introduction of mass literacy changed political power?
  • Why have some languages, like Mandarin, Spanish, English, Latin, and Arabic, become powerful, growing languages, while thousands of other languages lose speakers?
  • How are the grammatical elements of language manipulated for the purposes of deception and propaganda?

No background in anthropology or linguistics will be assumed, but a sense of curiosity about culture and communication is expected. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirements. Offered on rotation.

242. Dealing with the Dead.
Ever wonder how ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Mayans viewed and treated their dead? Curious about cemeteries, mummification, trophy heads, and sacrifice? Through an examination of death, burial, and ritual this course will explore the treatment of the dead by ancient and living cultures around the world. In addition, this course will examine what types of information can be obtained from burials and human skeletal remains, including health and disease, violence, and status. Recommended for students interested in how archaeology relates to death, dying, and survivors. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered on rotation.

244. Childhood Across Cultures.
Are children angelic blank slates, demonic changelings, or a cheap source of labor? Do humans have an “instinct” to adore and care for children? Do children everywhere go through the same developmental stages? When does childhood begin and end? How should caregivers speak to a child? When and how is it appropriate for children to behave as sexual beings? Different cultures and historical periods exhibit a range of ways of imagining and enacting the early stages of human life. In this class, we will treat this diversity as a vast experimental laboratory for understanding the malleability of the human condition. By examining case studies of childhood across a variety of cultures and gaining first-hand experience with kids in the North Country, we will explore the question of what is natural and what is cultural about our ideas of childhood. This course includes an experiential learning component known as Community Based Learning (CBL). The CBL component will require students to participate in a community placement, outside of class time, on a weekly basis throughout the semester. On average students can expect to spend at least two hours per week in the community.

251. Humans and Other Animals.
This course explores relationships between humans and other animals, as well as ideas that humans have about animals.  We will examine the similarities and differences between humans and our closest relatives: the great apes and other primates.  We will consider both wild and domestic animals through topics such as hunting and herding, wildlife documentaries and working animals, zoos and pets.  Finally, we will delve into the ways animals inspire the human imagination in folktales, magic, and beliefs about shamans and shape-shifters.  We will examine cases from around the world, with a special focus on Africa.  Students who take the course as AFS 251 must do both research projects on African topics.  Fulfills the EL and SS13 general education requirements.  Offered in the spring.  Also offered as African Studies 251.

262. Ancient India.
This course explores the rich South Asian past by examining the archaeology of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  A major goal is to understand the history of archaeological research in the region, from its colonial origins to its current controversial role in Indian religious politics.  A particular focus is the Indus Valley civilization, one of the earliest state-level societies in the world.  Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered on rotation. Also offered through Asian Studies.

270. Plagues and Peoples.
This course will consider the origins, antiquity, biology, and impact of plagues on human societies from an anthropological, biocultural perspective. We will explore the models and general principles of infectious disease to establish a framework for understanding plagues. Students will discuss specific plagues, both historic and contemporary, with a view to understand why they emerge, how their occurrence is intimately linked to human behavior, how they affect the human body, and how they transform societies. Offered on rotation. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered on rotation.

290. The Human Skeleton.
Curious about the human skeleton? Interested in how the human skeleton can be studied to understand past and present ways of life? In this course, students learn about the bones (including teeth) of the human body: how they grow and how they can be identified, reconstructed, and analyzed to answer complex anthropological questions regarding health, disease, stress, and trauma through time. Much of the course is hands-on and will involve handling real human skeletal material in a laboratory setting. Recommended for students interested in anthropology, forensics, law, and health-related fields such as medicine and dentistry. Fulfills the NSC01 general education requirement.  Offered periodically in the spring semester.

3000-3999. Special Topics Courses.
These special topics courses deal with various topics in anthropology at the 100 or 200 level. Offered occasionally.

318. Archaeology and Identity.
How do archaeologists define identity? How do they recognize it “on the ground”? This course considers whether identity — based on gender, “race,” ethnicity, religious affiliation or class — is passively reflected in material culture or if it is imposed on ancient peoples by modern thinkers. We will also explore the issue from a contemporary perspective, by examining the intersections among archaeology, nationalist agendas and the social constructions of the past. We will examine a number of archaeological case studies, including gender roles in early Mayan and Mesopotamian societies, caste affiliations in ancient India and the politics of archaeology in Nazi Germany. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered on rotation. Also offered through Gender and Sexuality Studies.

320. Great Debates in Anthropology.
Western scholars have long sought to explain what it means to be human, and in anthropology we address such questions by studying the beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles of ourselves and other societies.  Anthropologists have always sought to develop fundamental ideas about what it means to be human, especially what makes us social and cultural beings. In this course, students will learn how western thinkers have tried to explain ‘the self' and 'the other’ against a variety of social, political, and intellectual backdrops — from early European explorers confronting human diversity around the world, to more recent post-modern and globalization approaches that examine issues of power and agency. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered occasionally.

325. Evolution, Culture and Human Diversity.
What are the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for human diversity? Throughout evolutionary history, humans have been able to occupy virtually every region on the planet. In doing so, humans have undergone a process of cultural and biological diversification. This course offers a bio-cultural perspective to study the evolution and diversification of humanity. Students learn about the relationship among biology, culture and the environment, and discuss topics such as human differences in blood type, lactose intolerance, adaptation to hot and cold environments, adaptation to ultraviolet radiation, and eugenics. Recommended for students interested in biomedical sciences, anthropology and related fields. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered occasionally.

331. Social Movements.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." This course examines contemporary social movements which organize and mobilize people to effect change, and which therefore challenge existing institutions, cultures, and social orders. We will consider issues related to participation, leadership, organization, strategy, scale, technology, and media representation, among others. We will read and discuss both theory and ethnography, and you will have the opportunity to practice various research methods by working on several small-scale projects and one longer research paper. Students who take the course as AFS 4009 must write their major paper on an African topic.

340. Myth, Magic, and Ritual.
In this class, we will explore the ways in which myth, magic, and ritual permeate social life. Drawing on ethnographic and theoretical studies of religious beliefs and practices ranging from literate "world religions" to those of small-scale, non-literate societies, we will ask fundamental questions about human belief systems and examine how far we have come in answering them in over a century of theorizing. There are no prerequisites for this course, which is designed to be accessible to those with no background in anthropology, but a high degree of participation in class discussions and extracurricular research will be required. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered occasionally.

355. Social Life of Ancient Things.
This research methods course explores how archaeologists study artifacts as tangible remnants of past societies.  All human societies produce and use material culture, and the relationship between humans and their human-made objects is a complex one. Archaeologists thus must work closely with material data from both past and present societies in order to better understand the technological, social and ideological dimensions of this relationship. This course will introduce students to two key strategies of analogical reasoning – experimental archaeology and ethnoarchaeology – and archaeologists use them to figure out how artifacts were made, how they were used, and how they carried meaning within a culture.  

365. Forensic Anthropology.
How can bones help forensic scientists identify long-dead people? What is the role of forensic anthropologists in mass disaster and human rights investigations? Do shows such as “Bones” and “CSI” accurately reflect the role of forensic investigators? Through hands-on experience, students will learn how forensic anthropologists use skeletal materials and biological principles to recover, identify and evaluate human skeletal remains. By the end of the course, students will have basic knowledge of the history and goals of forensic anthropology, human osteology, and an awareness of issues relating to the search, discovery and recovery of human skeletal remains. Offered occasionally in the fall semester.

4000-4999. Special Topics Seminars.
These advanced seminars deal with significant topics in anthropology at the 300 or 400 level. Prerequisites: previous relevant course work to be specified in the Class Schedule or permission of the instructor. Offered occasionally.

415. History of Archaeological Thought.
When faced with wondrous yet puzzling archaeological remains that cover the globe, what were the reactions of scholars and lay people 100 or 500 or 1,000 years ago? This course traces the intriguing history of archaeological investigation, from its antiquarian, “treasure hunt” origins to its modern incarnation as a systematic, scientifically driven discipline. We examine how the practice of archaeology has been shaped by social and political climates; explore the impact of changing notions toward historical time, human progress and the “other”; and evaluate contemporary theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of the human past. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered as needed.

425. Environmental Conservation in Africa.
This course investigates a wide variety of environmental conservation projects in Africa.  We examine efforts by colonial and post-colonial states to preserve wilderness in national parks, and how local residents have responded.  We study projects developed by international organizations which link environmental conservation with economic benefits for local people. Finally, we look at indigenous African efforts to conserve natural resources and to restore degraded lands.  Throughout the course, we compare and contrast the perspectives and interests of conservation biologists, government officials and local residents, among others. Fulfills the SS13 and EL general education requirements. Offered every fall. Also offered as African Studies 425.

430. Advances in Biological Anthropology.
What does it mean to be human? How did humans become what we are today? These two questions lie at the heart of all anthropological discourse. This course explores the biocultural nature of the human species through a detailed examination of the various areas of study within biological anthropology. In doing so, the course presents a critical examination of the current issues, methods, and theory in biological anthropology, approached from the following perspectives: paleoanthropology and evolutionary theory; skeletal biology and osteology; primatology; human biology; and population genetics. We will consider each of these approaches in their larger social, historical, and intellectual contexts. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered as needed.

440. Writing Culture.
Ethnography is both a process and a product of research into the implicit meanings that motivate human behavior. How can we uncover these cultural meanings and convey them to a wider audience? Can cultural meanings form the basis for a scientific (i.e. generalizable, empirical, and falsifiable) study of humanity? This course will address core methodological questions by engaging students in a practical workshop on ethnographic research and writing. Each student will design and carry out an individual ethnographic project, making structured observations, writing and revising field notes, conducting ethnographic interviews, and analyzing interlocutors’ narratives. As we explore these methodological issues, we will also engage the products of ethnographic research: ethnographies. In reading a mix of classic and contemporary ethnographies, we will we will explore where anthropology has been and ask where it may be going. Fulfills the SS13 general education requirement. Offered as needed.

489,490. SYE: Senior Projects.
Open to qualified students who wish to pursue more specialized or advanced anthropological study and research on a specific topic under the direction of a faculty sponsor. Prerequisite: at least two anthropology courses and permission of the instructor.

498,499. SYE: Honors in Anthropology.
Open to anthropology majors with a grade point average of at least 3.5 in all courses taken within the department. Requires completion of a long-term project beginning late in the junior year under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Details are available from the department. Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.