Anthropology 31: Ecology, Evolution, and Human Health

Instructor:James Holland Jones


This course examines human ecology, human environments, adaptation and plasticity, and their relationship to health and well-being. All are considered in the broad comparative context. Topics include human population history, subsistence ecology, demography, reproductive decision making, urbanization, migration, infectious disease, the physiology of stress and the inflammatory response, social capital and social networks, nutrition, nutritional deficiencies, growth, and social inequalities.

To understand human ecology and adaptation, we must understand the range of human behavior and adaptations. We use adaptation as a foil to teleology, the fallacious idea of inexorable progress toward greater complexity (social, cultural and biological). Adaptation is local and specific and if we are to hope to make general statements about the nature of human adaptations to the environment, we must understand a broad range of human responses to environmental challenges. As a result, we will examine a very broad range of human populations in this class, both cross-culturally and through time.

The homogenizing influence of global culture threatens to undermine local adaptations to environmental challenges at the very time in human history that the maintenance of a broad and versatile toolkit of adaptive responses is acutely needed. Through this course, we will emphasize this versatility of human populations while attempting to synthesize generalities about the nature of human adaptation.

We will spend much of our time considering small-scale subsistence populations. Humans evolved in small face-to-face societies and many human adaptations can be usefully understood in this context. Furthermore, small-scale societies demonstrate an enormous range of variation in both environmental challenges faced and adaptations thereto. The process of human adaptation simply can not be understood in the absence of a broad grounding in this range of challenge and adaptation. Populations considered from both the ethnographic present and recent past include hunter-gatherers of such as the Ju/'hoansi, Ache, Western Shoshone, Hadza, and Martu; horticulturalists and pastoralists such as the Yanommamö, Owens Valley Paiute, Gabbra, Dayak, Penan, Melayu, Dani and Polynesians. We will necessarily compare and contrast these small-scale populations with numerous contemporary and historical smallholders, agrarian peasants, and urbanites.



This restricted directory holds the various hand-outs (e.g., lecture notes, supplementary readings, etc.) that we will accumulate throughout the quarter.


This restricted directory holds the readings not contained in the class texts.


This page contains pointers to resources for understanding the ecological and evolutionary context of human health.

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Last Modified: 02.11.2011

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