Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2024

Course Description

Why Does This Course Matter? Have you ever imagined what life would be like if you had a kangaroo pouch? Or the lower limbs of a praying mantis? How about gills to breathe underwater? It’s easy to assume that humans were destined to look the way that we do, but in fact nothing is predetermined about evolution. So, then, why don’t we have a pouch or gills? Why do we walk on two legs? And why are we so different from every other animal on earth in term of our cognitive abilities—speaking language, making art, and asking ourselves such questions? This course will begin to unravel those mysteries for you. How This Course Will Help We have two main tasks for the semester. First, I want you to understand basic human evolutionary history—how we got here. Second, I want you to understand how scientists have reconstructed that history—how we know what we know about human origins. Toward this end, we will explore how scientists have used different types of data (including fossils, artifacts, DNA, and the behavior of living apes) to understand the human past. We will also consider how our understanding of human origins has changed and continues to change as new data become available. This course is also designed to help you sharpen your critical reading skills, practice clear verbal communication of your ideas, and improve your ability to write reflectively and integrate ideas from different sources in your writing.

Student Outcomes

Students will be able to . . .

  • Summarize basic human evolutionary history from the development of bipedalism to the emergence of Homo sapiens.
  • Accurately describe evolutionary processes, including natural selection, sexual selection, and genetic drift.
  • Understand the concept of culture as it applies to humans and ape species.
  • Identify the suite of modern behaviors that separates Homo sapiens from earlier ancestral species.