History 70c Reading Seminar: Topics in Natural History Fall 2012 Robinson 105 Daniel Lord Smail Robinson

218 Office hours T 11:30-1:00, 2:30-3:30, and by appt. smail@fas.harvard.edu; 496-0149 Course iSite

Description and Course Expectations One of the most exciting developments in the field of history in recent years has been the emergence of an approach that treats all of the human past, from several million years ago to the present, as the appropriate framework for history. You need to have this sweeping chronological frame if you want to ask the biggest questions of all: What does it mean to be human? How did we get here from there? Are we swept along by forces larger than us, or can we make a difference? A deep history is the antidote to the shallow histories that you often get in high schools and colleges. But although the arguments for deep history are clear and convincing, the task of implementation is going to be the work of the next generation. How do we make the deep past relevant to historians and other people who work mainly in the last few hundred years? Does the natural history method make any difference to the way in which you might do your own historical research? How can we build up the chronological scaffolding that all of us need to navigate the human past? How do we translate scientific studies into something that is recognizable as history? This course is intended for highly motivated students who are eager to explore the emerging field of deep history and the methodology of natural history. It is at once a course in history, history of science, the sciences of the human past, and the philosophy of history. Since the subject is larger than anything we could hope to cover in a semester, this course relies heavily on each and every member of the class to explore areas and readings not otherwise covered on the syllabus and to share findings with others. Although this course is reading seminar designed for history concentrators, it is open to all students, and especially welcoming to ambitious freshmen and non-declared sophomores. Bear in mind that this course will ask you to do a good deal of reading and requires something on the order of 12,000 words of writing (around 35-40 pages).


Class format This course is a seminar built around class discussion of a set of required weekly readings and additional reading on your own. Short titles are listed on the syllabus; consult the bibliography for complete bibliographic information. A variety of written assignments and reports are due in stages over the semester. Discussion threads on the course iSite are very important. Graded assignments There are no exams or quizzes in this course. Response papers (25%). A short response paper of 400-500 words, single-spaced, never exceeding one page in length, is due at the beginning of class every Wednesday starting in week 2. Since these papers may be circulated in class as part of weekly discussion you need to bring them to class. No late papers are accepted. The papers are to be based on the common readings but may address issues arising out of other readings. Twelve are due over the course of the semester. You may drop the lowest two grades and/or skip two papers. These often work best if you write in the first-person singular. Three outside reading reports (25% total), each about 1000-1200 words in length. The purpose of these reports is to extend the amount of material we can collectively cover each week. Suggested topics are identified on the syllabus and described in more detail on the course iSite. A first drafts of your report must be posted in the Outside Reading Report section of the course iSite by Monday at 5pm. All students in the class must provide feedback in the form of discussion threads, and a revised reading report or additional comments, incorporating any feedback you wish, is due within two days of the class meeting. Be prepared to discuss your reports in class. Final Project (25%). Ca. 3,000-3,500 words in length (or equivalent) and due at the end of class. The project can be a standard research or bibliographic essay. It can be a wellresearched work of fiction, a documentary, or a book proposal. It can be a thoughtful and well-researched blog developed and maintained over the course of the semester. Collaborative work is encouraged, as long as the ambition of the project scales with the number of collaborators. Class participation (25%). This is important. It includes: o Discussion in class o Weekly responses to Outside Reading Reports. Each week, you must read all the ORRs posted on Monday and respond to at least two before class on Wednesday. o Participation in other discussion threads that may develop on the course iSite. Required readings The readings for this course vary widely in level of difficulty, tone, style of presentation, and even (at times) relevance. In the absence of any overarching field of deep history, there is no single standard that defines how work in the field is written. I can guarantee that you will, at times, be frustrated by the variation in the readings, but I expect you to give every reading your best effort. All of the required readings for this course that are in book form can be found on reserve in Lamont. Most articles can be found in Hollis. Where permitted by copyright law, I

3 will be making electronic versions of the readings available to you through the course website. You may wish to buy some or all of the books listed on the course iSite through an internet bookseller. For the outside reading reports, take steps right away either to buy the books you’ll be reading or acquire/recall from the library. Don’t leave this to the last minute since it can take a week or more for a recalled book to be returned to the library. Syllabus Week 1, Sept. 5  Introduction: What is History?

Introduction o Course overview o What is History? o Can history borrow from biology and anthropology (and vice versa)? History and Deep Time

Week 2, Sept. 12 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o The discipline of history largely confines itself to the "short chronology" of the past 5,000-6,000 years. Why is this so? Is the short chronology natural to the discipline? Is a deep history just a form of anthropology, or do historians bring their own priorities to a study of the deep past? Common Readings: o Smail, On Deep History and the Brain, 1-73 o Shryock and Smail, Deep History  chapter 1, “Introduction”  chapter 2, “Imagining the Human in Deep Time”  chapter 10, “Scale” Topics for Outside Reading and Reports (see the course iSite for more details): o The Time Revolution o Big history surveys o Africa: A Biography of a Continent

Week 3, Sept. 19 


Questions and Goals for Discussion: o The major goal this week is to get a sense of early human diasporas and expansions and relate them to more recent ones. Hominins, it seems, have been a restlessly colonizing genus for at least 1.8 million years. Do these expansions, placed in sequence, constitute a history, or are earlier expansions somehow biological, in contrast to the culturally driven expansions of recent centuries? Is there an equivalence (historical or moral) between the African colonization of Europe in the Upper Paleolithic (starting ca. 50,000 bp) and the European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Australia that took place in recent historical time?

4   Common Readings: o Shryock and Smail, Deep History, chapter 8, “Migration” o Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, Peoples, and Languages, 57-132 Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Human Expansions o What is molecular anthropology? o European Imperialism and Colonialism o Human population Humans and Ecosystems

Week 4, Sept. 26 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o Historians of a previous generation used to postulate that the emergence of human control over the environment, including the cutting down of trees and the draining and diking of water, was a decisive marker of the shift from static biological evolution to change-driven human history. Paleohistorians have countered that early humans did have an impact on their ecosystems through over-hunting and other practices; in addition, the changing pattern of energy use in human societies has had huge, if unintended, ecological consequences, putting the spotlight on whether “control” of the environment is ever possible. Common Readings: o Shryock and Smail, Deep History, chapter 4, “Energy and Ecosystems” o Chakrabarty, “Climate of History” o Crosby, Children of the Sun, selections Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Can states be good stewards of the environment? o Climate o How ancient peoples have shaped the world o Humans and disease Note: Extra meeting: tour of the Harvard Museum of Natural History (to be arranged). Biology and Culture

Week 5, Oct. 3 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o Some forty years ago, the great world historian William McNeill wrote "When cultural evolution took over primacy from biological evolution, history in its strict and proper sense began.” Nowadays, it is no longer so easy to postulate such a clean division between culture and biology. What exactly is culture, and how long has it been around? How should we evaluate the continuing effect of genes on human behavior? Biologists often don't like to think with culture; historians, returning the sentiment, don't like to think with biology. Is there a way around this divide? Common Readings: o Smail, On Deep History and the Brain, 74-111 o Richerson and Boyd, Not By Genes Alone, 1-57, 191-236

5  Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Do animals have culture? o Epigenetics for historians o Is there a human nature? o Coevolution and niche construction o Is humanity still evolving? Family, Sex, and Marriage

Week 6, Oct. 10 

 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o Grand anthropological schemes produced in the nineteenth century often placed changes in family forms at the epicenter of great historical transformations. The family, sex, and marriage is still at the center of current debates in human paleohistory, though the evidence is now a lot better. The goal of this week is to get a sense of lines of interpretation regarding monogamy, polygyny, and child rearing from the deep past to the recent past. This field, perhaps more than any other field of paleohistory, is particularly dependent on evidence drawn from primates and from modern huntergatherer societies, raising serious epistemological questions that we should take time to address. Common Readings: o Hrdy, Mothers and Others, 143-272 Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Who needs men? o Is sex competitive? o The creation of patriarchy o Why is sex fun? Language and Gossip

Week 7, Oct. 17 

 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o The question of language has been essential in paleohistory since it is one of the most important distinctions between humans and other animals. Or is it? Literature on the broad subject of communication has taken many different directions. Common Readings: o Dunbar, Gossip, Grooming, and the Origins of Language Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o What's all the fuss about FoxP2? o The deep structure of grammar o The emergence of language o The invention of writing as a cultural rubicon

6 Week 8, Oct. 24  Interlude: Imagining the Deep Past

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o This week, we'll be taking a short break from the academic world to look at the popular imagination of the deep past. In most historical fields there is a distinction, sometimes a sharp one, between the popular image of the past and standard disciplinary interpretations. Common Readings: o Bjorn Kurten, Dance of the Tiger o Evening Movie Screening  2001: A Space Odyssey, opening scene  Quest for Fire Topics for Outside Reading and Reports o Paleofiction. o The "Killer Ape" o Early hominins in the eyes of cartoonists o Imagining the human in 1900 o Hollywood hominins o Man the hunter Note: Extra meeting for the movie screening (6:30-9:30pm, with food and drink) The Human Body

Week 9, Oct. 31 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o We used to think of the human body as an object defined and built by its genome. Racial, sexual, and class identities might be cultural constructs, but the body, surely, is a biological constant. Right? Wrong. What we have learned in recent years is that the body itself is defined not just by its genome but also by its environmental and cultural circumstances. Common Readings: o Shryock and Smail, Deep History  chapter 3, “Body”  chapter 9, “Goods” o Thomas, “Human Figures in Biology and History” Topics for Outside Reading and Reports o Bioarchaeology o Posthumanity o The breast o The body map Food

Week 10, Nov. 7 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o Food history pulls in two distinct directions. The first involves diet and nutrients; this has a bearing on health, stature, and, where the literature tails

7 off into another field, addictive foods and substances. The second direction addresses the idea of taste. The two can be partially put together in a deep history. So: did early humans have a refined sense of taste or did they just eat to live? A goal of this week is to get a sense of the paleolithic diets and explore some of the grand lineaments of a deep history of food. Common Readings: o Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 1-39 o Jones, Feast, 1-152 Topics for Outside Reading and Reports o The deep history of food o Is agriculture a “bad thing?” o The paleodiet Paleopolitics and the Pursuit of Status

 

Week 11, Nov. 14 

 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o One of the largest and most important rhythms in human history, according to Chris Boehm and others, has been the slow oscillation from the rankorder societies of the Pliocene to the roughly egalitarian societies of the Pleistocene, with the re-emergence of sharply defined rank-order systems on the heels of the Neolithic Revolution. The goal of this week is to explore the lineaments of this putative series of transitions. Why do many paleohistorians of politics argue for the existence of foraging egalitarianism? How does the re-emergence of rank-order systems fit in with the emergence of ever-larger imagined communities in the Postlithic era? Common Readings: o Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Chimpanzee politics o How did states come to be? o Can baboons change their political culture? Cooperation and Violence

Week 12, Nov. 28 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o History, often enough, is about violence in some form or another. Why does violence play so large a part in human societies? Is violence natural, or is it something artificial that only came along with civilization? Perhaps even more puzzling than violence is cooperation, because whereas violence is normal enough in animal societies cooperation or altruism is not. One of the most provocative and interesting hypotheses to come along recently suggests that the reason we cooperate is, in part, so that we can be more productively and efficiently violent. Common Readings: o Tomasello, Why We Cooperate, 1-110

8  Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o The economics of cooperation o The evolution of cooperation o Were ancient foragers violent? o Where does morality come from? o Cooperation, violence, and the rise and fall of states Brain and Behavior

Week 13, Dec. 5 (reading period) 

 

Questions and Goals for Discussion: o There are two models for putting the brain into history. The first, provided by the version of evolutionary psychology that posits the “massive modularity” thesis, proposes that the human brain and its cognitive modules took shape in the ancestral past, and therefore people in the 21st century are living with Stone-Age brains. The second argues that the brain itself, as well as the behavior it generates, is itself a continuous product of history or evolution. Which model works better for you? Common Readings: o Smail, On Deep History and the Brain, 112-202 Topics for Outside Reading and Reports: o Was there a human revolution? o Evolutionary psychology o The evolution of intelligence o Social intelligence o Why do we have emotions?

Bibliography of assigned readings Boehm, Christopher. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca. Genes, Peoples, and Languages, trans. Mark Seielstad. New York: North Point Press, 2000. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 197-222. Crosby, Alfred. Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy . New York: Norton, 2006. Dunbar, Robin. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2009. Jones, Martin. Feast: Why Humans Share Food. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Kurtén, Björn. The Dance of the Tiger: A Novel of the Ice Age. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. Richerson, Peter J. and Robert Boyd. Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Sahlins, Marshall. Stone Age Economics. Chicago: Aldine, 1972. Smail, Daniel Lord. On Deep History and the Brain. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, et al. Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Thomas, Julia Adeney. “Human Figures in Biology and History.” Unpub. MS Tomasello, Michael, Why We Cooperate. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer: Get 4 months of Scribd and The New York Times for just $1.87 per week!

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times