Anthropology and the Study of Humanity
Scott M. Lacy is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he teaches anthropology, environmental studies, and black studies courses. He earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his research interests include cross-cultural knowledge production, food systems, intellectual property rights associated with seed, and the anthropology of happiness.
In addition to being an award-winning teacher and two-time Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Lacy is a coauthor of two popular textbooks, Applying Anthropology and Applying Cultural Anthropology, and he has published a number of book chapters and articles that document cross-cultural knowledge production in agriculture, community development, engineering, and even nanotechnology. Dr. Lacy has presented his work as a consultant or keynote speaker for numerous organizations, including Engineers Without Borders and the Peace Corps. His nonprofit and academic work has been featured in two major documentaries: Sustaining Life and Nyogonfe: Together.
Dr. Lacy has worked in Mali since 1994, when he first served in the Peace Corps. Since then, he has partnered with family farmers, teachers, community leaders, plant scientists, engineers, and a host of other knowledge specialists in Mali and throughout the world. He is also the founder and executive director of African Sky, a nonprofit organization that serves hardworking farm families in rural Mali, West Africa.
01: Why Anthropology Matters
Begin your course with a few of the big questions: Who are we as humans? Where did we come from? Anthropology is the study of humans over time and space, but it is also about bridge-building, connecting, and understanding ourselves and the world around us. Survey the biological, archaeological, linguistic, and cultural approaches to the field.
02: Science, Darwin, and Anthropology
Because anthropology is so strongly linked with other sciences, particularly biology, take a guided tour through the history of science over the past 3,000 years. From pre-scientific ideas through the theory of natural selection, see how the emergence of scientific ideas changed the way we understand ourselves and our origins....
03: Our Primate Family Tree
Travel back in time 63 million years to the beginning of our family tree. Because of our shared evolutionary history, modern humans and other primates have much in common, including our emotional range and our ability to communicate. Review the field of primatology to find out what studying other species can teach us about humanity.
04: Paleoanthropology and the Hominin Family
Shift your attention to the field of paleoanthropology, the study of our human ancestors. Here, trace the development of our species from the earliest bipedal hominids to modern Homo sapiens. Explore archaeological evidence of Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and other species. See how anthropologists continue to test and correct their theories.
05: Tracing the Spread of Humankind
Anthropologists have several theories for how Homo sapiens spread out of Africa and around the globe. In this lecture, examine three theories to explain the migration, and then turn to archaeological and genetic evidence to uncover the latest thinking on when and how humans arrived in the Americas.
06: Anthropology and the Question of Race
Conclude this first unit on biological anthropology by unpacking the ambiguities around race, skin color, and biology. After reviewing the history of Social Darwinism, you'll see how Franz Boas and other 20th century anthropologists shifted our understanding of race to show how it is a cultural construct, independent of biology and geography.
07: Archaeology and Human Tools
Shift your attention from biology to archaeology, where you will dig up several answers about the Homo sapiens family tree. Here, Professor Lacy introduces what archaeologists do and how they work. He then examines the history of tools such as the hand-ax and the microlith, which had a tremendous impact on human population.
08: Agricultural Roots of Civilization
Continue your archaeological studies with a fascinating look at the rise of farming. Why did humans shift from foraging to agriculture 10,000 years ago? How did changing ecology and technological inventions drive this transition? And what lessons does this story have for us today? See how humans must contend with producing more food with less arable land.
09: Rise of Urban Centers
Delve into the ancient urban experience. After the rise of agriculture, our ancestors invested in the future of humankind by building major cities and civilizations across the planet. After considering what constitutes a city in the first place, you'll take an archaeological tour of several early cities, including Jericho, Aleppo, Uruk, and Cahokia.
10: Anthropological Perspectives on Money
The classic story of money says that early humans transitioned from barter to money to credit, but the archaeological record shows we have that history all wrong-that credit emerged before actual money. Study the history of money from an anthropological angle, beginning with early number concepts through the development of paper cash.
11: Anthropological Perspectives on Language
Language has played a starring role in our continued survival as a species, so linguistics is a critical subfield of anthropology. In this lecture, you'll study the origins of language in our primate cousins and then survey the evolution of language in Homo sapiens. Then see how language has changed our evolution by increasing our capacity for information exchange.
12: Apocalyptic Anthropology
No history of humanity would be complete without a few thoughts about how it all ends. Reflect on how different societies have viewed the end of humanity, from the epic cycles of Buddhism and Hinduism to secular techno-apocalypses such as the Singularity. Then see what lessons anthropology may offer in how to avoid extinction.
13: Cultural Anthropology and Human Diversity
Humans are all the same species, but we have a seemingly infinite cultural diversity. As an introduction to anthropology's fourth major subfield, Professor Lacy takes you around the world to meet Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, and others who helped anthropology transition from "cultural evolutionism" to "cultural relativism."
14: Field Research in Cultural Anthropology
Continue your study of cultural anthropology by looking at how the next generation of field researchers built on the foundation of Boas and Malinowski. See how Zora Neale Hurston, Alfred Kroeber, and Audrey Richards have broadened the way we think about culture, diversity, and social structures.
15: Kinship, Family, and Marriage
You likely have a concept for what "family" is, so you might be surprised to learn there is no universal concept for "family" around the world. Apply the anthropological lens to understand how and why different cultures have different ideas about how to structure a family-and what functional logic underlies these differences.
16: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
By this point in the course, it should be no surprise that biological sex and our construct of gender are much more complicated than they seem. Here, Professor Lacy unpacks the cultural and biological questions of sex, gender, and sexuality using genetics, twin studies, and more to show the breadth of human diversity as well as a common humanity.
17: Religion and Spirituality
Anthropologists study religion as a way of studying humans, and this lecture surveys the origins and history of religion, from primate grieving and early human rituals through organized religions and the scientific worldview. Anthropology may not offer new answers about God and the great beyond, but religion offers a fascinating window into humankind.
18: Art and Visual Anthropology
Until recently, Westerners understood art in terms of progress, with non-Western art as somehow "primitive." Survey the changing views toward world art throughout the 20th century and the role of art in anthropology. Then turn to explore the benefits and challenges that film brings to ethnographic studies.
19: Conflict and Reconciliation across Cultures
This course's final unit examines several realms of "applied anthropology." Here, discover how anthropology can assist with conflict resolution. After examining the history and nature of war, Professor Lacy offers several case studies around the world for resolving conflicts with anthropological methods.
20: Forensics and Legal Anthropology
Forensics is the science of analyzing and identifying unknown human remains. Using a hypothetical discovery as an example, you'll follow the stages of a forensics exam to see how anthropologists build a profile of the remains. Several test cases show forensics anthropology in action.
21: Medical Anthropology
Anthropologists recognize a difference between the subjective experience of an illness and the biological phenomenon of a disease. With this distinction in mind, learn how anthropologists study medicine, and how anthropology's four subfields can help us better understand human health and healing.
22: Anthropology and Economic Development
Using his own field research as an example, Professor Lacy takes you inside the powerful world of development anthropology. After grounding you in recent development theory, he takes a look at how anthropologists have thought about international development since World War II.
23: Cultural Ecology
As explorers of the human condition, anthropologists are particularly interested in the complex relationship between culture and the environment. The field of cultural ecology looks beyond mere environmental determinism and examines how the natural world inspires cultural differences. Review the methods and theory of this field of study.
24: The Anthropology of Happiness
What is the purpose of life? This is arguably the biggest question of all, and anthropology helps point the way toward a few answers. See how each of the four subfields-biology, archaeology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology-approach the question of human satisfaction and what we can apply to our own lives.