Contentious Issues Fall 2008 (current2009)


Contentious Issues in Anthropology

(some readings may change)

Anthropology 488/888
October 15, 2009 = Last Update

Fall 2009

Update on Current Issues

Instructor: Raymond Hames
Office: 836 Oldfather Hall

Office Hours
 Monday 2-4, Tuesday 8-10,
Wednesday 9:30-11:00

Friday 8:00-10:30

Phone # 472-6240, 2411; 474-6298 (home)
Course Web page: courses/current/current2009.htm
Class meeting: T 3:30-5:45 PM, Room 827.1 Oldfather Hall (Anthropology Seminar Room)

Aim and Scope of Course:

This is a three field course designed to acquaint advanced undergraduate and graduate students with current and sometimes controversial issues in anthropology. At the close of their graduate or undergraduate careers students often specialize in particular areas of study and seem to forget that anthropology is an interdisciplinary discipline. While it is impossible for anyone to keep abreast of all new developments across all fields of anthropology, students should be aware of basic research and contentious issues in biological, archaeology, and cultural anthropology. In addition, many of these issues receive widespread publicity in the press and it is always interesting for an insider like yourself to see how it is portrayed. The aim of this course is to make you knowledgeable and conversant in some of these issues.

All the readings present at least two sides of an issue (e.g., peopling of the Americas, the ecologically noble savage debate) consisting of original positions, new data, methodological critiques, and alternative explanations.  At times these debates are heated and partisans frequently resort to logical fallacies in order to make their points. You will learn how to spot such tactics such as ad hominem ("If you had a Ph.D you would not have made such an ignorant statement.") ad popularum ("The majority of anthropologists do not take this position, therefore you are wrong."), and the naturalistic fallacy ("That theory cannot be correct because it is immoral.").  Visit Brian Yoder's Fallacy Zoo for a humorous examination of widely used logical fallacies.  Unfortunately, the page is not fully functional.  An even better source on logical fallacies can be found at Fallacy Files.  Throughout the seminar I hope to give you some tips on evaluating theory, methods, research design, and data analysis that will help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of what you read.

Weekly Plan
Each week you will read the assigned articles all of which are on-line (usually in PDF format). Please print them or have them available on your computer for each meeting.  When you come to the seminar to discuss the assigned readings you should have made notes on each of the articles and have prepared a provisional outline that will eventually become a reaction paper of at least 2.5 pages (undergrads) or 4 page (grad).  You will email your papers to me by the following Saturday morning after our Tuesday class.  I will return them via email with my comments and your grade before the next meeting.  When writing please either use MS Word, RTF (most text editors handle this format), or HTML.  Let know if you have problems with these formats.  The reaction paper should generally follow the guide below.  Unpredictably, I will ask to see your preliminary notes and outlines, so bring them with you.  You will be graded on your reaction papers and seminar participation. There will be no final or term paper or extra-credit work.

Guide to Writing Summaries

In writing your summaries try to organize them by focusing on the following questions:

  • What is the issue under contention?

  • What are the positions taken by each side? Do they have different theoretical perspectives?

  • What kinds of evidence are used to support each position? 

  • Is there a problem with the evidence?  That is, is it suspect (e.g., poor quality or fragmentary) or not relevant?

  • Are there areas of agreement?

  • Specifically, what kind of additional evidence do we need to settle the controversy and what kind of research is the controversy promoting?

In some of our seminars a faculty guest or "local expert" will be present to serve as a resource in our discussion of the issues. Finally, I am completely open to ideas you might have about issues we might investigate in seminar.  The structure is modular so there are no problems in adding or subtracting topics.

There is a great web site at Texas A& M University entitled "Anthropology in the News".  It is an extremely useful "one click" source to keep abreast of fast-breaking findings, events, and controversial issues in the field.


Readings and Topics for Each Week (beginning with Week 2):
we have an organizational meeting on August 23rd 

 Readings on Reserve.   Readings with hyperlinks (i.e., they can be clicked and downloaded) are not available in the Geosciences Library and those without hyperlinks are available in the Geosciences Library.  In all cases, bring a copy of the week's readings to class.

August 25
Organizational Meeting


September 1

Readings on-line

September 8

Cannibalism or Witch Disposal?


Useful Web Sites



September 15
Indigenous Archaeology


Readings on-line







September 22
Chimpanzee Infanticide and Warfare: unnatural conditions or adaptive behaviors?

Readings on-line


Web Sites dealing with Chimpanzee "Politics"


September 29
Moral Engagement, Post-Modernism, and Scientific Anthropology

Readings on-line

Web sites & readings dealing with science, public anthropology, and postmodernism

October 6
Conservation and Overkill

Readings on-line

Web Resources

Some from yours truly on NPR: The Environmental Impact of Coastal Californian Hunter Gathers

Wildlife Utilization in Latin America (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization publication)
Tragedy of the Commons a fundamental touchstone work

Grayson & Meltzer "A requiem for North American Overkill"

Fiedel & Haynes "A premature burial"

October 13
NAGPRA and Kennewick Issues

Readings on-line

  • Robert M. Peregoy, 1999, "Nebraska's Landmark Repatriation Law: A Study of Cross-Cultural Conflict and Resolution," in Troy R. Johnson, ed., Contemporary Native American Political Issues, Altamira Press,, pp. 229-274

  • Roger Echo-Hawk, 1997, "Forging a New Ancient History for Native America," in Nina Swidler, Kurt Dongoske, Roger Anyon, Alan Downer, eds., Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground, Altamira Press,88-102

Web Sites Dealing with NAGPRA and Kennewick: required readings

Web Sites Dealing with pre-Clovis Finds and Current Kennewick Status and History

October 27
Evolution and Female Status

Readings on-line

Web resources on Matriarchy

Goddess Theory


November 3
Neandertal: Relative or Dead End? (see "Updated on Current Issues))

Web Resources:


November 10
Amateur Anthropology and Vengeance


November 17
The Evolution of Menopause





November 24
Thanksgiving: go home


December 1
Liberals, Conservatives, and Morality: A New Perspective

Click on Figure to Enlarge


Readings on-line

The Roots of Morality (Science 2008, Greg Miller)

The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology (Science May 2007, Haidt)

When Morality Opposes Justice (Social Justice Research 2007, Haidt & Graham)

Web Resources

Watch and Listen to Haidt

    At the New Yorker
    On YouTube (thanks to Jason)







December 8
The Peopling of the Americas: Coastal, Modified Clovis and Solutrean Solutions

Film: Who Were the First Americans? (Recently aired on National Geographic)

Local expert: Dr. Peter Bleed