EDUC 391:

Homo sapiens sapiens: What does it mean to be human?

Syllabus for Fall 2011
Updated 10/26/11, 8:30 a.m. -- Watch for more updates

TR 11:00 a.m.-12.15 p.m.
McDowell Hall, Room 102

|| Course Description & Objectives || Course Requirements || Required Readings || Grading ||
|| Writing Fellows || Policy on Cheating || Policy on Illness ||
|| Weekly Schedule of Reading and Writing || Quick Calendar of Assignments ||



Linda S. Gottfredson (


219B Willard Hall Bldg
School of Education
University of of Delaware


(302) 831-1650

Office Hours:

Tues., Thurs. 1:00-2:00 and by appt.

Writing fellows:

Veronica DeAngelo (
Alex Kramer (

Quick Calendar of Assignments

Clicking on the date in the calendar will take you to that date's readings and P/F writing assignment. (Clicking on the day in the Weekly Schedule, above, will also take you to that day's assignment.)


Sept. 6

Sept. 8

Sept. 13

Sept. 15

Sept. 20

Sept. 22

Sept. 27

Sept. 29

Oct. 4

Oct. 6

Oct. 11

Oct.  13

Oct. 18

Oct. 20

Oct. 25

Oct. 27

Nov. 1

Nov. 3

Nov. 8

Nov. 10

Nov. 15

Nov. 17

Nov. 22

Nov. 29


Dec. 1


Dec. 6

Paper 1
Oct. 6
Oct. 20

Paper 2
Nov. 3
Nov. 17

Paper 3
Dec. 14

Course Description

Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection unsettled devoutly-held beliefs about what it means to be human: our origins, obligations, and special place among all living creatures. Evolutionary thinking still provokes strong opposition in some communities, but it has become the guiding paradigm in the biological sciences. What can evolutionary science teach us, however, about what it means to be human-not just a hairless ape with opposable thumbs and deadlier technology? The new field of evolutionary psychology is producing some intriguing answers-and even more interesting questions. It marshals many kinds of evidence, from prehistoric "bones and stones" to self-reported behavior in intimate relationships, to explain how humans evolved such big brains, and at what cost; why the sexes differ in size, perceptual skills, mating strategies and longevity; whether infanticide and ethnocentrism are the dark shadows of once-adaptive human behaviors; and if human innovation in the last 500,000 years has itself influenced the course of human evolution. Like philosophers over the ages, the field also seeks the hidden causal essences in human behavior-the human universals in love, sex, war, family, loyalty, hierarchy and reciprocity. Evolutionary research also provides insight into practical matters, such as why pregnant women get morning sickness and modern populations are getting so fat. In addition to probing the general assumptions, methods and findings of evolutionary psychology, this class will debate how likely it is to explain, undermine or enhance our humanity.

Course Objectives

This course is a Freshman Honors Colloquium. As such, it emphasizes class discussion and requires considerable writing. The aim is to develop your thinking and writing skills while sharing an intellectual adventure into a rather new scientific arena—the evolutionary origins of human behavior patterns. Are humans unique among species? If so, how? We will ponder the aims, assumptions, and conclusions of this science against more philosophical views of what makes us human. To understand what humans have aspired to be over the millennia, we will turn to literature from both ancient and modern thinkers. 

My main objective is to see your minds at work; to see you thinking deeply, beyond the obvious.

Course Requirements

Required Readings

Note: Some readings may be deleted and others added during the course of the semester. The readings (and pass-fail assignments) for any specific class will be considered final at the time of the previous class.


Writing Fellows

This course, like other Freshmen Honors Colloquia, participates in the Honors Program's Writing Fellow Program. Writing Fellows are UD undergraduates who have taken a special course in peer tutoring of writing.

Policy on Cheating

Policy on Illness

Please do not come to class if you have any signs of illness. Just email me to say you are ill. Your classmates and I will help you catch up.

Weekly Schedule of Reading and Writing

Note: Some readings may be deleted and others added during the course of the semester. The readings (and pass-fail assignments) for any specific class will be considered final at the time of the previous class.

I. Scientific Search for Human Uniqueness

Day 1 (8/30)    Class cancelled

Day 2 (9/1)      What does the average person think it means to "be human?"

Day 3 (9/6)      Wade, Chapter 1: Genetics & Genesis  (pp. 1-11)

                        Ridley, Chapter 2: Species (pp. 22-37)

Day 4 (9/8)      Allman, Chapter 7: The evolution of big brains (pp. 160-208)

Day 5 (9/13)    Lewin, Chapter 5: The archeology of modern humans (pp. 116-134)

Day 6 (9/15)     Lewin, Chapter 7: Language and modern human origins (pp. 162-182)

                        Lynch, Good grief: An undertaker's reflections. (pp. 242-247)

II. Public Perceptions of Human vs. Non-Human

Day 7 (9/20)     "Human-android interaction in the near and distant future"

Day 8 (9/22)     You decide

Day 9 (9/27)     You decide

III. Scientific Search for Evolutionary Origins of Everyday Human Behavior

Day 10 (9/29)  Buss, Chapter 1: The Scientific Movements Leading to Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 2-25, 32-33)

Day 11 (10/4)  Hill, excerpt from "preface," pp. xi-xii. 

                        Hill excerpt from “forest life,” pp. 65-73. 

Day 12 (10/6)

Due: Paper 1

IV. Threats to Survival

Day 13 (10/11)  Buss, Chapter 2: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 35-69)

Day 14 (10/13)  Buss, Chapter 3: Combating the Hostile Forces of Nature: Human Survival Problems (pp. 72-103)

Day 15 (10/18)  Hill, “Mortality,” pp. 151-177

V. Challenges of Sex and Mating

Day 16 (10/20)   Buss, Chapter 4: Women’s Long-Term Mating Strategies (pp 106-138)

Due: Paper 1 rewrite

Day 17 (10/25)   Buss, Chapter 5: Men’s Long-Term Mating Strategies (pp. 139-173)

Day 18 (10/27)   Buss, Chapter 6: Short-Term Sexual Strategies (pp. 174-201)

Day 19 (11/1)     Buss, Chapter 11: Conflict between the sexes (pp. 328-360)

Day 20 (11/3)     Hill, “Development, Marriage, and Other Life Course Events,” pp. 223-235.

Due: Paper 2 -- Graphic help for Paper 2: Mars and Venus play the mating game: Tragedy and comedy?

VI. Challenges of Parenting and Kinship

Day 21 (11/8)     Buss, Chapter 7: Problems of Parenting (pp. 204-236)

Day 22 (11/10)   Hill, “Development, Marriage, and Other Life Course Events,” pp. 219-223, 235-239.

Day 23 (11/15)   Buss, Chapter 8. Problems of Kinship (pp. 237-265)

VII. Problems of Group Living

Day 24 (11/17)   Buss, Chapter 9: Cooperative Alliances (pp. 268-296)

   Video shown in class: The Ax Fight (Yanomano group)

Due: Rewrite 2

Day 25 (11/22)   Buss, Chapter 10: Aggression and Warfare (pp. 297-327)

   Excerpt from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Act II, Scene II, Cominius’s speech about Coriolanus’s Roman warrior virtues.

   Larry Niven's "Why men fight wars"


Day 26 (11/29)  Buss, Chapter 12: Status, Prestige, and Social Dominance (ONLY pages 361-376, 382-388)

Day 27 (12/1)    Buss, Chapter 13: Toward a Unified Evolutionary Psychology (ONLY pages 400-408, 422-428)      

Day 28 (12/6)    Conclusion

Due: Paper 3:  Friday, Dec. 14, by email.

© URL=