West Valley College
14000 Fruitvale Avenue, Saratoga, CA 95070 • Phone (408) 867-2200

Images of Physical, Cultural and Archaeological Anthropology

West Valley College
Anthropology Department

Course Descriptions


Anthropology 1: Introduction to Physical Anthropology

Like all other living things on this planet, humans are the products of evolution. Our ancestors included small terrestrial insectivores, arboreal monkey-like creatures, and, most recently, bipedal ape-like creatures. Over a span of more than 100 million years, processes such as recombination, mutation, and natural and sexual selection shaped and reshaped these species. In this course, we will explore how these transformations occurred. We will examine how evolution works, and how this understanding sheds light on the forms and behaviors of our closest living relatives, the apes and monkeys. We will discuss how knowledge of living primates can be combined with archaeological and paleontological evidence in order to reconstruct the history of the human lineage. Lastly, we will consider how evolution has shaped the bodies, minds and behaviors of modern humans.

Like any epic saga, the emerging account of human evolution is composed of innumerable details, from the shape of a tooth in a mandible to the number of offspring born in a year. However, while these facts are important, they are meaningless without an understanding of the processes that produce change. Accordingly, the mechanisms of evolution will form the foundational fabric upon which we weave the tapestry of our species' unique history.

Anthropology 2: Introduction to Archaeology

How did our human ancestors first emerge and spread out to populate the entire world? Why, after more than two million years as hunters and gatherers, did humans begin farming and settling down in permanent villages? When did societies become socially and economically stratified, and why? How did complex civilizations such as the ancient Maya kingdoms of Central America or the Sumerian city-states of the ancient Near East develop, and why did some of them ultimately collapse? Archaeology is the one discipline designed to investigate the complexities of the human past and allow us to answer such questions. In this course we will undertake a survey of world prehistory, using this as an introduction to the theories and methods that have allowed archaeologists to unravel our complex past. This understanding of the past in turn provides us with a means of better understanding ourselves and the modern world around us.

Anthropology 3: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

This course introduces the student to the basic principles of Cultural Anthropology. It presents some of the diversity in the ways that humans have organized their social institutions and cultural systems. It explores what produces that diversity and how societies change; how a society's beliefs, institutions and ways of making a living are related to one another; and how individuals are both creatures of their culture and agents of their own lives. It addresses the issue of what constitutes a culture in the contemporary world and explores patterns of global inequality.

Anthropologists study all kinds of cultures, from cities of the United States to Arctic and desert foraging cultures; from peasant villages to transnational corporations. This course will study the cultures of small-scale and technologically simple societies as a contrast to the contemporary U.S. Field research, direct participation and observation of a group's daily life is an important way that anthropologists generate new knowledge. We will discuss the difficulties and rewards of doing this kind of human research, and discuss its implications for our understanding of both other cultures as well as our own.

Anthropology 4: Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology

This course is designed to introduce students to the anthropological study of language and communication. It includes a survey of world languages and an introduction to methods used by linguistic anthropologists. The course will also cover the use of linguistic data in studies of cognition, social context, cultural history and languages as they reflect the separate cultural realities of different cultures; and an exploration of mental processes of non-western peoples as revealed in linguistic formulations of time and space; process and entity.

 
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