The Agrarian Ape


What makes humans special? Is it our use of tools? Language? Culture? Humanity has been defined on the basis of its uniquely well-developed capacities for using technology, language, and culturally encoded knowledge and belief systems. In this course, we will explore a new hypothesis of human exceptionalism: that we are fundamentally agrarian apes. Our genius for reshaping ecosystems and incorporating other species into our societies is intimately linked to our technological and communicative skills. We have used these skills to migrate into and reshape every Earthly environment. We have been taught that the beginning of agriculture was the greatest turning point in human history because before this revolution, hunter-gatherers were unable to build cities or spend their time creating technology and art. Some argue that the timing of this revolution - early in some places, late in others - has shaped the current distribution of power and resources. Others have retorted that agriculture was actually bad for humankind -- that farmers work harder and are less healthy than hunter-gatherers. Well over a century of ink has been spilled on the differences between these two groups, and the significance of the transition from one state to the other. But what if hunter-gatherers are a myth? What if European colonists invented them as a moral justification to seize new lands? We will explore the ethnographies, oral and written histories, and archaeologies, of so-called hunter-gatherers around the world, learning about the ways they shaped and tended their homelands using ecological knowledge systems. We will look as far back into the past as we can for traces of the agrarian ape. In this era of human induced environmental change - from global warming, to mass extinction, to genetic engineering - it is critically important that we throw away 19th century myths and look to our species' true ecological history for the wisdom that will help us meet these challenges.
Course Attributes: EN S; BU Eth; BU BA; BU IS; AS SSC; FA SSC; AR SSC

This course satisfies


Anthropology Global Health and Environment

Course Requirements

Anthropology Major Elective Environment Elective