Gearing up for teaching human evolution?

I had an e-mail from a long-time reader today, asking what readings I assign for my course in human evolution. As some of you know, this is a constant issue for me. I’ve been working on a textbook for that course for a long time. I put the project on hold a couple of years ago, as I was gearing up for tenure, but I’ve been finishing it up this year.

Courses titled, “Human Evolution,” can vary a lot in content – some are introductory, first-year courses; others are more advanced. I tend to teach this as an intermediate-level course. I assume some background in college-level biology. My intermediate “Human Evolution” course itself serves as an introduction to higher-level undergraduate courses, such as “Evolution of the Genus Homo”. So there is some reason to be comprehensive and not merely jump from topic to topic.

I tend to assign readings, including review articles and new research articles. That can be a tough approach, because some gaps are hard to fill. But then, no textbook fills all the gaps, either.

I know a lot of folks out there have interesting solutions to teaching human evolution. I’m putting together a page of resources, linking to syllabi from different human evolution courses around the world. I think it will be helpful to see which review articles are being used in courses, which elements of the fossil and archaeological records get attention, and how anthropologists are choosing to teach new results from genetics.

I’m opening comments on this post, hoping that some readers can share some of the things they consider “best practices” or features of their human evolution courses.

If you just post a link to your syllabus or course schedule, that would be great. I’m going to put these links together with an annotated reading list on a permanent page here.

Consider telling us about:

  • Good popular articles for students.
  • Dueling articles that illustrate debates in the field.
  • Parts of the course you really hate to prepare every year -- Miocene apes, anyone?
  • Blogs you recommend to your students.

I hope that this will help to build a resource that new teachers can use in the future. I think that some of these materials might be useful at the secondary level, or for home-schooled kids, where teachers are looking for ways to introduce anthropology or evolution into their curriculum. So please consider sending references to your excellent readings, the ones that get students engaged with the material, as well as the more difficult challenges you’ve faced.