Anthropology 3502 to Explore Abnormal Human Biological Variation

Students will examine both the archaeological and socio-cultural implications of “the different”
Joseph Keller, Web Editor

Anthropology Freaks! by Scott

(Scott McLelland)

Anthropology students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University will have the opportunity to explore “biological normalcy and the abnormal” as part of Anthropology 3502 this summer.

The class, Special Topics in Biological Anthropology, focuses on a new topic each semester as chosen by the instructor. This summer, the course will focus on human biological variation with an emphasis on abnormal biology.

“I think [this course] is best suited to biology students, students of biological anthropology. But there’s a social-cultural component and a historical component. I would say it has a pretty broad reach,” says KPU Anthropology Professor Ken Andrews, who will lead the course.

The course content will involve three subfields of anthropology: socio-cultural, archaeological, and biological. Students will explore paleopathology, which involves looking at anomalies in the human skeleton caused by disease or genetic condition, as well as the historiography of medicine and the study of anatomy.

Andrews says the course will also look at the study of race and the history of anthropometry as a way of exploring “how we began our study of the different.”

Although it is not the primary focus of the course, Anthropology 3502 students will explore “the history of the spectactical of human variation,” which includes the carnival attraction once known as “freak shows.” The course will look at examples of individuals who participated in freak shows, the biology that drove interest in them from the show-going public, and the social circumstances that brought them there.

“It was acceptable at one point to call these people freaks and to have freak shows. It’s no longer acceptable, so we’re going to explore that topic a little bit more,” says Andrews.

Andrews stresses that while the word “freaks” is used in some of the courses promotional material, the word’s usage within the course is purely in reference to its historical context. The word became highly associated with biological variation in the 20th century and is therefore something to be studied and understood from an anthropological standpoint. However, Andrews recognizes the issues with using it freely to describe people with biological abnormalities.

“The term ‘freaks’ is a highly inappropriate term to be using to describe anyone, however it was used in the past. We have to change how we think and refer to each other over time, and this was one of those changes that was needed,” says Andrews.

Unfortunately, this summer semester will most likely be the only opportunity for KPU students to explore such subject matter, as Andrews will be moving on from KPU in the fall. The course is now full, with two students on the waiting list.

For the lucky few that do have the opportunity to enrol in the class, Andrews hopes that students will take away a simple message.

“The main takeaway [of the course] is that we are more the same than we are different, and that is the key. Mutation is what spurs on evolution,” says Andrews. “Basically, we’re all freaks.”


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