HBA/AAPA Portland, OR 2012

Next week is the annual joint conference for the Human Biology Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, which I’ve attended fairly regularly since graduate school. This year the conference will be held in Portland, Oregon. My talk is scheduled for the afternoon of Apr 12th, though I’ll be around from the 10th to 13th. Looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new colleagues, learning, and sightseeing. My abstract:

“Toward a human biology of war.” Clarkin PF. Department of Anthropology,University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts.


Over a decade ago, Leatherman and Goodman (1998) proposed that biological anthropologists and human biologists increase research efforts toward better understanding what they termed the ‘biology of poverty.’ Similarly, we now may be poised toward studying the human biology of war. Historical records demonstrate that war consistently creates an array of physiologically taxing stressors that extend beyond competing military forces into nearby civilian populations. Exposure to such stressors (infection, malnutrition, psychological stress, etc.) may vary in duration, but they result in predictable, though variable, biological outcomes contingent on local circumstances.

This paper reviews some of the epidemiological and biology literature related to the various ways that war-related experiences become embedded within human bodies. Additionally, it suggests future potential areas of research, and delineates possible approaches and pitfalls. Epidemiologists and humanitarian organizations have led the way in studying health outcomes in refugees and other groups affected by war. However, human biologists and biological anthropologists – with their intellectual traditions rooted in evolution, variation, and plasticity – may add substantively to the understanding of such patterns that extend beyond physical trauma and mortality into more subtle aspects of biology.

Furthermore, such a research agenda seems relevant in applying human biology toward understanding ‘real life’ problems. Rather than viewing examples such as the Dutch Hunger Winter or the Biafra famine as ‘natural experiments’ and opportunities for testing given hypotheses, it seems necessary to maintain a complex perspective which views war as an interaction of human agency and shifting ecological conditions that impact health.

2 thoughts on “HBA/AAPA Portland, OR 2012

  1. Keep at it, Patrick, it’s a long-haul subject and one none of us will get to pop into the ‘solved/redundant’ bin. It’s important to enjoy yourself at such meetings. Even with subjects like ‘the biological evolution of war as part of our culture’ it is appropriate to remember that some of our greatest and most rational thinkers, working on evidence available to them at the time, reasoned fairly convincingly that war is the height of activity for Man. Perhaps not your direct topic this time round but making a comparison between the thoughts of George Bush jr, Osama bin Laden and such as the Swedish mass-murderer is not hard to do. Were they biologically driven? There are good arguments that they were not culturally driven in any identifiable way. Is it all part of the evolution of that initial chemical reaction — fission — that made Man, and made man mortal, and in constant quest for that ultimate fusion? Such conferences can be fun. War like food can be good to think. Enjoy.

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