Conference Schedule


I’m prepping for the the coming academic year, and going on tour for academic conferences (this must be how Bono feels). I’ve been to Montreal many times, and always enjoyed the beauty of that city. Madison and Portland are new, and I’m looking forward to seeing them for the first time.

• October 22-23, 2011: Hmong Diaspora Studies Institute (Madison, Wisconsin)

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My University

My university, UMass Boston, has released a new promotional video on youtube (featuring a couple of prominent visits by Barack Obama). I’m not really a rah-rah type of person, but I thought it worth sharing because I am proud to be affiliated with my school. Boston once sought to be known as the Athens of America in part because of its commitment to progressive cultural, intellectual, and humanitarian ideals (O’Connor, 2005). The high cluster of many well-known universities certainly helped that perception, even if it never quite reached that goal in reality. As the only public university in the city, I like to think that UMass Boston carries on that tradition by making education more accessible than it would otherwise be (despite the fact that higher education, even public education, is getting more and more expensive).

I like it here. The faculty are committed and the students are diverse. And the location provides a great spot to go for an afternoon walk after teaching all day, where one can look out at the bay and the city skyline and just think.



O’Connor TH. 2005. The Athens of America: Boston, 1825-1845. University of Massachusetts Press. (Link)

Student Research on War, Health, and Biology

With grades submitted earlier this week, the Spring 2011 semester is officially in the books. In my ANTH 324 class, “A Biocultural Approach to War,” students were required to write a literature review paper on the ways that war impacts human biology and health.

In my opinion, research papers are valuable in upper level undergraduate classes because they give students the freedom to pick a topic of their choice, within the boundaries of class goals. While it seems self-evident that war’s effects on biology are negative, this relationship is not always straightforward for every possible outcome variable. Thus, it is necessary to explore the evidence thoroughly.   

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The Sex Ratio at Birth Following Periods of Conflict

Note: this paper was written by UMass Boston undergraduate student Johnny Xu for my Spring 2011 class ANTH 324: “A Biocultural Approach to War.” I asked his permission to post it here. 


Birth Sex Ratio and Infant Mortality: Adaptations or By-products?


1. Introduction

            The purpose of this paper is to provide manifold reasons attempting to explain why the birth sex ratio following war periods tend to rise in favor of males and what this implies in correlation with infant mortality; and, most of all, to answer the following question: is the combination of these findings proposing that this is an adaptive response of the parent to produce the sex with higher survival prospects in the given environment, or is this simply the by-product of environmental forces?


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Public Outreach 2: KIPP Lynn

With classes and exams completed at UMass Boston, I finally feel like I have a little bit of breathing room.


Today, I visited KIPP Lynn for the second time, giving a presentation on evolution and cooperation for three 8th grade classes. It was necessarily condensed talk, but the students in all three classes were really engaged with terrific comments and questions. It’s been a while since I was in the 8th grade, and it’s hard to remember what that age was like, intellectually. Nonetheless, I thought they were really impressive kids, with bright futures ahead of them. 


Now to finish up some grading…


Related post: Public Outreach: Sharing Anthropology Outside the University (Apr 17, 2011) 

Public Outreach: Sharing Anthropology Outside the University

Work Hard. Be Nice.” – motto at the KIPP school in Lynn, Massachusetts

Over the past few months, I’ve done more voluntary outreach teaching than at any point in my past. In sum, I’ve spoken to four separate 4th grade classes in Cranston Rhode Island, three separate 8th grade classes at KIPP Lynn, and given five lectures to 50 year-old+ adults at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Boston. All of these presentations/ discussions were 40 to 90 minutes each, and pertained to primate biology/behavior, human biological variation, or the human fossil record. Why now?

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Teaching Human Evolution at a Public University in Boston

“Evolutionary theory should be taught in public schools because it is one of the most important scientific theories ever generated, and because it is the accepted scientific explanation for the diversity of life.”

…………………………………-Statement from The Society for the Study of Evolution

The Naked Ape (the one on the right)

An article published this week in Science revealed the results of a survey of 926 U.S. high school biology teachers. The authors, Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Penn State, found that only 28% of teachers “unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft(ed) lesson plans… that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology” (Berkman and Plutzer, 2011).

Shockingly, 13% of teachers advocated creationism or intelligent design in the classroom, but most (who the authors termed “the cautious 60%”) were “neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives.” The authors suggested that the ambivalence of some biology teachers could be due to a lack of confidence in their knowledge of evolution, a desire to shy away from controversy, or a conviction that students should be exposed to various ideas and then allowed to make up their own minds. These numbers should make biology teachers pause and reflect on where we are as educators, 150+ years after Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species.

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