The Graduate Program in
Biocultural Anthropology focuses on ecological, physiological, and demographic
aspects of human biocultural variation within the frameworks of human
adaptability and evolution. Our
research and teaching highlight factors that shape human diversity across the
entire range of global and historical variation.
Although human variation has long been a central concern of
biological anthropology, the field has experienced a transformation from a
largely descriptive science to one with a central focus on theoretical and
analytical approaches. Consequently, our program embraces recent advances in
statistical methods and laboratory analysis, allowing us to develop and test
etiologic models of biology and behavior using field-based observations.
Central to our research is an understanding that humans have evolved not only
in response to environmental factors, but also continue to shape and modify
their environments in response to perceptions, cultural constructs, behavior,
The diverse lines of
inquiry in which members of the biocultural program engage are unified by a
central focus on neo-Darwinian theory as it illuminates the nexus of biology
and culture. Our approach draws on multiple levels of explanation, from the
ultimate (in evolutionary, comparative terms) to the proximate (in molecular
and behavioral terms). At many universities these levels of analysis—ultimate
versus proximate—are separated along disciplinary and sub-disciplinary lines,
affording limited intellectual exchange. Our holistic approach serves to
minimize scholarly and academic divisions by emphasizing the integration of
multidisciplinary approaches to the study of human biological and behavioral
Areas of specialization in the biocultural program include:
Behavioral Ecology—provides a major bridge between the
theoretical foundations of biological anthropology and evolutionary biology and
the complexities of human behavioral and cultural variation. Students are exposed to fundamental
principles that guide current research in evolutionary studies of behavior,
including optimization models, evolutionary game theory, levels of selection
debates, phenotypic adaptation, and theories of cultural evolution.
Anthropological Demography—addresses the basic mechanisms of fertility, mortality, and
population composition and structure in evolutionary perspective Our training
places fertility and mortality within an integrated theoretical biocultural
framework drawing from demography, biology, evolutionary theory, social network
analysis, behavioral ecology, political economy, and cultural anthropology. A new and growing focus in our program is
biodemography. Most of the biocultural
faculty are affiliates of the University of Washington’s Center for Studies in
Demography and Ecology (CSDE) a
federally funded population center.
Human Ecology—examines the biological aspects of reproduction, health,
stress, immune function and behavior, from mechanistic, cross-cultural and
evolutionary perspectives. New methods and models have advanced this field
rapidly in recent years, and our faculty specialize in these areas. Our Biological Anthropology and
Biodemography Laboratory supports the anthropological study of human and
non-human primate reproduction.
Human Disease Ecology—the health status of a population is regarded as a measure
of the effectiveness with which individuals or groups adapt to their
environment. Indicators of health include a variety of measures such as
mortality, diet, nutritional status, growth patterns, and morbidity. Unique to the approach of anthropologists is
that we are interested in the interface between human biology and sociocultural
practices. Moreover, from a historical perspective, we examine the interactions
between biology, culture, and the environment to inform our understanding of
the factors that have shaped human evolution, and which may continue to influence
the welfare of our species in the future.
One of our foci within this set of interactions is the study of human
behavior and social structure and their effects on infectious disease
transmission and evolution.
Human Paleontology—is by its very nature highly interdisciplinary, requiring knowledge of biology, geology, human behavior, and archaeology, as well as the details of human paleontology itself. Within the Department of Anthropology, students of human paleontology will complete courses in osteology and human paleontology and may take courses in the sociocultural program concerning human ecology and field methods taught in the archaeology program. Outside our department, students are encouraged to take courses in vertebrate paleontology and evolutionary mechanisms as part of the UW Paleobiology group. Our faculty are particularly interested in the biomechanics and energetics of locomotion.
Nonhuman Primates–the study of our very close primate relatives provides comparative data for understanding the human condition from an evolutionary perspective. Additionally, they are useful biological models for research on the etiology of various biomedical conditions. Our faculty study non-human primate growth and development, reproduction, and aging of the musculoskeletal system. Faculty are affiliated with numerous primate research centers, including the Washington
National Primate Research Center.
One year of general biology
and at least one core course each in cultural anthropology and archaeology are
recommended before entering the Graduate Program in Biocultural Anthropology.
Ph.D. graduate students must complete the core curriculum, pass the language requirement, take the comprehensive examination and the general examination, present a dissertation colloquium, fulfill a teaching requirement, complete a dissertation, and defend it in the final examination. To find out more, please visit the Graduate Program part of our website.