Human Sciences BA - Course Structure

The course is based on lectures and tutorials, with some practicals in the biological subjects. The lectures introduce most of the material you will need and provide the core concepts and theories. In the weekly tutorials, you will go into certain topics in greater depth. By the end of your three years you will have a thorough grounding in the following subject areas which make up the core of the Human Sciences degree:

  • Behaviour and how it evolves
  • Human genetics
  • Humans and their environment
  • Demography
  • Humans in their social and cultural context

In addition you will choose TWO options from a published list and write a Dissertation.

In the First and Second Year a typical weekly timetable is 10 - 12 lectures; 1 - 2 tutorials; one afternoon of practicals.

In the Third Year: 8 - 10 lectures; 1 - 2 tutorials; research for Dissertation.

The first year course introduces you to the core disciplines of the degree. We accept people with a wide range of academic backgrounds and the course is designed to put everyone on an equal footing in preparation for the second and third year courses. Here are some examples of what you will study.


  • biodiversity
  • plant and animal communities and ecosystems
  • impact of humans on the environment


  • Darwin's theory of natural selection
  • Introduction to Human Evolution

Human Physiology:

  • reproduction
  • the heart, the lung and the kidney
  • the nervous system and the brain


  • Genetics from Mendel to the present day
  • Introduction to molecular genetic techniques
  • Population genetics

Society, culture and environment

Comparative study of social and cultural patterns across the world:

  • why do people give gifts?
  • why do societies use rituals to mark the passage of time?
  • how do people maintain complex social systems in harsh environments?

The growth of cities:

  • migration from rural to urban areas
  • ethnic segregation

Sociology and demography

Social relations and institutions in modern western societies :

  • why are women paid less than men for the same work?
  • are criminals merely victims of society?
  • who benefits from divorce?

Changes in human populations:

  • how many people can the world support?
  • why do some populations decline, and others grow?
  • how will ageing populations cope?

Quantitative methods for the Human Sciences

  • Application of probability to genetics and medicine
  • Analysis of data from field and experimental studies
  • Learn how to interpret data (drawing pictures and telling stories) and to test hypotheses.

You will be examined on these five subject areas at the end of the first year.

In the Second Year you will go more deeply into the subject areas which have been introduced to you in the first year. You will also decide on which two options you would like to take. Towards the end of the second year you will be asked to submit the title of your dissertation. This part of the degree, known as the Honour School, forms the basis of your final examinations.

1. Behaviour and its evolution 

what human behaviour has in common with the behaviours of other species versus what is uniquely human. It also focuses on the relationship between human cultural processes and human genetic processes.

2. Human genetics and evolution

provides an overview of the many recent advances in human genetics and their implications for contemporary society. Topics include : human genome organization, the basis of human genetic diversity, the genetics of disease.

3. Human ecology

explores the ways in which humans beings both shape their environments and are shaped by them. The course focuses on the human ecology of nutrition, disease and reproduction and the numerous ways in which culture and biology interact. This paper is examined by an extended essay which students write in the final term of their second year plus a presentation which they will give in the first term of the third year.

4. Demography and population

uses quantitative data to analyse birth, death, ageing and migration. It then explains these in terms of a variety of social and biological factors, such as marriage, war and family structures.

5a. Anthropological analysis and interpretation

applies the general principles of social and cultural anthropology to present-day societies of the western and non-western world. It looks at issues such as personal and collective identity, education, nationalism and ideology. The course will also focus on some of the cultural responses to new electronic and bio-technologies.

or 5b. Sociological theory

investigates theoretical perspectives on social life. Some perspectives examine how social structures are built up from individual action, whether driven by evolutionary psychology, decided by rational choice, or motivated by meaningful values. Others identify the emergent properties of social life, ranging from face-to-face interaction to social networks to structures of thought.

You study two optional subjects:

The options on offer may vary form year to year but there is a choice from many different options in any year which may include:

  • Anthropoloy of a selected region: Japan or South Asia
  • Anthropology of Buddhism
  • Biological Conservation
  • Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health
  • Gender Theories and Realities: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • Geographies of Migration
  • General Linguistics
  • Geographies of Migration
  • Health and Disease
  • Medical Anthropology: Sensory Experience, the Sentient Body and Therapeutics
  • Physical and Forensic Anthropology: the Analysis of Human Skeletal Remains
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Social Policy
  • South and Southern Africa
  • The Human Primate Interface: Past and Present


a variety of Psychology options which may include

  • Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychology: Development and Treatment of Child and Adolsecent Anxiety Disorders
  • Coginitive Enhancement
  • Cognitive Neuroscience of Working Memory
  • Developing and Disseminating New and Effective Psychological Therapies for Anxiey Disorders and Psychosis
  • Emotion: Extending Appraisal and Feedback Appraoches
  • How to Build a Brain from Scratch
  • Psychological Disorders: Risk and Resilience

please note: Options may vary from year to year

The Dissertation

requires you to bring together the different approaches you have been introduced to over the previous two years.This allows you to focus on an aspect of Human Sciences which you have found particularly interesting.

It will be up to 10,000 words in length and should reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the course.

You choose your topic from two or more different approaches from the Human Sciences course.

Here is a selection of topics undergraduates have chosen in the past : 

  • Humans of New America: Fur, Fusion and Femininity
  • Her worth is far more than rubies: Women's position and its demographic consequences in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community
  • Tharwat: Food derpivation as a catalyst for social unrest in the Arab Spring
  • Exploring the social and cultural determinants of late-stage presentation of breast cancer
  • What factors influence the mating patterns of women in Hong Kong? Educational Homogony and Intersectionality
  • Gender differences in risk-taking behaviour in professional poker playing and other high-risk professions
  • My 'identical' twin and me: why are we so different? Beyond genes and environment in explaining discordant academic achievement
  • From Hiroshima to Fukishima: Has "Hibakusha Motherhood" given birth to a New Gender Order?
  • Disgust: What is its role in modern society?
  • Should musical behaviour be considered adaptive? (or a saucerful of secrets)
  • Were ancestral humans polygynous?
  • In defiance of the demographic transition: A framework for understanding Jewish ultra-orthodox fertility in Israel
  • Human incest and its evolutionary logic: Decoding the data and demystifying the taboo
  • Understanding AIDS: Scientific and moral knowledge in the fight against the HIV pandemic
  • Music in human life : why is it universal?
  • How does human culutre differ from animal culture?
  • Street children in Latin America
What is a tutorial?

Tutorials are a distinctive feature of undergraduate education at Oxford and serve several purposes. For example, some of you may not have covered certain topics which make up Human Sciences, and individual or group tutorials can help to introduce certain key concepts and background material. The main purpose of a tutorial, however, is to allow you to study topics in greater depth than is possible in a lecture. Your tutor will set you an essay question and provide you with a list of books and articles to read. The individual research and writing you do, followed by the discussion of your essay with your tutor, are designed to develop your ability to think and use your own ideas, and judge critically the material found in books and journals.