Human Sciences Course Information

First Year syllabus

Paper 1: Ecology and Evolution

Principles of ecology: ecosystems, plant and animal communities and numbers, biotic interaction, the impact of man on the environment.

Mechanisms of evolutionary change: selection and adaptation, evolution of sex, altruism, kin selection and co-operation. Alternative models of evolution. The role of culture in human evolution.

An introduction to the evidence for mammalian, primate and human evolution.

Paper 2: Physiology and Genetics 

Principles of mammalian physiology: the cell, body fluids, the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reproduction, hunger and thirst, movement, the senses, and the integrative organization of the central nervous system.

The genetic material - its nature, mode of action, and manipulation: the chromosomal basis of heredity; molecular genetics; mapping the human genome; sex determination; mutation at the level of the gene and the chromosome. Mendelian inheritance; genetic variation in populations and its maintenance; quantitative variation and its genetic basis.

Subject 3: Society, Culture and Environment

Social and cultural anthropology: the comparative study of the world's civilizations and peoples, including cross-cultural, power-based and gender perspectives upon social practice and theories of human life. Specific topics will include production and consumption; transactions and modes of exchange; elementary aspects of kinship and marriage; belief systems and social control; political and social organization; classification; technology and social change; material culture and ethnographic resources; the impact of colonialism; space, place and culture; environment and cultural landscapes in transition; land and property rights. Candidates will be expected to be familiar with appropriate ethnographic monographs.

Human Geography: Approaches to understanding contemporary international migration - from neo-classical to post-structuralist; forced migration, changing international, regional and national legislation and policy; diasporas and transnationalism, especially issues of identity, home and belonging; social divisions and the experience of migration and integration addressing gender, class, and ethnicity, cosmopolitan or 'superdiverse' cities; and state policy and the influence of nationalism, xenophobia, economics and ethics.

Subject 4: Sociology and Demography

Sociology: Current and classic discussions of explanatory strategies and social mechanisms, models of individual action and the consequences of aggregation. Empirical research involving these approaches in areas of substantive sociological interest such as social class, ethnicity, religion, the family, politics.

Demography: Elementary aspects of population analysis. Comparative study of fertility, mortality and family systems in selected human societies. The long term development of human population and its relation to habitat and resources. The demographic transition.

Subject 5: Quantitative Methods for the Human Sciences

The use and importance of statistics and quantitative methods in the human sciences. Graphs, scales, indices and transformations. Frequency distributions and their parameters, including the binomial, normal and Poisson distributions. Notions of probability and risk. Problems of sampling. Tests of statistical significance including t-tests, chi-squared and confidence intervals. Elementary analysis of variance, correlation and regression.

Second Year syllabus: The Honour School

The Honour School is divided into two sections. All candidates will be required to offer the following six compulsory subjects:

  • Behaviour and its Evolution
  • Human Genetics and Evolution
  • Human Ecology
  • Demography and Population
  • (a) Anthropological Analysis and Interpretation or (b) Sociological Theory
  • Dissertation

    Candidates will also be required to offer two of of a range of options which might include (not all subjects will be offered every year)

  • Anthropological Analysis and Interpretation (if not taken as a core paper)
  • Anthropology of a Selected Region (eg Lowland South America, Japan, South Asia,  Africa)
  • Anthropology of Medicine: Sensory Experience. the Sentient Body and Therapeutics
  • Biological Conservation
  • Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health
  • General Linguistics
  • Gender: Theories and Realities: Cross Cultural Perspectives
  • Geographies of Migration
  • Health and Disease
  • The Human-Primate Interface: Past and Present
  • Language and Social Anthropology
  • Physical and Forensic Anthropology: the Analysis of Human Skeletal Remains
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Social Policy
  • Sociological Theory (if not taken as a core paper)
  • A wide range of Psychology options
Schedule of Subjects
1) Behaviour and its Evolution

Introduction to the study of behaviour including how questions in animal (including human) behaviour can be studied by experiment and observation. Adaptation, kin selection, parental care, group living, tool use, culture, conflict and aggression, sexual selection, animal signals, genes and innate behaviour and learning. Evolutionary approaches to human behaviour, including the socio-behavioural ecology of Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene hominins and evolutionary perspectives on human social and developmental psychology.  This paper is examined by an unseen written examination paper.

2) Human Genetics and Evolution

Evolution and genomics of Hominoidea; the genetic basis of hominin evoluiton and human diversity, including single gene traits, quantitative traits, and complex traits. The structure of the human genome, the associated technologies for genome analysis, methodological approaches to finding genes for traits, and the social implications of genetic knowledge. Medical genetics as illustrated by cancer and genetic susceptibility to infection. This paper is examined by an unseen written examination paper.


3) Human Ecology

Human ecology of disease, emphasizing diseases that significantly contribute to the global burden of mortality and cultural change. Diet and nutritional anthropology of human societies. Ethno-biology and its cultural ontological and epistemological contextualization, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Ethno-linguistics and the principles of folk-naming and folk-taxonomy of organisms, Local Ecological Knolwedge (LEK) and the significance of place, and practical applications of ethnobiology including biological conservation. This paper is examined by an extended essay and a presentation. 

4) Demography and Population

Major features of past and present population trends, the socio-economic, environmental and biomedical factors affecting fertility, mortality and migration; the social, economic and political consequences of population growth, decline and ageing; and major controversies in demographic theory. Specific topics include traditional and transitional population systems in historical and contemporary societies; demographic transitions and their interpretation; demographic processes in post-transnational societies (modern Europe and other industrial areas) including very low fertility, longer life, international migration and new patterns of marriage and family; the changing position of women in the workforce; ethnic dimensions of demographic change; and policy interventions. The paper also tests knowledge of demographic analysis and techniques including data sources, the quantitative analysis of fertility and mortality, the life table, the stable population and other population models, population dynamics and projections, and limits to fertility and the lifespan. The paper is examined by an unseen written examination paper.

5) (a) Anthropological Analysis and Interpretation

The comparative study of social and cultural forms in the global context: to include economics and exchange, domestic structures and their reproduction, personal and collective identity, language and religion, states and conflict, understanding of biology and environment, historical perspectives on the social world and upon practice in anthropology.

5) (b) Sociological Theory

Theoretical perspectives which may include rational choice; evolutionary psychology; interpersonal interaction; social integration and networks; functionalism. Substantive problems which may include stratification; gender; nationalism; race and ethnicity; collective action; norms; ideology; economic development; gangs and organized crime. Candidates will be expected to use theories to explain substantive problems.

6) Dissertation

In the dissertation the candidate will be required to focus on material from within the Honour School, and must show knowledge of more than one of the basic approaches to the study of Human Sciences.

Course Handbooks
The following are currently available:
The Preliminary Handbook for 2021-22 (for students due to take Prelims in 2022)
Final Honour School Handbook for 2020-22 (for students due to take Finals in 2022)
Final Honour School Handbook for 2021-23 (for students due to take Finals in 2023)


Examination Convention
Examination Conventions for the Preliminary Examination in Human Sciences 2021-22
Examination Conventions for the Final Honour School of Human Sciences 2021-22


Policy on Recording Lectures