ANTH 3388: Warfare and Violence:
The Anthropology and History of Human Conflict
From their origins in our primate ancestry through modern times, intergroup aggression, violence, and warfare appear to have been among the most constant features of human society. Utilizing data and theories from two of the subfields of anthropology—archaeology and ethnology—as well as from history and political science, this interdisciplinary course examines human aggressive behavior and warfare around the world from their earliest known occurrence, at ca. 16,000 B.C, to the most recent conflict in Iraq. Exemplary cases from prehistoric, historical, and recent times for North and South America, Oceania, the Mediterranean, Eurasia, and Africa form the core of the course—including, the relevance for the origins of human war of the studies of Jane Goodall and other researchers on chimpanzee societies of central Africa, current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ancient warfare of Egypt, Assyria, Classical Greece, Macedonia, Rome, the Moche and Inca of Peru, the Maya, Toltecs, and Aztecs of Mexico, Apaches and Sioux, Easter Island, the Maori, New Guinea, Mongols, and Samurai, Throughout the course, we will examine and discuss violence and warfare both from an adaptive, or survival-promoting, perspective and, where appropriate, from an ethical standpoint.
This course has become popular on campus and currently is much in demand, so that we always have a waiting list. Since exams and other requirements in the course (films, book critique during regular semesters) are take-home, I find that students quickly relax and get drawn into the issues and historical data we cover, realizing that the case studies we cover are intriguing for their own sake as they gain increased sophistication regarding geopolitics over the last 5000 years or so, and of the combined roles of ideology, politics, warfare, hostile/friendly stances toward neighboring societies, subsistence, demography, and environment in inter-societal conflict.
Due to the condensed number of J-Term, the course is not available for CF credit. However, readings will be restricted to two texts, and the only exam will be a two-question take-home one that will be handed out just before the end of the course and will be due several days after our last class meeting.
David Wilson earned his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Washington, his M.A. in Spanish from San Diego State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. His archaeological research on the Peruvian north coast has focused on population growth and warfare as especially critical features in the origins and development of complex pre-Hispanic societies in that area of the world. His recent book, Indigenous South Americans of the Past and Present, deals with a number of ethnographic and archaeological cases of violent, warlike societies around South America; he has a long-standing interest in this theme at a worldwide level from his undergraduate background in Political Science and from teaching ANTH 3319/Human Ecology, ANTH 3313/South American Indians Past and Present, and ANTH 2302/People of the Earth at SMU. He has been teaching “Warfare and Violence” now for eight years and recently has been teaching five sections of it each school year. Over the years, he has built up a library of over 500 books on human conflict through the ages, and is planning eventually to write a book on the anthropology and history of warfare.
Learning Outcomes and Benefits
- Most students begin the course with some prior knowledge of current wars, and quickly develop an interest in the archaeology and history of human conflict, not to mention the dilemma of the human propensity to war and violence.
- As we begin the course, students will be presented with a detailed and scientific theoretical structure that is relatively easy to grasp, and is then consistently applied to the case studies as the course proceeds. This structure, or paradigm, makes it clear the goal of knowledge acquisition is more than just learning facts but, also, learning how to think about these facts in an organized way that can be applied in other courses.
- Students will be presented with arguments that human conflict has been occurring probably since the beginning of our earliest presence on earth some 7 million years ago, and that while earlier on it was adaptive, or survival-promoting, in recent centuries it has been highly destructive while nevertheless continuing to characterize a good part of societal interaction.Many students become so interested in the topic that they go on to develop an enduring interest in reading and learning about aspects of human conflict after they graduate.
- Students will gain a detailed understanding of different environments around the world in light of the case studies, and how these environments have substantial effect on the nature and origins of the wars fought by human groups.
- Many students become so interested in the topic that they go on to develop an enduring interest in reading and learning about aspects of human conflict after they graduate.