ANTH3006: Humans and Aliens: Learning Anthropology through Science Fiction

3 CreditsGlobal PerspectivesOral Communication & Languages

Science Fiction has been one of the most popular genres of literature over the last century and a half. Despite its great popularity, however, many fans of the genre do not realize how much it has in common with the discipline of Anthropology. Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human in all times and places. Science fiction, for its part, explores human existence in equally diverse contexts, except that those imagined contexts frequently have not yet happened. Despite this similarity, anthropology is extremely poorly known compared to science fiction. This course uses the stimulating and entertaining literature of science fiction to expose students to anthropology who, having never been exposed to it in high school, are likely to leave university without learning the power of the discipline’s perspective on humanity. Through individual pairings of anthropology texts and science fiction stories, the course explores the relevance of biological anthropology, social anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology to humanity’s future. The course’s juxtaposition of anthropological literature to science fiction stories is designed to provide students with the ability to see how our future is more dependent on how humanity works (as anthropology understands it), than merely what the next technological invention has to offer us. This course introduces students to the breadth of anthropological topics using the literature of such award-winning science fiction (SF) authors as Isaac Asimov, Elisabeth Bear, Jerome Bixby, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin, Catherine Moore, Mike Resnik, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neil Stephenson, James Tiptree, Jr., and Kurt Vonnegut. While the course is not designed to cover the literary criticism of SF literature nor the social analysis of the SF community of readers and authors, the choice of which SF authors to oppose to select anthropological topics was shaped by my understanding of the historical development of SF literature. Students will thus read stories written from the Golden Age of magazine SF to the most recent post-cyberpunk novelists. The selection of SF stories is of course idiosyncratic but it is designed to reflect the goal of learning something of anthropology while having a blast reading SF.

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B Average (2.982)Most Common: A (21%)

This total also includes data from semesters with unknown instructors.

70 students
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  • 4.11


  • 4.61


  • 4.64


  • 4.67



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