Courses & Teaching


Courses at Hampshire College are primarily project based and frequently focused on global, big and complex problems such as racism, injustice and climate change.  Projects are designed by professors and/or students, and most often, both and collaboratively.  They can be in-class or independent.  All Hampshire students complete a senior theses (some examples are below).

Most of my students combine interests in social justice and some aspect of health and nutrition (how inequalities become biological).  Many students have worked with me on “tooth projects” such as determining the sex of individuals from their tooth remains and, more often, looking for signs of stress on teeth (dental enamel hypoplasias, enamel histological developmental defects). A number of seniors have written theses on the distribution of elements in teeth (such as Daniel Kang and Jana Farell and Ellen Webb)  Lots of students do anthropological fieldwork, many on aspects of nutrition and health.  Undergrads  have worked with me in Central Mexico and the Yucatan.

UMass graduate students (Rhan-Ju Song, Alexis Dolphin, and  Joseph Jones have completed their Ph.D. projects with me on the chemistry of ancient to contemporary teeth.  

Recent Courses & Descriptions

In/Justice Makes US All Sick: How Inequality Cause Poor Nutrition and Health (NS – 119 and 209): How does injustice get under the skin? Groups with more material resources (wealth) and more access to power almost always life longer and suffer from fewer diseases. However, reasons vary for why there is an association between wealth and health. In this course we l start with the data showing the connections between inequalities and measures of health such as rates of COVID-19 and infant mortality. We explore changes in the US over time and compare the US to other countries. We finally focus on understanding the processes such as epigenetics, pollution and implicit racisms by which inequalities and injustices are causally linked to health. We will particularly focus on the changing dynamics of racism and class. Ultimately, we will explore the way that inequalities in the US might be getting under everyone’s skin. Key Words: health, race, inequality, biology, poverty

Research in Nutrition and Pollution (NS-359): The focus of this research course is on understanding nutrition, pollution and related problems via the chemical analysis of calcified tissues: dentine and especially enamel. Tooth enamel calcifies during the prenatal period and the first decade of life and is them essentially inert. Thus, enamel’s chemical composition may reflect conditions during early development. Because enamel and dentine grow somewhat like trees (they also have growth rings!), one may use them as a mirror facing back in time. We are at the right moment to pursue this research because of recent developments in chemical instrumentation. We will look at other biological tissues that can provide evidence about pollution and nutritional information. In this research course we will intensively use our inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) and laser ablation (LA)-ICP-MS. The first part of this course will consist of an introduction to analytical techniques, elemental imaging techniques, the development and chemistry of hard tissues, and problems of metal pollution and elemental nutrition in the past and present. Some of the specific research questions we expect to address include how well enamel chemistry reflects diets and pollution exposure at the time of development.

Race & Human Variation (NS-123T): This course focuses on the science of human genetic and biological variation. How does variation come about in evolution? Which variations have adaptive and functional significance and which are “just differences?” What is the evolutionary explanation, distribution, and significance of human variation in, for example, sickle cell anemia, skin color or sports performance? How are individuals grouped, how are differences studied, and to what purpose? This semester we will focus on the idea of race as a genetic construct versus lived social reality and, in particular, how race is used in biomedical research. How did the idea of “natural” races arise, and how and why, despite key scientific flaws, does it persist? Finally, we will examine health inequalities by race and the potential mechanisms by which racism may lead to poor health.

Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (NS-233): Are we what we eat? We eat foods for social and cultural reasons, and we eat foods because they contain nutrients that fuel our cells and allow us to function — grow, think, and live. The quest for food is a major evolutionary theme and continues to profoundly shape ecological, social, and human biological systems. In this course we will consider some of the many ways that food and nutrition are related to the human condition, for example: (1) symbolic meanings of food, (2) the evolution of food systems to genetically modified foods, (3) the deadly synergy of malnutrition and infection, (4) the ecological and political-economic causes of undernutrition and obesity, and (5) “nutritional epidemiology” and the role of diet and nutrition in the etiology of diverse diseases. Throughout the course, we will focus on “doing nutritional anthropology,” including assessing the dietary and nutritional status of individuals in our community.

Health and Wealth (NS-129): Wherever one looks there seems to be an association between wealth and health. With notable exceptions, the greater an individual, family or large social group’s access to resources, the better their health status. This rule generally applies across time and space and at the micro- and macro-levels. But just how and how well it applies also varies. In this course we will start with the data showing the connections between wealth, inequalities and health. We will then focus on understanding the processes by which wealth is causally linked to health. A key question concerns whether wealth, per se, drives health or inequalities in wealth. We will explore the changing dynamics of race and class in relationship to health. Ultimately, we will explore the way that health inequalities in the US might be harming everyone and the potential for a political accounting that takes the nation’s health and well being into consideration.

Race: Science, Politics, and Public Health (NS-371): Race is at the same time both a misguided way to think about human biological variation and a core socio-political idea, with profound effects on wealth and health. Race is both a biological myth and a tangible reality. Human biological variation is not reducible to race, yet the idea of race continues to “do work” in helping to maintain a racial-class economy. To understand race, and the work that it does, we will critically study both its historical construction from the 1800’s forward and the evolving science of human biological variation. We will critically evaluate texts on the historical development of the idea of race in science and sources on how the idea of race is now deployed in sciences such as genetics, anthropology, forensics, medicine, and especially public health.

Some Division III projects!

Alicia King and Kenny King (below and not related!) completed their senior theses on the nutritional status (via anthropometry) of children in an elementary school in Holyoke, MA.








This is a pic of Seth Williams.  His senior thesis started the community garden in Holyoke, MA.

Seth Williams – Holyoke Community Garden