Skin: Evolution, Biology and Culture (3) This course will explore the evolution and roles of skin and human life, including health, communication, and social wellbeing.
ANTH 215 Skin: Evolution, Biology and Culture (3)
Skin mediates the most important of transactions of human lives because it is our interface with the physical and social environments. Skin is constantly changing and reflects our age, ancestry, and health, while serving as our personal “billboard.” In “Skin,” students will explore the evolutionary and social histories of human skin, including the changes in structure and function it has undergone in the course of human evolution. Three unique attributes of human skin will be explored at length: 1) functional nakedness and sweatiness; 2) the range of skin’s natural colors; and 3) skin as a surface for decoration.
The course begins with an overview of the structure and function of human skin and proceeds to an exploration of the comparative biology and evolution of skin in vertebrates, especially nonhuman mammals. Special attention will be paid to the outermost layer of skin, the epidermis. This will lead to a discussion of human hairlessness and sweating, and the role of skin in temperature regulation. Detailed exploration of the evolution of human skin color follows. The key role played by melanin pigmentation in protecting skin from sunlight will be discussed as a prelude to review of the evolution of human pigmentation in human dispersals. Discussion of the role of skin color in human interactions through history follows, including an introduction to the development and manifestations of color-based racism. The importance of skin as the organ of touch and as a vehicle for communication will then be reviewed. This will introduce the subject of skin as a mirror of human emotions, as in anger and blushing. Because aging of skin is one of the most visible signs of aging and is one of the most significant of human preoccupations, this phenomenon will be discussed in detail, and some of the most common skin diseases and problems associated with “wear and tear” will be surveyed. Considerable time and discussion will be devoted to skin decoration, with particular attention paid to the use of cosmetics and paints in the establishment of identity and the advertisement of sexuality in individuals, and the importance of tattoos in expressing individuality and group identity. The course will conclude with a speculative investigation of the future of human skin, including the prospects for artificial skin and robotic skin, and the expanding frontiers of skin decoration and communication via remote touch.
Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.