Monday workshop
Monday, October 15, 2012 (All day)

337 Cohen Hall

Erika Milam, Princeton University

Barely Human: Aggression and the American Search for Human Nature in the 1960s

Abstract: Of all the emotional continuities between animal and man, aggression resonated most deeply with readers in the 1960s, a decade imbued with violence. Popular scientific publications on aggression and human nature incorporated three main sources of information in reconstructing the social and behavioral dynamics of long-extinct hominids at the "dawn of humanity." Cultural anthropologists often invoked one or two so-called "primitive" societies who lived in environmental conditions close to what early humanity might have experienced. Alternatively, archeologists relied on paleontological evidence of early human fossils to reconstruct their physical appearance and behavior. Zoologists and primatologists also drew on evidence of animal behavior to elucidate the biological instincts that underlay all of human behavior, including that of early humanity. Depending on which sources an author chose to emphasize, books, magazine articles, or television specials wove radically different morals for what it meant to be human and the future of our species. This talk follows a series of case studies to explore the cultural and political nuances of public discussions about a universal human nature during the 1960s, and the consequences of these discussions on the professional scientific reaction to sociobiology in the 1970s.