College of Arts & Science at Miami University
Exploring Humankind through Primatology
(with Dr. Linda Marchant, June 2009)
A full text transcript of the video is available below.
(This video describes the scope and nature of student and faculty primatology research at Miami University.)
Hi. I'm Linda Marchant, chair of the Department of Anthropology at Miami University.
Here at Miami, our anthropology students and professors do research on a variety of topics that reflect our discipline's commitment to exploring humankind. Our approach is both global and comparative. We use the subdisciplines of cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology to help frame the kinds of questions we ask and the methods we use to conduct our research.
I'm a biological anthropologist. That means I rely on evolutionary theory to guide my understanding and interpretation of scientific evidence to help document the biological nature of our own species, Homo sapiens. We're also interested in the other species that preceded us in the evolutionary record — the fossil record of our ancestors.
A subset of biological anthropologists refer to themselves as primatologists because we focus our research efforts on living and extinct non-human primates. The non-human primates are our nearest genetic relations.
The 300+ species of primates provide fascinating insights into the diversity of genetic makeup, social organization, social relations, diet, sexual behavior, and rearing strategies that are employed by each species.
Primatologists study non-human primates for their own sake. That is, we're eager to document each species as a unique and important example of the evolutionary diversity of the primate order. We're also deeply concerned about the conservation status of these remarkable animals and our field and captive research can directly reveal how vulnerable a species may be and also give us insights into ethical and appropriate management strategies for captive primates.
We also study non-human primates to help us think more creatively about the evolution of our own species' behavior and morphology. Primates serve as powerful models when we consider the origins of our cognitive complexity, our tool-using abilities, or our social complexity.
Since 1989, when the first primatologist was hired as a faculty member at Miami University, students and faculty have devoted considerable classroom and field work to doing primatology.
Our students choose from a variety of classes. For example: primate biology and behavior, socioecology of primates, and observing non-human primate behavior. Students are also encouraged and supported to do independent primatology research.
Since 1995, with financial support from the Rebecca Jeanne Andrew Memorial Award, Miami University students have studied primates in captivity and in the wild. For example, they've worked at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the Cincinnati Zoo, and abroad in the countries of Senegal, Madagascar, Thailand, and Uganda, among others.
If you have a passion for studying non-human primates or if you just want to know a good deal more about your nearest relatives, then why not consider studying primatology at Miami University ... and remember, you're a primate, too!