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Course Information

Instructor Info:Pamela Stone
Office Extension x6203
Term: 2013S
Meeting Info: Wednesday
01:00 PM - 03:50 PM Cole Science Center 3-OSTE

This course focuses on the biological and cultural components of reproduction from an evolutionary and cross-cultural perspective. Beginning with the evolution of the pelvis, this course examines the nutritional problems, growth and developmental problems, health problems, and the trauma that can affect successful childbirth. The birth process will be studied for women in the ancient world and we will examine historical trends in obstetrics, as well. Worldwide rates of maternal mortality will be used to understand the risks that some women face. Birthing customs and beliefs will be examined for indigenous women in a number of different cultures. Students will be required to present and discuss material and to work on a single large research project that relates to the course topic throughout the semester.

Evaluation Criteria:


Evaluations/grades will be based on attendance and participation in the class. All students are expected to read assigned readings, as they are crucial for participation.  Over the semester each member of the class will be required to work in a group and facilitate the topic under discussion - additional readings may be assigned for the person(s) giving the weekly presentation. A final project/paper is also expected and will be based on individual interests and ideas from readings and/or class discussion. Students will have the opportunity at the end of the semester to briefly present their research to the class.


Students are expected to attend all classes, 1 unexcused absence is grounds for failing (no-eval/F) this course. In addition all students are expected to read assigned readings, as they are crucial for participation and you are expected to contribute to discussions. Participation will also be assessed based on final presentation of your final paper (see below description of final papers).


Over the course of the semester there will be 4 formal short-writing assignments. These assignments will be based on lecture, discussions, videos, and required readings as well as your own topic of choice. These include:

  1. DUE 2/13  ~ Summary/critique of primary article. (Tague 1989) posted on course                   website instructions handed out in class.)
  2. DUE 3/6  ~   Summary/critique of a primary article related to the topic of your                     choice (ideally your final paper topic).
  3. DUE 3/27 ~ Ethnographic narrative of your birth story
  4. DUE 4/10 ~ Birth in Four Cultures - group projects (see below*)

*Birth in Four Cultures/Group Reading Project/Presentation

The class will be divided into 4 groups and each group will be assigned one chapter of Birth in Four Cultures, by Brigitte Jordan. This text is the seminal text in thinking about birth in cross-cultural perspectives; health policy; anthropologically; etc. It is also now 30 years old. The goal of this assignment is that each group will, as a team, explore the changes, policies, cultural shifts, statistics, etc., for the region that frames the chapter assigned. On 4/10 we will discuss the text and each group’s chapter is due that day, you will have ¼ of class time to facilitate the class discussion, presenting to the class the changes/or lack of changes that you as a team have identified. In addition, as a team, you will rewrite the chapter to reflect current issues and trends – this will be handed in as a formal paper. Everyoneis expected to have read the whole text – presentations days are 3/6 and 3/13. The written work is due for all teams on 3/15 (Friday) to Pam by 12 (noon).


All students are expected to write a final paper, on the topic of your choice generated from individual interests and ideas from readings and/or class discussion, and done in consultation with the professor. At the end of the semester you will be required to briefly present your research to the class.



Each of these writing assignments should be neatly typed and edited for content, grammar, and spelling before you turn in your final copy. Be sure to keep a hard copy and a disc version of the assignments you turn in.  In the case of a “lost assignment”, the responsibility is yours to turn in an additional copy of (or rewrite) the assignment. Last minute computer crashes or lost files are not excuses for missing the deadline of any assignment.  In addition these assignments are to be your own work (essays and critical discussions) and are to have clear citations of all referenced materials and information. Please make yourself aware of the “Ethics of Scholarship” at: . 

Additional Info:


Course Readings: (Required)

  • Texts: (available at Food for Thought bookstore in Amherst)
    • Jordan, B.  Birth in Four Cultures: A Crosscultural Investigation of Childbirth in Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United States. Waveland Press 4th edition 1993.
  • Journal Articles/Primary Literature:
    • For this course readings are drawn from journals and texts across many disciplines and represent both past and current research (primary and secondary literature). It is your responsibility to read these materials. (Available in PDF form on the course web site).
  • Reading assignments are listed by the date that they are due. Students are expected to be prepared with the readings as they facilitate the discussion in the class.  

Additional readings may be assigned.


Some Suggested readings – (Note: there are many more)

  • Martin, E The Woman in the Body: Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Beacon Press (revised edition) 2001
  • Block, J. Pushed: The Painful Truth About childbirth and Modern Maternity Care.  Da Capo Press 2008
  • Gaskin, Ina May Spiritual Midwifery (any edition)
  • Gaskin, Ina May Birth Matters: A midwifes manifesta. Seven Stories Press. 2011