The Origins of Human Society

Jan 2021

This course was amazing, and this is coming from a computer science kid. I took this class on a whim to fulfill my gen ed requirements, but it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The class is engaging and genuinely interesting. I've never thought about where we as a species come from before, but this class really digs into those issues and prompts good discussions. Prof Sturm is relaxed and friendly during class. She always included fun icebreakers to prime us for discussion at the start of class and the TAs that monitor the chat during class are prompt and effective in answering questions. If this class were in person and in pre-covid times, I would definitely have shown up to Prof Sturm's office just to hear her speak more about the class material. What more, the workload is light and doesn't feel like "work." The readings are things that I would actually read in my free time. The grading is easy as well. 10/10 would take again

Dec 2020

I took this introductory anthropology course my first semester at Barnard online in the fall of 2020 during covid-19. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a great class with which to fulfill a requirement. Professor Sturm is warm, inviting, and incredibly knowledgeable about her field, and she always had great lectures. We had an average level of work for the class. There were two lectures per week and then a small discussion section with a graduate TA once a week to go over course material and understand the readings. Overall, I recommend this course!

Apr 2020

This is the best class I have taken at college so far! Sev is the coolest professor and he really cares about his students. His powerpoints are next level and you must at least shop his class to see how advanced and elite the quality of his powerpoints is. I don't think its possible to not be interested in this class. Sev is so passionate about what he teaches and wants to impart the most information possible on us to the point that we often don't finish the powerpoints each class session. Sometimes the amount of information and the rush to finish the powerpoint is a little bit overwhelming but Sev is just really good at his job and the information itself its very interesting so its not bad at all. Sev also has optional discussion sections that are kind of like labs, for example for one of them we got to see the skull casts of different hominid species, and for others we just reviewed with TAs and talked about essays. He also has "dangerous optional exercises" which include flint-knapping on Futter field and making and throwing paleolithic style spears at Riverside park. There is a decent amount of reading in this class around 50 pages per week in the beginning and by the end he gives us books to read but we usually have two weeks to finish those. We had two 5 pages essays, and one 10 page essay (all 3 essays were pretty open and allowed for creativity), a take home midterm, and a take home final which is not usually take home but there was recent tragedy and Sev was very flexible and accomodating. The grading is not harsh at all so while it might seem like there is a lot of work, as long as you go to class and the review sessions you're good! Personally I barely did the readings and just went to class and I ended with an A- (also I'm not a strong writer at all, so if you have more writing talent than me which is very likely you could easily get an A). I 100% recommend this class to all majors! It fulfills a social science requirement and two MOTs. Sev rocks!!!

Dec 2017

Sev is such an amazing teacher! He is so passionate about what he is teaching. I generally really liked the class, though it was a lot of work and I found out anthropology/archaeology are frustrating fields because a lot of the material we learn is mere speculation, sometimes I felt like I didn't actually learn anything real because we learned a lot of theories that weren't proven. But that is just the nature of the subject, nothing wrong with Sev. He is just such a sweet guy, everyone loves him!

Dec 2017

Amazing teacher and truly amazing class. Severin is really talented at teaching and engaging a very large class: I never skipped once, and genuinely never wanted to. The class is so interesting and is not typical: he explores the history of changing theories on human origins, especially the feminist theories, which was so great. He always takes questions and responds to them fully, but never compromises disagreeing with you while still respecting the point. Despite a large class size, he asks students to answer questions about their own theories about a certain burial site. He is one of the few perfect men in the world. I really can't emphasize enough how amazing, life-changing he was.

Dec 2017

Nicest man on earth. I'm not particularly interested in archaeology but he makes the topics very interesting and easy to follow, and the readings are spaced out well and easy to get through. If you're looking to fulfill requirements easily I'd recommend this course.

Jan 2017

Read the other reviews. Sev (he's not one for formality) is a phenomenal professor and engaging lecturer who has changed the way I see human history. (Sounds dramatic, but take the class, pay attention, and it won't sound so crazy.) I'm not gonna spend my time going into this, because I mostly want to talk about the workload. There was a LOT of it, but not all was necessary. The key to doing well is actually paying attention in lecture and taking good notes (big surprise there). Since he goes over everything important in class, and the stuff he talks about for a long time is generally what's on the exams, it feels pretty straightforward. Feels like a lot for an intro, but if you don't do all the reading, the bulk of the work is in the end when you need to write a total of between 4500-5500 words in the last couple weeks. Definitely doable, and it was way too interesting for me to mind that much. Take this class.

Nov 2013

I took Origins my first semester of my freshman year to fulfill part of my major requirement. I am an anthro major so I was really excited to take this class, and Sev didn't disappoint. The beginning of the semester is more sciencey in that it focuses on the physical differences in hominin species. But then it becomes really deep and philosophical when it comes to tool making and cave art. Sometimes, I felt lost because it was just too vague and there weren't many concrete facts. Sev is a really great guy though, he doesn't just lecture at you. He answers questions and makes jokes, and I would highly recommend taking at least one class with him.

Nov 2012

I really assumed that this class would be a great way to try out Anthropology, a subject I'd never studied before, and after reading the reviews, I was confident in my choice. However, this is NOT an introduction to anthro whatsoever. It is confusing and unclear. The readings are extremely lengthy, and despite the fact that there is not much graded work, I constantly feel bogged down. The expectation in this course is that everyone will go on to pursue a career in either anthropology or archaeology, neither of which I have any interest in. I also have a problem with the way in which Sev organizes his lectures, specifically there is no organization. He is obviously very passionate about it, but he jumps around, goes too quickly, and talks at the same time as having something obviously important written on the powerpoint without explaining it. We will talk about something very vaguely for probably 3-4 class sessions and then finally he will explain it clearly by the end, but it's all very confusing. In other words, unless you want to be an anthro major, I would not recommend this class.

Dec 2011

Sev is absolutely unbelievable. He and this class changed how I view the world. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's absolutely true (and it's not something that happens often). If you have the opportunity to take a class with him - take it. I took this one because it was a major requirement; I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill intro level course. It ended up being my favorite class at Columbia so far.

May 2010

I took this class purely for the fun of it - I didn't need it to fulfill any core or major requirements. I found Prof. Fewster to be a funny and engaging lecturer; however, even this (and the cute-rabbit pictures she snuck into every lecture) couldn't save the course from being mind-numbingly boring in the last few weeks. When the course turned to examining agricultural practices in extreme detail, it was hard not to fall asleep. However, if that's your thing, you might really enjoy it. I was present for Prof. Fewster's hour-long talk about questions worth asking and questions NOT worth asking. I didn't, however, find it condescending at all. It actually came as a relief -- there had been a lot of, "Well, when I used to baby-sit for one toddler last year in high school, I learned that ALL CHILDREN EVERYWHERE always behave in such-and-such a way..." and unfounded, anecdotal, and barely-related commenting happening from students. Prof. Fewster effectively curbed these irritating and unproductive conversations. She tried to keep assignments low-stress. While a lot of reading is assigned, it isn't necessary to do it. (You might want to books for reference material for your essays, though.) Two big papers and a take-home final (though there was some confusion with whether or not the final had been cancelled in the last several weeks of class.) All easy; all were graded really fairly.

Jan 2010

Kathy Fewster is a visiting professor from Wales. At first she appears to be a charming and witty woman, who made each lecture as interesting and engaging as she can. Halfway into the semester, Professor Fewster blew our minds with a condescending lecture about how students should not ask questions in a lecture. Her passive aggression is unrivaled and unexpected. Less than two weeks before the end of the semester, Professor Fewster dropped the final and changed the syllabus. Students were surprised. The class was inordinately stressful because of the ever-changing syllabus. Otherwise the course itself is interesting. It is divided into two parts, the first part covering the evolution of mankind, the second going over the origins of agriculture (which was significantly less exciting).

Dec 2009

This class comprised two major units: human evolution and the rise of agriculture. The first half was human evolution from an archaeological perspective, but also with a lot of scientific evidence. Kathy doesn't really know anything about evolutionary biology, bless her heart, but she actually teaches this unit very well given her weak background in it. I was riveted because she made human evolution into a kind of grand story. She's also very funny; if you want proof, check out this Overheard in New York quote from her class ( I found her British mannerisms endearing. The second unit about agriculture, unfortunately, was very boring. I think the fact that she knows a lot about the subject made it even more boring, because she got very technical about things like food processing and fossilized plant pollen. I could barely stay awake during this part. Overall, if you're not an anthropology major and you're just interested in human prehistory, I'd say there are probably less boring ways to learn about it. Try the Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species department.

Jan 2009

Sev is absolutely fantastic. I took this class not really knowing anything about anthropology and left it seriously considering a major/minor. Somehow, he manages to make lectures full of the same stone tools and unrecognizable old bones fresh and intriguing. He has a great sense of humor and goes out of his way to be available to students (great considering how large the classes is: 100+ students). You can tell that he absolutely loves his work (he focuses in archaeology) and wants to spread that. He's an incredibly fair grader and is willing to recognize tests and due dates that are unfair.

Jan 2009

a very engaging professor. he combines archaeology with a lot of philosophical questioning to make for a fascinating class. the papers and exams were well-designed to encourage that fascination. it's possible to not do the readings because he covers them well in lecture, but you'll want to anyways. this class made me decide to major in archaeology.

Dec 2007

Sev's basically a rockstar professor. So organized in lecture, accessible outside of class, totally into his material/loves teaching it, very fair in terms of grading, and just overall rad. He presents sometimes boring material in the best way he can, really wanting you to learn. He calls archaeological sites sexy, and just gets generally excited about the material. The paper topics were cool, and the midterm/final reasonable. Reading was what you'd expect for an anthro course, but he picks really interesting articles/texts that you don't mind reading. I oftentimes treated the readings for this class as reprieve from my other classes. I'm hoping to take more classes with him.

Apr 2007

Sev is great. He asks you to call him that by the way. He's very friendly and open with students and always willing to help out after class or meet with you elsewhere. As far as the lecturing goes, it gets a little boring at times, but most of the matieral is very facinating, you just have to get beyond his quiet voice and dry humor. As far as grading goes, he's easy on the papers and hard on the exams. The exams are extremely hard and encompass every single thing you learn in class, so when studying, dont leave anything out. Other than the hard grading, he's a wonderful teacher and great friend, actually!

Jan 2007

Sev is a great teacher, an amazing lecturer and the nicest person I have ever met. His lectures are very well-structured and his presentations are so interesting that the attendance was almost 100% on every lecture (something that is extremely rare for a class of over 100 people). We covered a lot of material and millions of years of human history so expect lots of reading. BUT every single assigned reading is so interesting that it was hard to put the book down. Grading is fair, exams and papers are enjoyable and fun. Overall the best course I have ever taken at Columbia!!! If I wasn't a graduating senior I would have definitely become an anthro major after this class!! He is THAT GOOD!!!!

Dec 2006

This man is amazing- great professor, always accessible in and out of class, funny, organized, and a clear lecturer. This class covers A LOT of material (around 8 million years worth), and some of it can be a little dry. Although I have little interest in prehistoric humans and communities, I enjoyed this class because Sev's passion for the subject overflowed into every single lecture. He showed us clips of "2001: A Space Odyssey," organized a flint-knapping day AND a field trip to Baker's Field for an atlal throwing contest. Needless to say, he is enthusiastic and dedicated to his students. Always open to questions in class (which is rare in classes of 100+), very organized lectures, but since there is so much material sometimes it moves very fast. Take this class not for the subject but for the privilege of experiencing Sev.

Oct 2006

Sev is absolutely amazing! He made this lecture class come alive with material that could have been brutally boring with the wrong professor. I knew nothing about archaeology before this course and had no problem with the material. Sev is incredibly approachable and always answers e-mails within an hour or two of sending them. This class is also extremely interesting, and definitely not slide/memorization based. There is a lot of reading, but it's pretty cool and very thought-provoking. Highly recommended! Sev is an excellent professor with a huge enthusiasm for archaeology.

Sep 2006

Severin Fowles (a.k.a. Sev) is awesome. He is a very organized professor and incorporates loads of interesting facts and images to enhance the world of anthropology. Though his classes are sometimes extremely large, he always takes the time to answer questions and concerns especially during office hours. The workload is what one would expect from an anthropology course...lots of reading. He's very fair in what he assigns and spreads the work out over multiple sessions.

Mar 2006

Severin Fowles, nicknamed Sev, is an AWESOME visiting professor. Please take advantage of his classes while you can!! He is very passionate about his work and really tries to convey what he loves about it to the class. He wants you to like his subject too! He is perfectly fair in everyway, grading wise and workload. For my course, he had a very organized powerpoint presentation every class. He makes the dullest topics interesting! He also encourages people to visit him during office hours for help or just to have a debate on some theory. highly recommended!

May 2005

Prof Gifford is a passionate professor who has a contagious enthusiasm for anthropology/archaeology. He teaches a good class, but is very spacey and tends to go off on tangents, which is often frustrating. The reading for both classes was VERY light, and most of it was not necessary- all the exams basically ask you to regurgitate everything he said in class. That said, if you go to class, you will do fine. He is a fair grader and offers assignments (like optional papers or projects) that will boost your grade. The TAs for this class were useless- don't bother going to section. Overall, these classes were enjoyable and relatively easy.

Jan 2005

he's amazing. take everything you can with him.

Jan 2005

I agree with the reviewer who said this course and Chad weren't a good fit. The second half of the class was on the origins of human society, and the first half was mostly biological anthro and archeology. The guy is definitely interesting, as is the material, and it's always fun to watch him get excited about his own work, or make fun of famous anthro/archeologists. But we were at least a week behind schedule by midterm, which I think showed where his interest really lay. That meant that a lot of the class felt rushed. This was probably due to the fact that we ended 10 minutes early every day, and sometimes half an hour early; a phenomenon I hope was related to Gifford's newborn baby, and won't continue in future incarnations of this course. My feeling is that this class should have been great, but it had problems come from unusual directions.

Jan 2005

Gifford is a decent instructor but I feel this class is not for him, nor is this class accurately described. It is under the Anthropology department, yet the majority of the material taught in this class is archaeological. Gifford's personal interest lies within archaeology, do take note of that before choosing this class. Overall, I found the class too unmotivating to attend more than half the lectures. Gifford, as a professor was supportive, available and fair, but I feel his own lack of personal interest in some of the subject matter made this class disappointing.

Dec 2004

Professor Gifford is great. His lectures are always well-organized, informative, clear, and interesting (which is impressive, considering the great potential for boredom when memorizing the names of prehistoric species and artifacts). The workload is manageable, and exams are reasonable. The readings vary in their relevance and enjoyability, but Gifford's lectures are truly engaging. Highly recommended.

Dec 2003

Rothschild is not an entertaining lecturer and her classes are very disorganized and hard to follow. For subject material that is potentially fascinating, this class ended up being boring and annoying. On a personal level, she seems nice, but I would not recommend this prof.

Jan 2003

I completely agree with the previous review. I took his class as a freshman, and although I was a bit nervous about memorizing a billion latin names (not to mention how long they were--australopithecus afarensis was one of the short ones to give you an idea), Chad made class really interesting and he was an incredibly engaging professor. His slides and jokes about his travels around the world didn't hurt, either!

Dec 2002

Gifford is a great professor despite the sometimes boring material he has to cover. He keeps you laughing, and he's really enthusiastic, especially when you show interest. You'll learn a lot from his classes, and everything's straightforward. The reading is fair as well as the tests. I'd highly recommend taking a class from him.

Oct 2001

Okay, she's not THAT bad. Not the best ever but not the worst either. And the class is not terribly challenging so if you need to take it don't be too upset.