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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Anthropology

ANTH48215: Advanced Studies in Homo narrans: the evolutionary anthropology of fiction

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce a range of evolutionary perspectives on the universal and uniquely human behaviour of storytelling.
  • To explore theoretical concepts in depth through the analysis of a selection of narrative materials including traditional myths, folktales, urban legends, films, TV dramas, conspiracy theories, media stories and “fake news”.
  • To provide students with a set of critical tools to understand the power and pervasiveness of narrative, its role in the evolution of human cognition and culture, and the intersections between ancestral, contemporary, and imaginary worlds.


  • The module will examine the evolution of storytelling from a range of theoretical perspectives including Evolutionary Psychology, Cultural Evolution, Cultural Attraction Theory and Darwinian Literary Criticism.
  • Topics that may be covered include: the evolution of imaginative capacities; adaptive explanations for the arts; coevolution of storytelling and human sociality; cross-cultural patterns in oral literatures; narrative as a mode of cultural transmission; supernatural concepts; the spread of misinformation.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Demonstrate advanced levels of current knowledge and intensive understanding in evolutionary anthropology theories.
  • Be competent in accessing and assimilating specialised research literature of an advanced nature.
  • In depth knowledge of the evolutionary anthropology of narrative and storytelling, with emphasis on interpretation and comprehensive understanding of primary or secondary data.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Deploy analytical skills specific to evolutionary studies of narrative.
  • Analyse and interpret narrative material from an evolutionary anthropological perspective.
Key Skills:
  • Critical analysis of data and arguments
  • Self-reflection on knowledge and skills acquired and developed
  • Accessing library resources
  • Undertaking independent study and research
  • Preparation and effective communication of interpretations and arguments in written form

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures will provide students with an outline of key knowledge and debates in the topic area, discuss the literature that students should explore, and provide relevant examples and cases studies.
  • Tutorials will develop topics introduced in lectures and required reading to analyse aspects or case studies in greater depth and to prepare students for their summative assignment. Practical components will provide students with hands-on experience of the research.
  • Advanced discussion classes will allow students to develop their skills of critical thinking and evaluation, as well as how to synthesise and interrogate material at a level commensurate with postgraduate attainment.
  • Student preparation and reading time will allow engagement with specific references in advance of tutorials and general and particular reading related to the assessment, which will be a written assignment (such as an essay or report).
  • Summative assessment will consist of a 2,500 word research project in which students will apply concepts and perspectives covered in the course to selected narrative materials and/or ethnographic texts, analysing them through an evolutionary lens. The summative critical reading log is an annotated bibliography in which the evidence and arguments presented in readings selected by the student and relevant to the development of their summative assessment are evaluated and critiqued. This along with the other summative component should show evidence of a higher level of engagement expected at postgraduate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Weekly 1 hour 10
Tutorials 5 Fortnightly 1 hour 5
Advanced discussion class 1 1 hour 1
Preparation and Reading 134
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research project 2500 words 80%
Critical reading log 1000 words 20%

Formative Assessment:

500 word project proposal. Reading log sample.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University