Evolution: What Makes us Human?

TED Studies, created in collaboration with Wiley, are curated video collections — supplemented by rich educational materials — for students, educators and self-guided learners. in What Makes Us Human?, TED speakers tackle humanity’s oldest and deepest questions by playing with primates, excavating ancient remains, and DNA-mapping family trees. Explore how the next chapters of our own evolutionary story will be written thanks to new technologies that trace our origin. Relevant areas of interest, study and coursework include: Evolutionary Anthropology, Primatology, Ethology, Genomics, Population Genetics, Phylogenetics, Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, Bioinformatics and Bioethics.

Learning outcomes

TEDs' What Makes Us Human? will enable learners to:

  • Explore behaviors once thought to be 'uniquely human' that we now see in primates and other mammals
  • Understand the shared characteristics of extinct and modern hominin species
  • Explore the tools and techniques used by paleoanthropologists
  • Understand how molecular anthropologists investigate the evolution of human diversity by using genetic markers
  • Explore the roles of genetic variants and the environment in producing physical variation among humans
  • Research the debate between multiregionalism and the theory of recent African origin
  • Explore anthropological perspectives about race
  • Investigate how modern technologies may alter the course of human evolution.

Relevant Talks

Introductory essay

Begin What Makes Us Human? with a fascinating read that gives context and clarity to the material.

About the educator

TED Studies professor: James Calcagno

James Calcagno is a biological anthropologist with research and teaching interests in paleoanthropology, dental anthropology, primate behavioral ecology, and evolutionary anthropology. He is an advocate of holistic, biocultural approaches to the study of humanity.

About TED Studies

TED Studies created in partnership with
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Each TED Study offers a curated and sequenced set of TED Talks, along with specially commissioned materials for teaching and self-guided learning. Created by world class experts, they cover topics ranging from "Understanding Happiness" to "Covering World News" to "Ecofying Cities." An abbreviated version of TED Studies is offered here; the full curricula — including special modules on each talk with questions, assignments, key terms and recommended reading — are available for licensing to academic institutions, ministries of education, and media companies worldwide.

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