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What are the catalysts for human beings to leave one place for another into the unknown?


This course uses a multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating the sciences (social and physical) and the humanities, to explore the history and future of human exploration and discovery. It begins with the most distant story we can tell of early Homo sapiens venturing out of Africa some 60,000 years ago and ends with our reach into space—speculating on the future of human exploration.

What are the catalysts for human beings to leave one place for another into the unknown? Often this has come as a response to climate changes, disasters, disease, and/or changes in food sources. In other cases the movement is caused by human conflict, seeking out new wealth and trade, or the development of a new technology that reduces the risks of travel.

On some occasions the impetus was simple human curiosity. In most cases these movements have had lasting effects on human politics and culture.

This course takes a global approach—in some cases literally out of this world—to study the causes and effects of these human journeys. It also looks to the future to all that has not yet been explored to answer where we might go next and what impacts this may have. Texts include scientific studies, historical narratives, and primary source document excerpts.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

Utilize physical anthropology and biology to understand evolution and mobility of early humans and their biological ancestors
Explain economic and political motivations behind human journeys of discovery

Describe cultural and political problems arising from migration and contact between civilizations

Compare travel literatures to known historical experience. Describe the impact of these narratives on popular cultures

Explain the development of colonial systems and international slavery as well as the historical, social, and economic consequences arising from these institutional designs

Compare and contrast the history of human explorations undersea and in air/space. Describe the impact of military conflict on the development of undersea and air/space technologies

Describe the circular connection between technological development and “discovery cultures”