Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module ANTH30E7: Homo narrans: the evolutionary anthropology of fiction

Department: Anthropology

ANTH30E7: Homo narrans: the evolutionary anthropology of fiction

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Evolution, Variation and Adaptation (ANTH2061) OR Our Place in Nature (ANTH2071)


  • 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.
  • Deploy analytical skills specific to evolutionary studies of narrative.
  • Be competent in accessing and assimilating specialised research literature of an advanced nature.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • 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.
  • 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).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Weekly 1 10
Tutorials 5 Fortnightly 1 5
Preparation and Reading 85
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research project 2500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

500 word project proposal.

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