Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module ANTH3777: Evolution of Music

Department: Anthropology

ANTH3777: Evolution of Music

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce key ideas and debates in the field of cultural evolution using music as a case study
  • To explore broader controversies in anthropology surrounding the application of evolutionary models to culture
  • To provide students the opportunity to develop greater confidence in evaluating quantitative research findings


  • The module will examine the ways in which cultural evolutionary methodologies, such as transmission chain experiments and cultural phylogenetics, may be able to shed light on the origins and diversity of music
  • We will apply concepts from cultural evolution to explore how new musical ‘ideas’ originate, how music is transmitted from one generation to the next and how music diversifies over longer timescales
  • We will discuss a diverse range of musical case studies with a focus on traditional folk music

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Demonstrate advanced levels of current knowledge and understanding of cultural evolution
  • Understand methodologies distinct to the field of cultural evolution
  • Understand the ways in which cultural evolutionary methods are being applied to music
  • Understand wider controversies in anthropology concerning the applicability of evolutionary models to culture
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Hands-on experience with methods specific to the field of cultural evolution
  • Ability to interpret and critically evaluate research findings in the field of cultural evolution
Key Skills:
  • Understanding and critical analysis of quantitative research methods
  • Critical analysis of literature, ability to form evidence-based arguments
  • Interpretation and critical evaluation of quantitative research findings
  • Ability to find, evaluate and synthesise research literature

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 case studies.
  • Seminars will build upon topics introduced in lectures and required readings to analyse concepts and methods in greater depth and to prepare students for the summative assignment.
  • Student preparation and reading time will allow engagement with specific references in advance of seminars, along with and readings related to the assessment
  • Summative assessment will consist of a 2,500-word written assignment in which students will critically evaluate the application of key cultural evolutionary concepts and methodologies to the study of music.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

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

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written Assignment 2500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

500-word outline for written assignment

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