- promoting the study of biosocial sciences -

The Geoffrey Harrison Prize Lecture


Professor Geoffrey A. Harrison (1927-2017)

Geoffrey Harrison is one of the most important figures in 20th century Human Biology. He was a key member of the pioneering group of scientists who developed the new Human Biology from the old Physical Anthropology along with Joe Weiner, Derek Roberts, Jim Tanner, Arthur Mourant, Nigel Barnicot and Kenneth Oakley. The expertise and diversity of this group of visionary scientists allowed them to shape the development of human biology over the next 50 years as a discipline in which biology, behaviour and social context worked together to define the human species. Geoffrey Harrison was for many years Professor and Head of the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

The Prize Lecture is awarded annually in Geoffrey Harrison’s honour to persons who have made a substantial and sustained contribution to the study of the human biology of living populations and especially biosocial sciences.

The inaugural Geoffrey Harrison Lecture was held in 2017.

Past Geoffrey Harrison Lectures

Professor Melissa Parker (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), 'Ebola: A Biosocial Journey', November 2017, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Professor Nick Mascie-Taylor (University of Cambridge), 'From Genes to Latrines: A Biosocial Journey', November 2018, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Professor Thomas Leatherman (Department of Anthropology, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, USA), 'Social Change, Human Biology and Shifting
Biocultural Perspectives in the Andes'
, November 2019, Oxford Brookes University


The 2022 Geoffrey Harrison Prize Lecture

The 2022 Geoffrey Harrison Lecture 'Nutritional Anthropology' was delivered by Professor Stanley Ulijaszek from the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, on 24th February 2023.

In his contribution to the book ‘Human Biology. An Introduction to Human Evolution, Variation, Growth, and Adaptability’, Geoffrey Harrison wrote of the most fundamental aspects of human adaptability. His ‘big two’ were the need to obtain food from the biological environment (nutrition), and defence against other organisms from using us as a living source of nutrition (infectious disease). This lecture will consider both, over 30 years since those words were written, from the perspective of the then-new sub-discipline of nutritional anthropology. This considers human diet, past and present, in relation to nutritional health of societies and populations. Humans are considered as the sum of their evolutionary history and more recent epigenetic and social pasts, as well as their present-day social, cultural and biological life histories. The research agenda of this sub-discipline requires diverse methods, ranging from ethnographic, historical and archaeological, to nutritional, epidemiological and anatomical. It also requires considerable interdisciplinarity. This presentation focuses on aspects of nutritional anthropology which engage with the work of Geoffrey Harrison, namely human dietary evolution, dietary flexibility, and present-day undernutrition and infection. Obesity has emerged as a major phenomenon across the 30 years or so since I took up nutritional anthropology, and the ecology of present-day obesity is also considered, as something that is changing human relationships to disease.


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