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Dinosaurs, Sea Serpents and Abominable Snowmen: Unknown Animals in Modern History

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on November 18th, 2006

It has come to my attention that Stanford University is offering a course concerning cryptozoology.

The course is entitled Dinosaurs, Sea Serpents and Abominable Snowmen: Unknown Animals in Modern History

The course is within the Program in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

The following is taken from Stanford’s website introducing the course.

Why do we accept today that fossils are the remains of massive prehistoric animals, when the idea of extinction – much less dinosaurs – wasn’t on the radar just two centuries ago? Why did Thomas Jefferson think the Lewis and Clark expedition would find mastodons roaming the Wild West? Why does the Loch Ness Monster have a scientific name (that’s Nessiteras rhombopteryx to you!) and does this make it any more real? Can it be possible that who you are determines whether you can see a yeti? What can these animals tell historians about the people who see them? And what can historians say about the animals that scientists can’t?

— Peder Roberts

Course Description

Why does the Loch ness Monster have a scientific name despite generally being considered not to exist? How did Native Americans think about fossils, and how did this knowledge relate to European paleontology? Why do ‘living fossils’ attract so much attention? Who exactly determines the ‘right’ way to study – or even just represent – the sasquatch or the yeti?

The central goal of this course is to examine how the way people think about these and other animals is related to their historical context. Our case studies include dinosaurs, mastodons, the Gloucester Sea Serpent, the yeti, the mountain gorilla, lake monsters, and the Flores ‘hobbit people’. We will use a variety of sources including media reports, photographs, movies, personal recollections, historical analyses, scientific papers and documents, novels, and comic books.

Course Aims

Students will:

  • Consider how scientific evidence can inform historical research, and vice versa.
  • Learn how to work with a range of primary sources, not limited to written texts.
  • Explore the relationship between popular culture and scientic knowledge.
  • Analyze how and why individuals claim expertise or priviledged knowledge.
  • Examine the relationship between knowledge claims and the intellectual and cultural context within which they are made.

The course syllabus is available for download as a pdf file here on Cryptomundo.

Of particular interest to myself is week 9 of the course, starting on November 27, re-convening after the Thanksgiving break. The subject for that week is Abominable Snowmen.

The primary source for Examining the Sasquatch is John Bindernagel’s North America’s Great Ape: The Sasquatch.

Alton Higgins’ paper Evaluating Purported Sasquatch Photographic Evidence is listed as one of two secondary sources. Alton is a member of the Bigfoot research group that I am involved with, the Texas Bigfoot Research Center.

Another source for this interesting course is Cryptomundo itself. Loren’s post Indonesian Coelacanth Filmed is listed as a source for the (Re)Discovery of the Coelacanth section of the course.

Bravo Professor Peder Roberts for teaching this course!

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


13 Responses to “Dinosaurs, Sea Serpents and Abominable Snowmen: Unknown Animals in Modern History”

  1. J.Vac responds:

    That sounds like a great course. I’m surprised i didn’t hear about this more during the whole Jeff Meldrum fiasco. I wonder how the rest of the school feels about this class.

  2. fuzzy responds:

    J.Vac #1 ~ I’m astonished!

    FYI, Stanford University has a rep here on the left coast as a pretty straightforward, no nonsense (except for football) institution of Higher Academics, so this course would seem waaay out on a woo-woo limb for them.

    Could this signify a more pragmatic scientific attitude towards “fringe” subjects? What’s next – ESP?

    We applaud Stanford’s courage in featuring this subject as part of their curriculum, and encourage other progressive educational institutions to also consider evaluating “edge” topics for potential inclusions in theirs.

  3. Alton Higgins responds:

    I hope people do not inundate Stanford with emails.

    Professor Roberts told me that the class, a one-time only methods seminar (i.e., it won’t be offered again), was designed for undergraduate history majors, although it has also attracted students from other fields (such as biology). The aim of the course is to expose students to a range of historical research methods, particularly those related to source analysis. So, they are learning practical skills by means of a fascinating subject. His own interests pertain to the cultural significance of lake monsters.

  4. Bob Michaels responds:

    A follow up course could be “When a myth becomes a reality” The discovery of the undiscoverable.

  5. Mnynames responds:

    Coolest Class Ever.

  6. jjames1 responds:

    fuzzy, Duke University actually had an Institute for Parapsychology for years that was headed by J.B. Rhine. They did experiments on ESP and many other similar topics. The center still exists, but is now off-campus and it is no longer officially affiliated with the university.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    I don’t think this course should cause too big of a stir simply because it seems to be taking more of a historical and cultural significance slant. Cryptozoology just seems to be the means to an end, which is studying historical research methods, etc. Now if this course was devoting itself to the active research of cryptids proper, with scientific fieldwork and labwork being done on them (think Meldrum), then it would probably cause a fiasco. Unfortunate, but probably true.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Wish they offered something like this when I was in school.

  9. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    Although many of us won’t have the opportunity to enroll in this ‘possible controversial?’ course at Stanford, we can be thankful for sites such as Cryptomundo that educate all of us … not just with great researchers but with some educated reader input. Combined with participating in all the opportunities presented for non traditional outdoor classroom experiences, self study, internet research, etc. … and combining these experiences to base opinion not on one or two assumptions will educate us all more than a traditional classroom course. Participating in this course sure would enhance our reportage of knowledge … I would love to participate … perhaps when the administration finds out the popularity of this subject, they will offer an online course. Food for thought … Loren and Craig!!!

    Love to help with this. Would help get those research dollars rolling in.

  10. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    In my opinion, a means to an end is keeping our minds open to study everything thrown our way, the credible, the not so credible … and using this as an oppportunity to delve even deeper in our research. Without taken into account the whole picture, we will continue to wear blinders enabling us only to see a part of the picture. There is always something to learn when we keep our minds open … and yes … cryptozoology will continue to be one of the credible major players in the equation.

  11. Nerull responds:

    Almost makes me want to go back to school. Almost……

  12. eyeofnewt responds:

    How I wish such a course had been available in my college days! Much tedium would have been relieved.

  13. Bob K. responds:

    Professor Roberts is doing what Dr. Meldrums “colleagues” refuse to do-that is, take a thoughtful, investigative, SCIENTIFIC approach towards cryptozoology. Such a course of study being offered at a stellar institution such as Stanford just may begin to nudge the academic world to follow Professor Roberts’ lead.



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