:: Spotlight: Dr. Claud Bramblett

Posted: June 18, 2012

Past or Present: This Anthropology Professor Still Loves Teaching

More than 50 years ago, Professor Emeritus Dr. Claud Bramblett entered The University of Texas at Austin as an anthropology major with a curiosity about human cultures and artifacts inspired by his Cherokee grandmother’s bedtime stories and his own childhood correspondence with a UT professor.

Dr. Bramblett earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from The University of Texas at Austin and his Ph.D. from The University of California at Berkeley before returning to UT Austin for a long and satisfying career in teaching and research. He recalls with amusement a meeting in Gregory Gym for freshmen when he first became a UT Austin student:

I sat down with what seemed to be a huge number of people, and they started calling out majors. The students came forward, were met by departmental representatives and taken away for advising. They called out “anthropology,” and I stood up. To my astonishment, no one else stood up.

Dr. Bramblett was a pioneer in choosing anthropology as a major back in 1958. Today there are about 400 anthropology majors at the university, and the department has over 35 faculty members teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level in a variety of programs and subdisciplines including Social Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Forms and Physical Anthropology, Dr. Bramblett’s own area of expertise.

Dr. Bramblett recalls that the department chair when he was an undergraduate was Dr. Tom Campbell, a “smiling giant of a man,” whose office in the corner of the Anthropology Museum had “glass cases containing wondrous things — a shrunken head, an Eskimo wet suit made of seal gut and skulls.” Many years later, when Dr. Bramblett joined the UT faculty, his first office was Dr. Campbell’s old office.

Primate behavior became Dr. Bramblett’s primary interest. He explains, “Nature provides us with a gigantic experiment where evolutionary events of the past have dissected primate biological systems into many forms. Our studies of them show us the dimensions of our own primate heritage. But more than that, a primatologist acquires an appreciation of the beauty, dignity and value of the life ways of humans and our nearest relatives.”

Throughout his career Professor Bramblett sought experiences around the world that would put him in direct contact with primates. He served as a manager of the Darajani Primate Research Station in Kenya, East Africa, where he where he managed the field station and participated in research projects with baboon and vervet monkeys, conducted trapping fieldwork of mona monkeys in Granada, West Indies and studied howler and spider monkeys in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

During his career at UT, Dr. Bramblett taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses, mostly in the topic areas of physical anthropology, primate behavior, and human evolution. Like so many committed teachers, Dr. Bramblett’s teaching was inspired and influenced by the great teachers he had. He recalls that his first anthropology class was “Introduction to Physical Anthropology” taught by Chad Oliver:

Chad was, without question, the most talented lecturer I have ever known. His classes had an “Oliver Effect.” The number of anthropology majors would increase when he offered his popular “Indians of the Plains” class as students declared themselves as majors in order to ensure a seat in the class. At the end of the semester, they would go back to whatever their real major might have been.” Chad taught us the amazing scope and importance of human biology with emphasis on the “human” with all its variety and complications. Physical anthropologists are trained in many subjects: archeology, genetics, anatomy, primatology, etc. I loved it all… Another influential professor during my undergraduate career was Dr. Thomas W. McKern. His specialty was forensic skeletal identification, but he had a strong interest in primatology. He made arrangements for some of his students to manage a baboon field lab and trapping operation for the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education in Kenya. I was the third of his students to go to Kenya.

Dr. Bramblett teaches ANT 301 - Physical Anthropology for University Extension (UEX), sharing his passion with UEX’s online students. He describes the course as, “a serious review of human biology from an evolutionary perspective.” He enjoys teaching students who are curious about anthropology but unable to attend courses on campus.

ANT 301 - Physical Anthropology can be used to fulfill core curriculum requirements at colleges and universities in Texas.

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