Physical/biological anthropology is intrinsically tied to the subject of race. The beginnings of the scientific study of human variation that grew out of the age of exploration mark the initial inquiries that in time would develop into the modern field. Since those early analyses, the scientific investigation of the nature of human biological differences has played a crucial role in the social construction of racial ideas. That role has been far from static. Physical anthropology has validated prevailing cultural concepts and at times has even been at the forefront of the growth of racial ideology, often with disastrous results. Alternatively, at other junctures, physical anthropologists have stood as the lone opposition to such constructs.

An exploration of the historical role of physical anthropology in the development of "racial ideas" is essential to understanding views on race both in the past and in the present. Furthermore, that analysis is most valuable taken from the perspective of the methodological and theoretical framework of the field itself. Finally, with the increasing role attributed to biological aspects of individuals, and the linkage of these features (morphological and particularly behavioral) with interpopulational differences, the way in which they are used and misused is one of the critical issues of the day.

There are a number of courses taught on the subject of race at this university. The perspective of fields such as history, sociology, and political science have much to offer towards understanding this issue. However, it is only appropriate that physical anthropology, the field that has played such an important role in the development of these ideas, indeed, the field whose earliest generations focused by definition on the study of human variation, take a lead role again in examining the nature of this relationship in the past and possible trajectories for the future. This course can also play an invaluable part of every individual's awareness of the role that science can play in the development of cultural perspectives and the influence that may have on his/her daily life.