Ralph Holloway

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

May 2018

This man is a hidden gem at Columbia and he is perhaps one of the funniest damn people I've ever met. It's like having George Carlin for a professor. His style is very unstructured with a make-it-up-as-we-go mentality, which can be tough for folks who are used to being told how to hold a pencil every step of the way. He embodies the Socratic method: he assigns current scientific papers to read as they pop up--so just watch the email flurries--and then proceeds to guide a group conversation to slowly reach an underlying conclusion/answer to questions he asks in the beginning of class. He will hand out a syllabus that amounts to a stream of consciousness that he then says you can completely ignore. If you allow the process to work, then you will learn far more and have a deeper understanding of the broader field than most any other class can offer. Holloway loves to criticize bad science and political correctness trends in the field that have stymied progression and understanding--and he's damn good at it! He will bring skulls, cranial endocasts, and jar of jellybeans to every class. Do yourself a favor and take a class with him.

Apr 2011

I have as of yet not written a review for this class simply because I really, really don't want to hurt Professor Holloway's feelings, if he reads CULPA. However. 1. This class is TEDIOUS. Don't take it unless you're in for the long haul--it's a year long class and it's likely that when Spring registration rolls around you'll be sorely tempted to load up on fresh classes, but you can't relinquish this one until the year ends. 2. No teaching occurs in this class. Here's the entire composition of the sessions--you sit down with a long list of minute human skeletal features, a stack of books in which to look up said features, and the corresponding bones on which to see those features presented (or not, as is often the case). If you have a question that you can't answer for yourself by cross-referencing texts, or need something clarified, Dr. Holloway will answer your question (or not, as is sometimes the case). Every few weeks he'll give a short lesson on something (sexing the pelvis, sexing the skull, deformities of the skull). It's not a lecture--he'll just talk about it for a few minutes. We also discussed prevalent issues in the Science Times each week as a class while we worked. Those are my main complaints--the lack of teaching and the interminable feeling of the course as it drew into its second semester--especially since if Dr. Holloway taught more, I think the class could very easily cover the material in one semester. I'm not someone who needs or likes to be spoon-fed information, but I would have appreciated if the format of the class involved Dr. Holloway handling the bones and pointing out the features and explaining their function (the function of the bones and its articulation, as well as the functions of the features, such as muscle attachment sites, etc) instead of us getting everything from the text. Basically, if he...taught. Not some formal lecture, us things--explain things--discuss things. Unfortunately part of the problem is Dr. Holloway has expressed his desire to retire some years ago, and with good reason. He's been doing this job for a long, long time and really deserves a well-earned break. He just isn't up to as much as my other professors, and it shows. There are some good aspects of this class-- 1. If you like not being taught, great. 2. You get to handle all kinds of amazing human and other primate bones all the time 3. The class is very small and has a very relaxed feel. You work at your own pace. It can be quite a relaxing couple hours. 4. Towards the second semester people started bringing laptops--the internet reception is good and that definitely helped the work go faster in terms of time taken to look things up. I hope I've given a fair review of this class. It has good and bad points but the thing is--you could just come to the bone lab any time anyway and teach yourself. If your only desire to take this class is to mess around with bones, I'd recommend doing that instead of taking the class and having to write term papers and take exams.

Dec 2008

This class is extremely unstructured—definitely different from the physical anthro classes of Jill Shapiro. Holloway handed out a syllabus (sort of) on the first day of class, and we promptly ignored it for the rest of class. The class discussions started off with random thoughts and then consisted of our random tangents, with some allusions to the readings here and there. He e-mailed us a ridiculous number of articles, all somehow related to human variation, and we had to write precis (short summaries and reactions) for all of them. There were also three books that we had to read and summarize before the end of the semester. Deadlines were completely flexible—you were fine as long as you got everything in by the end of the semester.

Nov 2006

Very well known in the field of physical anthropology, Holloway is an expert on skulls, endocasts, and other brain info that can be taken by measuring the skull. This means that A) he knows most all there is to know about the skull and much about physical anthro in general, and B) he is respected in the field and will get to examine real cool finds, such as Homo florensiensis. In the biological basis of human variation, he teaches the seminar with a very hands off approach, and I'm sure all his classes are this way. The class consists of about 15 of us sitting around and bullshitting about variation and evolution. He doesn't actively teach or guide the conversation really. What he is good at is knowing what to read and where to go to pursue your own interests in physical anthropology. The readings that he vaguely assigns are all very interested, relevant, recent, and allow for multiple points of destination. Some of the kids in the seminar are physical anthro fans and are probably benefiting alot from being in class with Holloway, while I'm sure others just sit in class bored and will probably get fairly good grades as well. I also have to say, for someone who measures brains, he has one of the weirdest head shapes I've ever seen. It's as if he doesn't have an occipital lobe.