Alan Mann’s distinguished career in anthropology germinated during his student years at the University of Pittsburgh (B.A., 1961), Columbia, and the University of California–Berkeley (M.A., Ph.D. 1968). Alan took up his post as assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1969, moving up through the ranks to associate and then full professor, and advancing to emeritus status in 2001. He also served as curator of the physical anthropology section at the Penn Museum, and was a member of the graduate group in Penn’s Department of Geology. He is a global scholar, having held visiting professorships at the University of Cape Town, the College de France, the Catholic University at Leuven, and, as a longstanding association, the University of Bordeaux. Meanwhile, his scholarship and legendary qualities as a teacher and mentor caught the attention of Princeton colleagues. Alan taught human evolution at Princeton as visiting professor of anthropology each spring for 13 years before joining the regular faculty in 2001. At Princeton, Alan is also affiliated with the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and with the Program in Neuroscience.
Alan Mann is a bioanthropologist whose interests and honors cover the fields of paleoanthropology and human evolution. He is the author of what are benchmark reference works: Some Paleodemographic Aspects of the South African Australopithecines and (with Mark L. Weiss) of multiple editions of Human Biology and Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective; also (with J. Monge, M. Kricun, J. Radovcˇ ic´), he is the author The Krapina Hominids: A Radiographic Atlas of the Skeletal Collection. In addition to these classics, he has authored scores of articles, book chapters, and monographs—even a children’s book—on issues of hominid development and ongoing processes of human adaptation. In the latter regard, his remarkable exhibit at the Penn Museum, Surviving: The Body of Evidence (co-curated with Janet Monge) demonstrated the pan-human heritage of vulnerabilities as artifacts of evolution. At the end of its run at Penn, the exhibit went on the road as a traveling exhibition. Alan has conducted extensive field research in Africa and Europe, and serves on several research foundation advisory boards.
Renowned for his teaching, Alan taught hugely popular courses on human adaptation and evolution, nutrition and foodways, and other topics at the cusp of biology and culture. For many years, he taught a summer field course on modern human origins in the Bordeaux region of France. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Bordeaux, Alan and his students excavated a Neandertal site in the region of Les Pradelles. Those summers in Bordeaux were periods of intense discovery, and the pathbreaking analysis of their finds are the subject of Alan’s current book project.
For the generations of students who accompanied Alan and his wife Gaile to Bordeaux, those summers were also seasons of unforgettable personal discovery. When the Bordeaux program closed—with the government-mandated closure of the site (to allow it to “rest” for future scholars)—the alumni/ae of the summer course made an album of photos and reminiscences for Alan. The book is an archive of respect, gratitude, and affection for a gifted and cherished teacher and mentor. Alan was departmental representative for many years, and in that context, too, was deeply appreciated by his colleagues and beloved by our majors. When he stepped down from that role, the students presented him with a scroll on Class Day, listing every student he had advised as dept rep—by then, numbering in the hundreds.
In 2013–14, Alan received high recognition for his distinguished scholarship by the French government, when he was named a Chevalier in the Ordre de palmes academiques. Since then, he has been honored with special sessions at professional conferences in his field, and these bring great joy to his grateful colleagues. Alan has contributed significantly to our scientific understanding of human evolution and the human condition. But evolution does not stop with the present, and one suspects that the greater joy for Alan himself might be the knowledge that he has helped shape the lives of his students in their own personal evolution. The testimony of one student alumnus of the Bordeaux program speaks for many more:
“His course was challenging academically, but also in a much broader sense, it challenged the way I conceptualize our world. … He always pushed us to look beyond what is apparent and to think through our prejudices. … In the end there are such important questions behind this work of studying human origins. … Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here and what are meant to do? Big questions. Deep questions. Questions that demand answers that go beyond cognitive understanding, beyond textbooks and lectures and scientific evidence, into the realm of the heart. And that, above all, is the unique quality that you brought to every lesson that you taught me. The quality of the heart.”