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Erect Men/Undulating Women

The Visual Imagery of Gender, “Race” and Progress in Reconstructive Illustrations of Human Evolution

By Melanie G. Wiber
Subjects Social Science, Gender Studies, Women’s Studies, Anthropology
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Paperback : 9780889203082, 300 pages, November 1997

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Erect Men/Undulating Women: The Visual Imagery of Gender, “Race” and Progress in Reconstructive Illustrations of Human Evolution by Melanie G. Wiber

List of Figures


ONE: Of Gender, “Race,” Progress and Evolution: Human Evolution Reconstructive Illustration

TWO: Contested Knowledge in the Human Evolution Story Field: Man the Hunter versus Woman the Gatherer

THREE: Reconstructive Human Evolution Illustrations: Utilizing Western Art Conventions in a Contested Story Field

FOUR: Gender: The Ubiquitous Story Operator

FIVE: Conflation and the Significant Other: Racism and Codes of the Primitive

SIX: Window or Mirror? Primates and Foragers: Analogies of the Pre-Cultural Life

SEVEN: Progress: Inevitable as Moral Rewards- The Ultimate Story Operator 153

EIGHT: Lucy as Barbie Doll: Eroticism in the Human Evolution Meta-Narrative

NINE: The Commodification of Human Evolution: Selling a Story Field through Illustrations

TEN: Conclusions and Future Directions for Research Figures 241 References Cited 257 Index 279


References Cited



Based on intensive study of human origin illustrations, responses from students and colleagues and research into reconstructive illustration and feminist criticism of Western art, this ground-breaking book traces the subtle ways in which paleoanthropological conventions have influenced and have shifted in the creation of these illustrations. Wiber reveals that embedded meanings in these illustrations go beyond gender to include two other ubiquitous themes—racial superiority and upward cultural progress. Underlying all these themes, she found a basic conservatism in the paleoanthropological approach to evolutionary theory.

Erect Men/Undulating Women provides a deeper understanding of popularized illustrations of human origins, but, more importantly, it encourages readers to gain a sensitivity to the ways in which Western culture constructs “scientific” findings that are compatible with its deeply held beliefs and values.


``Wiber has produced an interesting account of how visual imagery in reconstructive illustrations of human evolution has itself evolved over the years. ... Her distinction between the naked form and the nude form—the latter meant to affect the viewer through eroticism—is an excellent one. ... Wiber's book is well written and includes 16 illustrations and a more than adequte index. ''

- M.J. O'Brien, Choice, June 1998

``Provides a valuable update concerning schools of thought on evolutionary theory and the effects of these theories on society's comprehension of how humans came to be. ... Erect Men/Undulating Women is an engaging pice of valuable and transferrable research for the professional in the sociological/anthropological field and for anyone interested in the influence of illustrative media on our perception and acceptance of large scope ideas, concepts, and themes. ''

- Katie Cottreau-Robins, Atlantic Books Today, Number 20, Spring 1998

``In critiquing the whole framework in which palaeoanthropologists and scientific illustrators operate, Wiber gives us much to think about. ''

- Pamela R. Willoughby, University of Alberta, Anthropologica