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Karen Rosenberg, who conducts
research on the evolution of human childbirth, has been named a fellow
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Article by Ann Manser
Photo by Evan Krape
November 28, 2016
Karen Rosenberg, professor of anthropology
at the University of Delaware, has been named a fellow of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for her
accomplishments in research and leadership.
She is among 391 AAAS members elected by their peers this year to be fellows in the world’s largest general scientific society.
In announcing the honor, the society cited her “distinguished
contributions to understanding the evolution of human childbirth,
including its biological and cultural significance, and for leadership
in professional associations and teaching.”
A biological anthropologist, Rosenberg specializes in
paleoanthropology. Her research interests are in the origin of modern
humans and the evolution of modern human childbirth and human infant
She is the co-editor of a new book, Costly and Cute: Helpless Infants and Human Evolution, published Nov. 1 by the University of New Mexico Press in association with the School for Advanced Research Press.
The book resulted from a weeklong seminar that Rosenberg and
co-editor Wenda Trevathan led at the School for Advanced Research in
Santa Fe to examine how human infants — who are born in an extremely
helpless and vulnerable state and remain dependent on their parents for a
relatively long time after birth — spend that period of helplessness
learning such important skills as language and social interaction.
“We know that newborn babies recognize their mother’s language and
quickly recognize her face,” Rosenberg said. “They’re very in tune with
the world even though they can’t do anything.”
Costly and Cute explores how human are similar to and
different from infants of other species and how the helplessness of
newborns has shaped human evolution.
“Babies need to engage with us,” Rosenberg said. “They’ve evolved to be what we find cute, and we’ve evolved to find them cute.”
Rosenberg has studied fossils and modern human skeletal material in
Europe, North America, Asia and Africa in conducting her research on the
evolution of human childbirth. She has published her work in edited
volumes as well as anthropological and clinical obstetrical journals.
She has spoken about her work, and more generally about what
anthropologists do, at schools and senior centers and at anthropological
and obstetrical conferences.
For the AAAS, Rosenberg has organized two symposia in recent years,
one on “The Scars of Human Evolution” — showing how many common medical
issues such as foot and back injuries are consequences of our
evolutionary history — and one on “The Invisible Woman in Human
Her current research continues to focus on evolution and childbirth,
and she also is studying the increasingly high numbers of women in
countries such as Brazil and Italy, for example, choosing to deliver
their babies by Caesarian section. That practice, she said, “is
dangerous for women, and there’s also some evidence that it’s not good
Rosenberg, who earned her doctoral degree at the University of Michigan, joined the UD faculty in 1987.
The nonprofit AAAS was founded in
1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of
science, serving 10 million individuals. It publishes the journal Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world.
The society is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance
science and serve society” through initiatives in such areas as science
policy, international programs, science education and public engagement.
The new class of AAAS fellows was officially announced in the “News and Notes” section of Science on Nov. 25.
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