Swallow Hall, a 19th Century Gothic Building,
home of the Department of Anthropology

Lisa Sattenspiel

Lisa Sattenspiel
Department Chair
Biological Anthropology
Office Address: 
234 Swallow Hall
Office Hours: 
Mon 3:50 to 5pm and Thur 1 to 2:30pm or by appointment

My primary research focus is the ecology and transmission of infectious diseases and their effects on human populations. I am particularly interested in the geographic spread of human infectious diseases in both historical and modern populations and the ways that human social behaviors promote or limit that spread. I am also interested in the demography of living and past populations.

Present research projects focus on a) a comparison of the spread of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic and other epidemics in Labrador and Alaska, b) the spread of multiple acute pathogens (especially influenza and measles) within a context of chronic tuberculosis and malnutrition in Newfoundland and Labrador during the first half of the 20th century, c) the impact of community improvements on mortality at different ages in Columbia, Missouri during the early 20th century, and d) understanding potential factors, including infectious disease, nutrition, and environmental change, that were implicated in the pre-Columbian rise and abandonment of the Long House Valley in the Four Corners region of Arizona. I specialize in developing and analyzing results from mathematical and computer modeling of the spread of infectious diseases, with a present emphasis on the development of agent-based computer simulation models.

I expect all of my students to gain some exposure to and knowledge of computer modeling methods, although some of my students use other types of methods as their primary approach. Because of the number of my present students and my expertise and interests, I am only accepting students who are interested in the ecology and transmission of infectious diseases in living or historical human populations (not skeletal populations). In addition to my main focus on agent-based models, I have recently developed new expertise in the collection and analysis of archival data on mortality and I also welcome students with interests in the use of demographic and/or epidemiological data derived from archival sources.


To me the most important thing students should learn in college and graduate school is how to move beyond memorization of facts and equations to a new level—one where they begin to assimilate the material, combine it with other information they have learned, critically evaluate it, and mold it into ideas that they can begin to call their own. In order to do this I emphasize three activities: 1) focusing lectures and discussions not only on the nuts and bolts of the material we are discussing, but on how that material is used in the real world and on critical evaluations of that material and the inferences researchers can draw from it, 2) assigning written assessments that require students to work with the material presented rather than just memorizing information, and 3) using a variety of teaching methods and materials. Although some of my classes are traditional lecture-based classes, the majority are discussion-oriented, with class time devoted to addressing questions contributed by both me and the students that are drawn from the readings for the day. I also regularly bring current research into my classes and I have a long history of mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students in independent research projects.

I hope that upon completion of one of my courses, a research experience with me, or a bachelor’s or graduate degree, students will have developed an appreciation, if not an outright love, for the subject matter presented and will be able to critically evaluate the knowledge they run across in the literature, in other classes, and in the popular press. Furthermore, I hope that they will leave all of my courses with ideas of how insights from my courses can be applied in their own lives, regardless of whether they pursue further work within academia or follow different paths.

Anthropology 2050/2051
Introduction to Biological Anthropology
This course is a survey of biological anthropology. Primary emphasis on the biological evidence for human evolution. Major topics include human paleontology, primate behavior and human variation.

Anthropology 3560
Plagues and Peoples
Overview of the ecology of human host-pathogen interactions and the influence of human culture on the transmission and spread of infectious diseases through time and in different environments.

Anthropology 4360/7360
Medical Anthropology
Cross-cultural study of belief systems concerning health and illness, practices of diagnosis and treatment, and roles of patients and practitioners. Several "non-Western" health care systems are studied in detail.

Anthropology 4540/7540
Human Biological Variation
Human biological variation both among and within living populations. Evolutionary, genetic, ecological, demographic and especially cultural factors which contribute to biological variation.

Anthropology 4880/7880
Demographic Anthropology
The major topics considered in this course are basic demographic analysis, including life tables, models for population growth and stable population theory; fertility analysis; disease and fertility; disease in human populations; and paleodemography.

Anthropology 4990
Capstone Seminar in Anthropology
Readings, discussions, and problems in the integration of the subfields of anthropology through theory and examples.

Anthropology 8187
Seminar in Ecological Adaptation
Occasional graduate seminars on topics of interest within the study of infectious diseases or demography.