Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

Anthropology, MA

Committee Chair

Peteet, Julie

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Tillquist, Christopher

Committee Member

Tillquist, Christopher

Committee Member

Walker, Margath

Author's Keywords

Theories on human wall-builidng; human wall-building; human mobility; Hadrian's Wall; Iron Curtain


This thesis contributes a theory on human bordering practices that encompasses diverse types of borders and border experiences. In order to flesh out the factors underlying human wall-building, it is vital to first understand the mobile nature (both as an innate characteristic and adaptive strategy) of our species. A clearer appreciation of the biology of human mobility elucidates the seemingly counterintuitive process of the establishment of cultural boundaries. Such an inquiry into the available inter-disciplinary literature on the topics of human mobility and wall-building reveals much about the manner in which humans interpret and utilize space, the variety of walls that exist, and the ways in which varying boundary types are imagined, constructed and managed as social institutions. In addition, this analysis provides insights into the frontier boundaries created peripheral to, or, on either side of, physical and ideological (or non-material) borders, as well as how such barriers, despite an intent to distinguish and separate populations, paradoxically create zones that allow for a more efficient integration and fusion of these populations. In this way, borders serve vital integrative roles in such transitional spaces. Previous analysis and discussion of such behaviors tends to focus on single variables that are at the root of the human propensity to build boundaries. A multidisciplinary review of the literature dealing with the construction of human walls over both lengthy temporal and varied typological continua creates an opportunity to concisely articulate an original, multifactorial general theory of human wall-building that is consistent across a diversity of wall-building projects. The S-ential Theory of Human Wall- Building describes the essential elements – separation, structure, social skin, symbolism and societal status quo – that, to varying degrees, drive humans to construct both physical and ideological barriers. With this theory in hand, the reader can better understand the connections between the past and present and, thus, more clearly comprehend and discuss issues pertaining to contemporary and future wall-building projects. Using the S-ential Theory as a tool to more clearly appreciate the end-result of human wall-building, this review then explores a comparative analysis of two historical walls – the Roman Empire’s 2nd century Hadrian’s Wall that traversed the entire breadth of the Britannian isthmus and the mid-20th century Iron Curtain that served as an imposing ideological barricade between Eastern and Western Europe for nearly five decades. These two walls, analyzed because of their particular locations at disparate ends of temporal and typological continua, allow for a critical inquiry into human wall-building across both an expanse of time and differing taxonomies. An analysis of these distinct wall classifications, through the lens of available interdisciplinary material on the origins of human mobility and wall-building, challenges the reader to think more critically about the nature, consistencies and dissimilarities of the component threads woven into the boundless tapestry of human bordering practices.