Anthropology (BA)

Department of Anthropology Website

Program Description

The Department of Anthropology is one of the country's leading graduate and undergraduate centers for cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and biological anthropology—the four principal subfields studied in the undergraduate curriculum. The department considers its greatest assets to be the various individual areas of faculty expertise: archaeological specialties such as medieval archaeology and European, Near Eastern, and South Asian prehistory; biological anthropology areas such as molecular primatology, primate behavioral ecology, and paleoanthropology; linguistic anthropology foci such as discourse analysis and language socialization; and sociocultural anthropology specialties such as the ethnography of North America, Africa, India, China, the Near and Middle East, Russia and the former Soviet Union, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the South Pacific. Major theoretical emphasis is on the systems of thought and symbolic representation of the self and society; the relation between female and male domains of interaction; changing patterns of social organization and hierarchy within small-scale societies, urban settings, and bureaucratic institutions; medical anthropology; evolutionary approaches to the study of primate and human origins; religion; art; science studies; race and ethnicity; and the problem of ethnographic representation in film and other media.

Departmental resources include an extensive film and video collection as well as teaching and research labs for archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and biological anthropology, which can be used for research by advanced undergraduates. A departmental colloquium series and an undergraduate student association welcome undergraduate participation. The department participates in the University's Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, the Institute for French Studies, the Center for Religion and Media, the Center for the Study of Human Origins, the Institute for Study of the Ancient World, the Program in Museum Studies, and the Center for Media, Culture, and History.

Formal and informal cooperative arrangements with museums, zoos, and other academic institutions in the greater New York area place at students' disposal a group of anthropological scholars, materials, and resources unparalleled in the country.

Fields of Inquiry

Sociocultural Anthropology

This field is the study of social organization and the systems of thought and values that both reflect and inform social practice in different cultures. Sociocultural anthropology is interdisciplinary in orientation, analyzing and synthesizing religious, artistic, economic, and political practices through the common medium of culture. Traditionally, cultural anthropology emphasized the study of small-scale societies in non-Western settings. Contemporary sociocultural anthropology maintains such interests but increasingly applies its insights and methods to urban and industrialized societies and attends more closely to the production of culture. An emphasis of the department is the ethnographic study of cultural, social, and political processes that shape our lives and those of other people, especially as we are drawn together and influence one another in increasingly transnational and global interactions.

Linguistic Anthropology

This field focuses on how language is interpreted and used in cultural contexts. Language use is socially organized, and it is a key to understanding the ways in which speakers create and change social realities. Studied within historical as well as cultural frameworks and in relation to other social institutions (e.g., politics, education, law, medicine), variation in ways of speaking language(s) adds to our understanding of how social categories such as ethnicity, race, and gender are interactionally constituted across contexts, cultures, and societies.

Archaeological Anthropology

This field uses artifacts and other material remains to understand human culture. It attempts to breathe life into a material record that at first glance appears static and fragmentary. The research interests of anthropological archaeologists range from the earliest production of durable tools 3.3 million years ago to the refuse currently being generated by modern cities. All aspects of past human existence, including art, technology, religion, gender, economic and social organization, and food-getting strategies, are addressed by researchers in anthropological archaeology.

Biological Anthropology

This field encompasses the study of human and nonhuman primate biological diversity and includes the anatomy, genetics, behavior, ecology, and evolution of humans and other primates. It is linked to the other subfields of anthropology by its commitment to the study of human biology, behavior, and evolution within the context of culture, society, and ecology. Close ties with the American Museum of Natural History and the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo facilitate the department's diverse research interests in biological anthropology.

Departmental Objectives

Anthropology courses contribute to undergraduate education in two ways. First, the scope of the discipline's interests bridges the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. Anthropology asks basic questions concerning the origins and development of humans and their cultures and divergent systems of thought, belief, and social order. By systematically analyzing various cultural traditions—contemporary as well as historically known—anthropology raises critical questions concerning the foundations of world civilizations. An understanding of the distinctive way anthropology formulates and attempts to answer its basic questions is a necessary component of a comprehensive liberal arts education.

Second, the department offers concentrated programs of study for the minor, major, or honors student. A minor usually emphasizes one of the four subdisciplines, although students are free to select courses from across the subfields. For the major, the department encourages study in all of the subdisciplines, because each supplements and complements the others in presenting humans as both biological and social beings. The honors program includes in-depth research and writing in an aspect of sociocultural, linguistic, archaeological, or biological anthropology, as well as the pursuit of additional advanced course work at the senior undergraduate and graduate level. The department also participates in the interdisciplinary minor in archaeology.

The director of undergraduate studies (DUS) works closely with anthropology majors and minors in designing programs of study that integrate their individual goals with the offerings and intellectual goals of the department and complementary disciplines. Majors should meet with the DUS at least once per semester, typically just prior to registration for the next semester, to discuss their progress through the program, decide on future course work, and discuss post-graduation plans.

The department prides itself on its graduate and undergraduate programs' integrated nature, which enables major, minor, and honors students to participate in a variety of challenging graduate courses and seminars. Additionally, an active Anthropology Undergraduate Student Association (AUSA) connects students to one another through special events and an e-mail forum.

Honors Program

A degree in anthropology is awarded with honors to selected anthropology majors who apply for admission to the program through the DUS during their junior year. Honors program candidates are expected to meet all the requirements for the program and to maintain an overall grade point average of 3.65 and an average of 3.65 in the major. Candidates for the honors program must complete a total of ten 4-credit courses (40 credits) in anthropology, including the two-semester research/thesis writing sequence, ANTH-UA 950 Honors Research I and ANTH-UA 951 Honors Research II taken in the senior year, plus at least one graduate course, typically taken in the junior or senior year. All of these courses count toward the major.

In the spring semester of the junior year, students will secure a faculty supervisor for their honors thesis. (In January of the senior year, the student will choose a second faculty reader in consultation with the thesis supervisor). In the fall semester of the senior year, all thesis writers from across departmental subdisciplines enroll in ANTH-UA 950 Honors Research I, a 2-credit seminar course in which research methods are taught and individualized to fit each student’s topic—e.g., assembling a bibliography; constructing hypotheses; using secondary, primary, and occasionally original sources to generate data; and analyzing data. In the spring semester, all thesis writers enroll in ANTH-UA 951 Honors Research II, a 2-credit seminar course in which students share their developing theses with the group. In both semesters, students should also enroll in a 2-credit independent study with their thesis adviser. Honors candidates are strongly encouraged to formally present posters/papers at the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Conference and within the department. Feedback will be offered at different stages by both faculty and student peers in the seminar. It is the responsibility of the thesis writer to consult with his or her departmental faculty mentor who is supervising the honors project and who will serve as the primary thesis reader.


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