Anthropology Curriculum

Since the field of anthropology is interdisciplinary by nature, our AOC in Anthropology begins with work in the four major subfields of the discipline: cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistics. As students proceed, their work in specialized theoretical and area courses is complemented by work in languages, other social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities; combined areas of study range from anthropology and literature to anthropology and biology.

Intermediate/advanced courses and tutorials are offered in the history of anthropological theory, method and theory in archaeology, myth and ritual, ecological anthropology, urban anthropology, historical archaeology, human origins, primate behavior, anthropology and literature, and ethnographic methods. 

Area courses focus on Old World, Middle Eastern, Mesoamerican, and Andean prehistory; and on contemporary cultures of the United States, the Middle East, and Middle America. Students wishing to focus on the prehistory and ethnography of other regions of the world may do so through tutorials approved by faculty within the discipline.

For detailed requirements, check out our General Catalog and the Anthropology Academic Learning Compact.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Anthropology:

Ancient Mesoamerican Civilization
This course offers a survey of Mesoamerican prehistory from Paleo-Indian times to the arrival of the Spanish. Special emphasis will be placed on the processes that led to the origins of food production, the development of Formative cultures, the rise and fall of Classic period states, and the emergence of Postclassic empires.

Ancient North America
This course surveys the pre-colonial history of North America, using as its primary resource the archaeological record. As a survey, the major debates and the significant sites, primarily from the Eastern part of the continent, will be presented and discussed. Topics include the peopling of the Americas, the origins of agriculture and the rise of social complexity, consideration of the diversity of regional phenomena, and the impact of European contact and conquest. Special attention will be given to the archaeology of Florida. 

Andean Prehistory
This seminar focuses on the evolution of Andean Civilization from Paleo-Indian times to the Spanish Conquest, with special emphasis on the early Moche and Tiwanaku Kingdoms, and the late Chimu and Inca Empires. 

Anthropology of Food
Cultural belief and practice relating to food and eating have long been a focus of anthropological scrutiny. This seminar will explore humanity’s relationship to food from the perspectives of political economy and ecology. We will look at classic anthropological works as well as contemporary studies of our modern food system. Topics of inquiry include food taboos and rituals, famine and malnutrition, globalization of food systems, the culture of fast food, and the agro-industrial complex, as well as the organic, fair trade, and “locavore” movements. 

Anthropology and Literature
The decades since Clifford Geertz urged anthropologists to practice "thick description" in the construction of ethnographic texts have been marked by increased concern with narrative voice. At the same time, techniques of structural and symbolic analysis used by philosophers and social scientists have profoundly influenced the field of literary criticism. Drawing from a wide range of essays, ethnographic texts and fiction, this course will explore how relationships between literature and culture are identified, or in some cases, misconstrued.

Conservation and Indigenous Knowledge
This course focuses on the emergence of community-based conservation as a popular resource management paradigm and the subsequent role that indigenous knowledge plays in informing conservation practices. Focusing on Africa, students will examine the complex nature of “community,” compare multiple forms and definitions of “traditional ecological knowledge,” and consider the complex process of knowledge production involved in creating cultural and environmental systems of understanding. Course reading will also study the relationship between “indigenous” and “scientific” knowledge and the on-going struggles for indigenous intellectual property rights. Background in Anthropology or Environmental Studies recommended. 

Contemporary Anthropology of Africa
This course is intended to provide a broad survey of anthropological research in modern Sub-Saharan Africa. Though often essentialized in western media, Africa is a large and diverse continent, encompassing a variety of cultural, political, economic, historical, and ecological circumstances. While not minimizing the challenges Africa faces, this course will move beyond the stereotypes to look through an anthropological lens at some of the complex and dynamic experiences of modern Africa. Areas of focus for the course will include the “myth” of wilderness, the negotiation of identity, the processes of urbanization, shifting gender relations, and the social components of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Cultures of the Contemporary USA
This course is designed to provide a foundation for the analysis of issues confronting students of contemporary American cultures. Anthropological theories of social organization, political economy, and the interpretation of symbols will be used to compare the goals and realities of basic institutions, with critical emphasis on the presence of structured inequality and the ongoing influence of social policy on cultural systems. Changing perceptions of childhood, family, and the relationship between the individual and the workplace will also be explored. Assigned material will include selections from the social sciences, 20th century American fiction, polemical literature, and film. Students will evaluate the role of the anthropologist in formulating and implementing approaches to contemporary issues. 

Development in an Anthropological Context
This course will examine the complex and sometimes problematic engagement between anthropology and development. It will consider the historic role of anthropology in development; the ethical issues anthropologists face when choosing whether to participate in development programs, and emerging theories of indigenous or alternative development. Attention will be given to both the role and accomplishments of anthropologists working within the development field and anthropological critiques leveled against the general practice of development, with the intention of exploring how and if the goals of development can be reconciled with an anthropological perspective. 

East African Anthropology
This course is an intensive survey of the anthropology of East Africa with a particular emphasis on Tanzania. While much of the course will reference historic and contemporary cultural anthropology, readings will also span the fields of archaeology and physical anthropology. Because our geographic focus is limited, we will be able to cover a broad range of topics, including the exploration of human origins, coastal Swahili culture, pastoralism, natural resource struggles, music and dance, missionization and religious pluralism, and democracy and governance. 

Early Cultures of the Old World
This course offers an intensive survey of Old World Prehistory, from the end of the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) to the emergence of civilization. We will focus on several topics, though specifically on the processes that led to 1) the spread of modern humans, 2) the origins of food production, and 3) the development of regional cultures. We will examine these issues through case studies and surveys in Africa, Europe, and Asia, and, in the last section of the course we will review the prehistory of the Pacific. Special emphasis will be placed on the past and present theoretical interpretations of the significance, causes, and effects of these processes.

Ecological Anthropology
This seminar examines the major trends in the development of ecological anthropology, with special emphasis on 1) the role of ecology in evolutionary theory, and 2) case studies of the interaction of people, culture and the environment. Among the topics covered will be: hunter-gatherers, pastoralism, agrarian ecology, the ecology of ritual and warfare, population ecology, ancient civilizations and the environment, ecology and culture change, environmental justice, and various current issues where culture and the environment intersect. This seminar does not offer a biological approach to the study of ecosystems, nor is it a trendy course on how to recycle beer cans; it is a comparative survey of the ways in which people interact with their physical environments. The primary focus will be on theories concerning the effects of the environment on the development and evolution of culture, and the seminar will provide a forum for the discussion of these issues.

Ethnography: Theory and Practice
This seminar combines theoretical and critical readings with practical instruction in the field research methods used by cultural anthropologists. Students will become familiar with the techniques of participant-observation through ""how to" readings and by proposing, designing and conducting field projects in the local area. Proposals for both individual and group projects will be considered. Once fieldwork is underway, class discussion will focus on the critical reading of ethnographic texts. Students will explore how the expectations, products, and ethical implications of field encounters have shifted from the late 19th century to the present. This course is a requirement for students who are concentrating in cultural anthropology; it may also be useful for others whose research plans include fieldwork. 

Heritage: History and the Past Today*
Anthropologists and others are currently wrestling with issues surrounding the concept of heritage. There are debates on the meaning of the past for the present, the implications of particular understandings of history for peoples and nations, and the role of monuments and archaeology for tourism. This course is an introduction to the concerns and issues involved in studies of heritage, tradition, historic preservation, public archaeology, and heritage tourism. The course takes an anthropological perspective on history and the past in the world today. The contested aspects of the past will be highlighted. 

History and Culture of Mesoamerica*
This is a seminar on the Post-Conquest cultures of Mesoamerica. It will cover a variety of issues, from the impact of the Spanish conquest to studies of peasant communities and contemporary urban society. Some general background information will be presented in lectures; however, the primary focus will be on class discussion of the readings and ongoing research projects. 

Historical Archaeology
Historical Archaeology focuses on material life and the diversity of socio-cultural experiences since the 16th century. The course examines how historical archaeologists have interpreted life over the half millennium in terms of global capitalism, colonization, and modernity and how archaeological insights can be used to understand our present. The distinctive analytical techniques of historical archaeology will be studied, including documentary research, artifact analysis methods, field excavation techniques, and presentations of the past. The goal for the subfield is a "history from below" for the modern period. We will evaluate that goal as well as the artifacts and theories of historical archaeology using case studies, most of which will come from North America since 1492. 

History of Anthropological Theory
This course is designed to provide an overview of Western theories about the nature of society and the significance of cultural difference. From the work of Greek social thinkers to the models proposed by contemporary anthropologists, students will explore how ideas about human nature and the relationship between the individual and society have developed within a context of larger historical, philosophical and political trends. Particular attention will be paid to the emergence and development of anthropology as a distinct academic and research discipline, from the mid-19th century to the present. This is a required course for students who are concentrating in Anthropology. 

Human Origins and Evolution*
This course offers the student an introduction to biological anthropology with a focus on the origins and bio-cultural evolution of the human species and its ancestors; in addition, it will emphasize the origins and evolution of humans’ closest relatives among the non-human primates. Special emphasis will be placed on evolutionary theory, primate evolution and behavior, human paleoanthropology, and contemporary human diversity, adaptability, and survivability. The class format will consist of lectures and class discussions of the readings and current issues in paleoanthropology. 

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology*
This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology and the anthropological perspective. A cross-cultural perspective will be used to examine such topics as language and communication, economics, religion, and social stratification. Examples will come from the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. The techniques and methodology of cultural anthropology will be introduced via ethnographies. Class discussions will revolve around the goals of anthropology, the influence of anthropological ideas on understanding human differences, and models for culture change around the world. 

Language, Culture and Society
This course provides an introduction to the anthropological study of linguistics. Students will gain familiarity with the historical, descriptive, generative and social approaches used by anthropologists to trace the significance of symbolic communication in the early development of human communities and in the contemporary world. Readings will focus on the effective use of contemporary linguistic models and data in ethnographic description, and on the role of linguistic theory in analyzing social relations within environments of increasing diversity. 

Maya Archaeology
This seminar will examine selected topics in the culture history of eastern Mesoamerica, including earliest inhabitants, origins of agriculture, Early Formative village life, the rise, development, and fall of Olmec chiefdoms, Formative Maya developments, the complexity and collapse of Classic Maya Civilization, Post-classic trajectories, and the consequences and aftermath of the Spanish conquest. 

Mesoamerican Civilization
This course offers a survey of Mesoamerican prehistory from Paleo-Indian times to the arrival of the Spanish. Special emphasis will be placed on the processes that led to the origins of food production, the development of Formative cultures, the rise and fall of Classic period states, and the emergence of Post-Classic empires. 

Method and Theory in Archaeology
This seminar surveys the field and analytical methods of archaeology, and examines the theoretical premises of the discipline. The course will focus on the structure and history of the discipline, field and laboratory methods, temporal and behavioral frameworks, and theoretical principles for archaeology as a pillar of Anthropology. 

Myth and Ritual: Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion
This course presents an overview of anthropological approaches to the study of myth, ritual and world view, with a focus on symbolic theory. Ethnographic material will be drawn from a variety of cultures, with emphasis on New Guinea and Australia. Students will be encouraged to trace theoretical ideas in philosophical and political context, from 19th century models that situated the spiritual beliefs of colonized peoples within evolutionary schema to contemporary writings about religious movements and shamanism. Links between anthropological and literary approaches to narrative texts will also be discussed. 

Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East*
This course offers a cultural anthropological perspective on the region stretching from the North African shores of the Atlantic to the Anatolian shores of the Black Sea, from the Red Sea to Central Asia. Key issues for the peoples and cultures of the region include gender, kinship, ethnic divisions and conflicts, and the social construction of history. As an anthropology course, there is a focus on comparisons among and between cultures and societies, issues of social power and social change, and cultural diversity. A central metaphor for the course will be the notion of the anthropologist as traveler; that notion will open up the accounts of travel to the region as well as the ethnographic endeavor in the Middle East. Throughout the term, the Middle East will be explored both as a locality and as a discourse. 

Race and Ethnicity in Global Perspective
The course offers anthropological perspectives on human diversity in the world today. We will consider the historical development of the race concept in North America, models for ethnic identity and ethnic interactions from around the globe, and explanations for social relations from Anthropology. Ethnographic examples will come from southern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and East Asia. Class discussions will focus on the implications of various understandings of human differences. 

Survey of Archaeology*
The course offers an introduction to the subject of archaeology. It is divided into three parts: 1) the nature and history of archaeology, 2) basic archaeological approaches, and 3) a brief survey of world prehistory. Given time limitations, the latter section will focus on selected topics of major methodological and theoretical concerns in the discipline.

The Anthropology of Performance
This course is designed to provide background in anthropological approaches to performance as developed primarily through studies in ritual and theater. Students will work from a wide-ranging bibliography that addresses interdisciplinary theoretical interests, beginning with the Harlem Renaissance-era efforts by Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham to present cultural concepts through performance. Attention will focus on framing relationships between audience and performer in cultural context. A consistent theme in this course will be the strengths and difficulties inherent in representing people, beliefs and practices outside of their historical or cultural settings and interpreting them for contemporary audiences. Challenges shared by anthropology, literature and theater will be studied through exposure to primary texts, theoretically framed discussion and observation of artists who are drawn to interpret what they have discovered. 

The Colonial Encounter
From the later Middle Ages onward, diverse, mostly traumatic, cultural encounters accompanied European expansion across the world. The course examines those interactions as well the understandings of colonized peoples generated by colonialism. Historically and geographically wide-ranging, this course explores how the asymmetric patterns of interactions then imposed are sustained in the present. The course includes theory on the development of the modern world, ethnographies on social identity under colonialism, and some of the recent debates created by Anthropology confronting its colonial legacies. 

The Universal Experience of Aging*
This course will offer a cross-disciplinary approach to the universal experience of aging. A selection of topics such as kinship, work, mental health, and perceptions of physical well-being will be explored, using materials that illustrate a range of social and cultural responses. These topics will also be examined in the larger context of concepts of selfhood and individuality, the meaning of death, and historical changes in the wider society. Drawing on the background developed from this overview, students will then engage the contemporary debates on such issues as medical ethics, institutionalization, and intergenerational conflict. 

Urban Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future
Anthropologists have developed a variety of approaches to the study of urbanism as a fundamental facet of the human experience in recent millennia. Through a survey of cases, from Sumer to Mexico City to Miami, we will explore a range of techniques and theoretical approaches and evaluate their contributions to our contemporary understanding of the nature and culture of cities. The seminar will focus on several themes, including the origin of cities, conflict in relation to class, ethnicity, and racialized constructions, urban change, and urban planning. 

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

The Hal C. Ball Anthropology Laboratory on campus houses a 2,000-volume library on Mesoamerican anthropology. It also contains a collection of anthropology texts and manuals, a series of hominid and primate skulls, a slide collection, an oral history archive, audio-visual and photographic equipment, a computer workstation for student use and a Mac video editing station.

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