Anthropology

By the most common definition, anthropology is the study of human diversity in the distant past and the present and, as such, teaches us to recognize the remarkable array of circumstances in which human beings live their lives and make meaning from them. 

Our faculty consists of scholars whose work covers every time period from the pre-historical to the present, and every major world area. Department Website

These qualities can be found in the diverse range of topics and places that some our recent students have investigated:

  • Native Hawaiian identity in Hula performance
  • Advertising and the imagining of college student identity
  • The role of finger rings in medieval England
  • The impact of water shutoffs in Detroit
  • Sexual reproductive rights
  • Hawaiian activism and the thirty-meter telescope
  • The value of life in Tort Law
  • Scientific practice in the Harvard Stem Cell Institute

But anthropology is more than just a catalog of diversity. There is an oft-cited phrase that anthropology “makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar.” What does this mean? At the very least, it means stepping back and seeing ourselves the way others might see us – a shift in perspective that is foundational to human empathy and humility. Anthropology also invites deeper analysis of behaviors that we might think we fully understand but that have histories and complexities that only reveal themselves to careful investigation. This is why we do long term field research in local languages to understand social life in all its richness and depth. And finally, making the familiar strange demands an ethical and political accounting. It means not accepting the world as given. This might well be the heart of the discipline, its moral optimism: the conviction that things can be different and better -- and that knowledge about the world should be oriented towards greater empathy, solidarity, and equality.

Most students choose to focus their studies in one of three programs of study: Social Anthropology, Archaeology or a combined track that focuses on both approaches. All three options offer flexible plans of study, small tutorials, individual advising, and opportunities to engage with research in the classroom and through independent projects, sometimes leading to a senior honors thesis. We welcome students interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the social sciences and humanities, exploring study abroad and language study, and curious about exploring other ways of being in the world.