This web site is designed to introduce you to the Anthropology Department, to let you know about the opportunities we offer and to give you some hints to help make your anthropology major or minor a valuable experience. We suggest that you browse through the information here and if you have any questions, contact another major or one of the professors. We are a friendly group and welcome questions and conversation.
What is Anthropology?
The word "anthropology" itself tells the basic story—from the Greek anthropos ("human") and loggia ("science"), it is nothing less than the study of humankind, from its beginnings millions of years ago to the present day. Of the many social sciences that study human beings, only anthropology seeks to understand the whole panorama of human behavior and experience. Anthropology deals both with the unfamiliar and the familiar: from tribal warfare, nomadism, chimpanzee "language", to tourism, the adaptations of migrants living in foreign cities, and the impact of globalization on less-developed societies. The goal is to advance our knowledge of who we are and how we came to be this way.
Anthropology begins with a simple yet enormously powerful idea: any detail of human behavior can only be understood when it is placed in a cross-cultural context, that is, when it is seen against the background provided by the full range of human behavior. This comparative perspective attempts to understand and explain the similarities and differences that exist among people in different cultures in the context of humanity as a whole. There are four fields in the discipline of anthropology: cultural anthropology studies contemporary human societies; archaeology studies societies of the past; biological anthropology is the study of human evolution and primatology; and linguistic anthropology compares the structure and practice of languages throughout the world. All four fields share a commitment to exploring the wide diversity of human life and experience.
Cultural anthropology, as the core subdiscipline of anthropology, helps us to understand the internal logic of other societies, to make sense of behavior that at first glance may seem senseless or wrong to us. It helps us avoid ethnocentrism, the tendency to judge other people's customs on the basis of our own values and cultural background. This same process also helps us see our own society through new, more analytical eyes. Although many people picture cultural anthropologists conducting research thousands of miles from home in remote parts of the world, more and more anthropologists today are also applying an anthropological perspective to the study of American culture and to global processes that affect us all.
Anthropologists share in the universal human trait of curiosity about ourselves and other people, past and present. We ask questions about a broad range of human experiences, such as: