Anthropology addresses the broad questions of what it means to be human and how we arrived at our current state.
These queries have animated discussions across fields comprising the liberal arts since long before anthropology’s origins in the late 19th century. What distinguishes our field is the insistence that the people without history, to borrow Eric Wolf’s phrase, have much to tell all of us about who we are and how we got here. To be ‘without history’ is not to lack a past. It is to be excluded from western accounts of that past either because of a society’s location outside the western tradition in time and space or because the people in question lived within that tradition but had no say in writing its history. Anthropology argues that to ignore the distant and marginalized in telling the human story is to provide an inaccurate account that runs the risk of perpetuating the inequities that created those exclusions in the first place. As such, anthropology contributes to the liberal arts by bringing the vast bulk of humanity into the conversation about what it means to be human in the present and how the legacy of our collective past lives on in the current day. Our faculty employ varied pedagogical styles, dependent on individual predilections and the nature of the class being taught. These differences should not obscure our shared commitment to accomplishing those goals we see as central to anthropology’s contribution to a liberal education.
The four sub‐fields — cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology — together seek to describe and explain human culture in all its variety through time and space, as well as the interaction of ideological, behavioral and biological factors which produce variation. The result in combination is a departmental curriculum that teaches students to appreciate and learn from diversity, even as we impress upon them the commonality and unity produced by our evolutionary lineage.
To evaluate the potential and limits of anthropological approaches through hands-on experiences, especially field research.
To understand the relation between theory and practice.
To be aware of the ethical implications of anthropological research.
To develop writing skills.
To develop information literacy.
To collaborate effectively in the pursuit of insights into the human condition.
To realize the need for a holistic approach to the study of humanity that insists that the rich texture of human lives can only be understood from the combined perspectives of biology, culture, history, and linguistics.
To convey a sense, and understanding, of cultural diversity, acknowledging that there are many ways of being fully human.
To understand ourselves better by critically examining what we take for granted about ourselves and the world in which we live.
To understand our history more thoroughly by appreciating how it is enmeshed in the histories of all the world’s cultures.
To understand human biocultural evolution and diversity while challenging the common tendency to biologize all manner of differences, a tendency that results in hierarchies of race, gender, and sexuality.
To awaken students to the volatile world in which we are all enmeshed by seeing past superficial patterns to the deeper enduring structures that animate so much of our daily lives.
To encourage the cultivation of empathy not just among those who are like us but with those who initially seem so different but whose lives are as rich, complex, and human as our own.
In sum, as a result of their Anthropological education students should be able to challenge the narrow bigotries that seek to divide us into warring camps, building instead bridges of mutual understanding.
ANTH 465, "History of Anthropological Thought," is a required course for all senior majors. It is taught in the fall and seeks to provide students with the intellectual skills to understand the discipline through a systematic review of the theoretical debates that have shaped our understanding of human behavior. The course assesses student knowledge through written examinations, heavy emphasis on class discussion, and creativity in applying aspects of Anthropological theory to a topic of the student’s choosing.
The senior capstone, or comprehensive exercise, pushes students to think more holistically by having them read books on a single topic from 3 different sub‐disciplines of anthropology. For each book, we meet as a group (all of the faculty and all of the senior majors) for discussion. After the discussions, the students are asked to answer a synthetic exam question on the topic. Student performances are evaluated by the faculty at the end of the fall semester based on their ability to see connections between the sub‐disciplines and to articulate these connections in written form. Student participation and contribution to our group discussions are also considered. In both oral and written forms, we expect them to understand and apply the theoretical approaches from ANTH 465 to the issues raised in the readings. That class and the senior capstone are complementary and provide an opportunity for senior majors to think with, not just about, the concepts and findings of their shared field as they explore together open-ended questions related to the human experience.
Ultimately, we seek to have students gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human in all of its variety. Specifically, they should be able to: articulate what they know; think logically; synthesize perspectives; critically evaluate different perspectives; communicate effectively in oral and written forms; work creatively; work collaboratively; be able to analyze concepts and their relationship to data; and to critically assess taken-for-granted premises with which they are familiar.
Each year, at the close of senior capstone (end of the fall semester), we meet as a department to evaluate student performance on the senior capstone. At this meeting, we discuss how well students have met our goals, what areas we need to improve, and begin the process of making plans for next year’s senior capstone. This discussion also includes how we might need to modify our curriculum in order to address weaknesses in different areas of student performance, including potential issues with introductory and upper level courses. As this meeting occurs in the fall, we have time to make adjustments to the curriculum for the coming year. We also discuss where students’ strengths and weaknesses lie in their understanding of anthropological theory and how we might modify the theory course (ANTH 465) to address any concerns. We supplement this discussion each year by providing students and opportunity to discuss our curriculum at the fall and spring majors’ meetings. At these meetings, we provide feedback to the students on our thoughts about the shape of the curriculum and ask for their input as well. These general conversations are augmented by in-depth discussions with senior majors about the strengths and weaknesses of Anthropology curriculum. The latter interactions take the form of one-on-one meetings of faculty and students, the results then being presented to the department-as-a-whole at the end of the spring semester. We also follow up with our alumni to get their feedback on how well the Anthropological education has served them in the varied careers they are pursuing and how our offerings and approaches might be improved.
Updated fall 2019