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The Breakdown

Do you wonder why yams are considered currency in parts of Papua New Guinea? Or how the French language was conceived? Are you convinced you’d make an impressive, real life Indiana Jones? If the answer is a resounding “yes” than perhaps you should ponder majoring in anthropology.

Though this might sound like a bold and provocative statement, anthropology is the study of humanity. It examines human behavior within a variety of contexts and explores how people operate in different settings and societies. Typically, anthropology is divided into four sub-fields: cultural anthropology, linguistics, archeology and biological anthropology. To give you a quick breakdown, cultural anthropology is the study of human cultural diversity, linguistics is the study of communication and the development of language, archeology is the study of past societies (specifically through analyzing sites and artifacts) and biological anthropology is the forensic perspective, studying the physical origins and evolution of humans.

Some programs will require you to take several courses in each sub-field, ensuring you get a solid overview of the discipline. Other departments require their undergrads to choose a focus within a select sub-field. Additionally, many anthropology students will have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork and engage in independent research projects. Studying abroad is also quite common for anthro majors.

As an anthropology student, it will be imperative for you to suspend your own judgments, prejudices and disbeliefs. Indeed, in order for you to understand and appreciate the cultures you’re studying, you will need to be objective. Further, in addition to analytical and critical thinking skills, you must be a keen observer and extremely detail oriented. Lastly, a taste for adventure will likely serve you well.

Nuts and Bolts

Given the nature of the discipline, it should be no surprise that anthropology majors can fulfill their requirements with a wide range of courses. Possible classes might include: Evolutionary Anthropology, Ritual: Its Nature and Culture, Food, Culture and Political Economy, Ethnographic Methods and Writing, Human Origins, Archeology, American Culture, Indigenous Peoples of Latin America, Ethics in Anthropology, Sacred Places, Forensic Anthropology and Origins of Cities.

Decisions, Decisions

Anthropology majors are intrigued by other cultures and the development of different societies. Therefore, they also usually enjoy classes in sociology, archeology, philosophy, comparative literature, history, East Asian studies, psychology, theology, art history, political science, Middle Eastern studies, African-American studies, Slavic languages and literature, linguistics or classics.

What's Next

We won’t mince words; anthropology is a classic liberal arts major. In other words, it won’t prepare you for any specific profession or career path. However, take heed; the myriad soft skills you learn are applicable to many professions. Students who find they have a deep passion for anthropology often pursue a masters or PhD in the field. Of course, many recent grads leave academia and land a number of different types of jobs. Some take their interest in other cultures to the Peace Corps or work with international aid companies. Others find positions within government agencies, museums, in conservation or restoration and even in business.


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Don Munce