Anthropology is the study of people, past and present, with a focus on understanding the human condition both culturally and biologically. This joint emphasis sets Anthropology apart from other disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences that also study humans. In a general sense, Anthropology is concerned with determining what humans are, how they evolved, and how they differ from one another. Even though anthropology has a wide scope and appears to encompass anything and everything pertaining to humans, the study of anthropology in North America is often characterized by four separate subdisciplines, each with a specific focus. The four subdisciplines within Anthropology are cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology.
Cultural anthropology deals primarily with cultural variation of populations in the present or recent past. Cultural anthropologists are concerned at all aspects of behavior within a society, and its subjects include social, political, economic, and ideological aspects of human cultures. Through a variety of theoretical approaches and research methods, anthropologists today study the cultures of people in any part of the world, including those of industrial and "post-industrial" societies. The Department offers students a large variety of topical and geographical courses within this subdiscipline.
Linguistic anthropology examines how human speech and written text, made possible by the evolved human capacity for language, is a fundamental mechanism through which people create culture and social life. Major areas of study within linguistic anthropology include the structure of language, the use of language in given societies and in given social contexts, and the history of languages and their historical relationships to each other. The Department offers several courses in these major areas of study for students interested in linguistic anthropology.
Archaeology is the study of earlier cultures and past human lifeways by anthropologists who specialize in the scientific recovery, analysis, and interpretation of the material remains of past societies. The science of archaeology is much more than digging up artifacts; rather, archaeology is a multidisciplinary approach to the study of human behavior as evidenced by cultural remains. The Department offers course work in archaeology concentrated in the geographic areas of Mesoamerica, South America and North America, as well as the Old World during the Paleolithic period.
Biological anthropology is the study of human biology within the framework of evolution, with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture. Biological anthropology is subdivided into areas of specialty including human biological variation and adaptation, molecular anthropology, primatology, medical primatology, growth and development, functional morphology, osteology, forensic anthropology, and paleoanthropology. The Department offers course work in many of these areas of specialty.
Anthropology’s diverse yet cohesive approach to human research results in creative synergies unique to our discipline. For example, globalization is one area that is shared by the subdisciplines in that we can focus on not only on contemporary multicultural and global exchanges, but also the deep history of such processes over the course of human evolution. This can be done through several approaches. Cultural anthropology investigates how globalization looks from different areas of the world together with tracing particular global structures of power and mobility. Linguistic anthropology explores world languages, the social and economic value of language, and connections within the global language system. Archaeology puts today’s world in context by examining material traces of human life to explore the longer scale continuities and changes in power, movement, identity, and social interaction that are useful for understanding and tracing the development of modern global practices. Biological anthropology can trace the global flow of people, genes and disease, in the past and the present. Taken together, the subdisciplines of anthropology provides students a unique set of tools for studying multiculturalism, diversity, and global exchanges, and prepares students to effectively engage in an increasing interconnected world.