For Prospectives

"Studying social theory exposed me to how people try to understand what is happening in the world. Ethnography and participant observation gave us a method by which to dig deeply into the worlds of people from all corners of the earth."

Jim Yong Kim
President, World Bank
GSAS PhD in Anthropology, ’93

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of human diversity in the distant past and the present and teaches us to recognize the remarkable array of circumstances in which human beings live their lives and make meaning from them. 

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. We seek to understand the full context of people's actions and all that they impact. This is why we do long term field research in local languages, and excavate artifacts in their complicated contexts -- 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.

Why concentrate in Anthropology?

The study of anthropology prepares students to address global concerns through a contextualized study of society, culture and civilization, and can lead to careers in global health and medicine, law, government, museums, education, the arts, cultural and environmental management, business and entrepreneurship, among other fields, not to mention academia.

Why concentrate in Anthropology?

  • small classes with an emphasis on seminars and tutorials that optimize student access to faculty.

  • dedicated advising from individual faculty, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Undergraduate Program Coordinator.

  • structured but flexible plans of study oriented toward individual student interests, which can also fit a pre-med course of study.

  • opportunities to design and conduct original research through coursework and faculty supervised senior honors thesis research.

  • strong support for study abroad and language study.

  • training in ethnography and other qualitative social science methods and theories, their real world applications and their use in combination with film and digital media (Social Anthropology).

  • training in both quantitative and qualitative research methods and their application to the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities tailored to the interests of the student (Archaeology).

  • opportunities to work directly with Peabody Museum and staff.

How to concentrate in Anthropology

Most Anthropology concentrators choose to focus their studies in one of three programs of study: Archaeology, Social Anthropology, or a combined track that incorporates approaches from both fields. All three options offer flexible plans of study, small group tutorials, individual advising, and opportunities to engage with research in the classroom and through independent projects and senior honors theses. 

Archaeology focuses on how the material remains of human activities can be used to understand the various lifeways, structures, and conditions of past human existence, and how people today employ such past materials to create or validate cultural identities.

Social Anthropology focuses on the present and recent past to examine how language, culture, and society shape the actions and behaviors of people from around the world.

The best way to learn more about these fields and begin your journey in the concentration is by taking their designated introductory courses:

For Archaeology – ANTH 1010: The Fundamentals of Archaeological Methods & Reasoning

For Social Anthropology – ANTH 1600: Grounding the Global: Anthropological Approaches

The Anthropology advising team is available to meet with you to discuss your interests and assist with planning a course of study:
Professor Rowan Flad, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Dr. Philip Kao, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies
Monique Rivera, Undergraduate Program Coordinator

Areas of Focus


Behavioral, Subsistence, Economic and Technological Transitions

Archaeology is the primary source of information about ancient societies before the written word. Through an interdisciplinary approach, that draws on allied disciplines in the biological and physical sciences, students research biological development (the development of anatomy, complex cognitive skills, and behavioral patterns), the advent of spatial practices (the emergence of sedentary groups and beginnings of agriculture and pastoralism), economic changes (how economic bases of societies emerged and changed in relationship to environment and ecology), technological developments, and changing patterns of production, exchange, and distribution.

Sample Courses
ANTH 1040: Origins of the Food We Eat
ANTH 1060: Archaeological Science
ANTH 1095: Urban Revolutions: Archaeology and the Investigation of Early States

Environment, Landscape, and Migration

Archaeology studies the dispersal and organization of human populations in space and through time. This specialization studies the material remains of the past to understand how humans modified landscapes, how did this have an impact on sustainability, and what relationship spatial patterns and environmental changes had on social and cultural developments. The program also studies the movement of people through time. Many of the major turning points in human history coincided with large-scale human migrations or diasporas. Students can focus on movement of humans out of Africa, the prehistory of seafaring and its role in migration, or how migrations and colonizations affected human demography, ecology, economic systems, and cultural formations to ultimately give rise to the world in which we live today.

Sample Courses
ANE 113: Environmental Archaeology of the Ancient Near East
ANTH 1150: Ancient Landscapes
ANTH 1235: Origins and Dispersals of Modern Humans
SW 38: Pyramid Schemes: The Archaeological History of Ancient Egypt

Complexity, History, Ethnicity and Language

Archaeologists study the development of complex societies through the use of historical texts and material remains to analyze economic, religious, political, and environmental change, and explore which models of labor relations, cosmology, and the exploitation and dispersal of resources (e.g., reciprocity, redistribution, market capitalism, etc.) can best inform their studies of ancient society. An important area of focus is the development of complex systems of record keeping and writing, administrative systems, and bureaucracies in ancient states, as well as the the spread of literacy and language in prehistory. In addition, archaeologists study how modern societies draw upon archaeologies of ethnicity to ground and rationalize claims of national identity.

Sample Courses
ANTH 1130: Archaeology of Harvard Yard
ANTH 1175: The Archaeology of Ethnicity
ANTH 1165: Digging the Glyphs: Adventures in Decipherment
ANTH 1202: Forensic Anthropology: CSI Harvard’
SW 30: Moctezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now


Art, Religion and Ritual

Archaeology addresses the most fundamental elements of what it means to be human, in times and places before thoughts were conveyed by texts and through decipherment of art, myth, and symbolism as expressed in the history of religions, this specialization studies: How and why did humans begin to express their experiences with religious beings and communicate their beliefs about the nature of their universe and their place within it?  What roles did these experiences, ritual life, and beliefs play in our paths from small-group societies to states and nations?  How can material traces in art, architecture and artifacts be used to understand past and contemporary religious systems?

Sample Courses
ANTH 1062: Religions of Latin America: Mexico, Peru, El Caribe
ANTH 1166: Amerindian Languages and Literatures
ANTH 1158: Maya Narratives: Gods, Lords, and Courts
ANTH 1400: Quests for Wisdom: Religious, Moral and Aesthetic Experiences in the Art of Living
CB 21: Pathways through the Andes–Culture, History, and Beliefs in Andean South America
SW 40: The Incas: The Last Great Empire

Social Anthropology

Politics, Law and Rights

Politics and law have been central to the discipline of social anthropology almost since its inception. Faculty research and course offerings cover a diverse range of topics, from the transformation of the nation-state in the contemporary world order, through new social movements and forms of political mobilization and action, to changes in the nature of civil and political society, the global explosion of constitutionalism and cultures of human rights, and the judicialization of politics/politicization of the law.

Sample Courses

ANTH 1682: Gangsters and Troublesome Populations
ANTH 1683: The City Jail: Race and Incarceration in the United States
ANTH 1988: Kinship, Citizenship, and Belonging
SW 51: Politics of Nature

Recent Hoopes Prize Senior Theses

Marisa Houlahan ‘17: Living Ships: Representation, Labor, and Value in the Bangladeshi Shipbreaking Industry
Dilia Zwart ‘15: City of Symbols: Reimagining the Public Sphere Through “in between” Spaces in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Sheba Mathew ‘14: Aid and AIDS: Transnational Governmentality and New Subjectivities in Contemporary South Africa
Sharon Kim ‘12: ’A Fragile Possession’: Tuol Sleng Museum and the Construction of Social Memory in and Beyond Post-Genocide Cambodian Society

Culture, Communication, and Media

In a world ever more globally connected and ever more saturated with media images and information, we are centrally engaged with the social and material life of texts, discourses, and images, and new technologies. Anthropologists explore the ways these innovations have significant implications for the political, economic, and ethical forces that shape persons and their social environments through the study of language, art, film, television, digital media, and more broadly, the sensuous elements of human experience: sight and sound, taste and tactility, and dance and movement, among other new domains of inquiry.

Sample Courses
ANTH 1645: Exploring Culture Through Film
ANTH 1836: Sensory Ethnography
ANTH 1936: Religion and Modernity
CB 62: Language and Culture

Recent Hoopes Prize Senior Theses
Ari Korotkin ‘17: Hear What I Mean: An Ethnographic Study of Digital Electronics, The Voice, and Musical Composition
Katryna Cadle ‘14: Selling the Philippine Voice: Vocal Adaptability and the Colonial History of Service in Philippine Call Centers
Katie Louise Gallogly-Swan ‘13: 'Real’ Scottish:  Emergent Voices in a Musical Community in Glasgow
Noah S. Guiney ‘13: Sounds of the Iranian Diaspora: Fusion Music and Exclusionary Practice in Canada’s City of Diversity

Medicine, Science, and Technology

Social Anthropology at Harvard has long had a distinguished reputation in medical anthropology, with noted strength in theorizing the relations among knowledge, power, and therapeutic practice, the comparative study of infectious disease, psychiatry, fertility, and policy, and global concern with rights, ethics, and social suffering. In addition, the program has a history of collaboration with professional programs in medicine and public/global health, including the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Sample Courses
AAAS 189X: Medicine, Culture and Society
ANTH 1400: Quests for Wisdom: Religious, Moral and Aesthetic Experiences in the Art of Living
ANTH 1882: Women and the Body
SW 25: Case Studies in Global Health

Recent Hoopes Prize Senior Theses
Domniki Georgopoulou ‘15: The Harmony of Antithesis: Walking with Mathematicians in Greece and the US
Annemarie Elise Ryu ‘13: Culture in the Clinic: Hmong Americans’ Experiences Navigating Conflicting Prescriptions
Shika Card ‘12: Approaching the End of Life: The Practice of Caregiving in Aging, Illness, and Death in Beijing
Victoria Esther Koski-Karell ‘12: Coping with Kolera: Encountering the Unknown in North Haiti

Space, Materiality, and Ecology

One of the most vibrant areas of Social Anthropology research is in studies of ecology, demography, and migration, especially as regards the impact of environmental change, and the intensified global flows of people, ideas, images, commodities, and pathogens. These phenomena draw attention to the changing experience and production of space exemplified by the changing shape of natural resource economies, cities, labor flows, and diasporic relations.

Sample Courses
ANTH 1450: Water, Infrastructure, and Meaning
ANTH 1742: Housing and Heritage: Conflicts over Urban Space
ANTH 1995 Food, Culture and Society
SW 51: Politics of Nature

Recent Hoopes Prize Senior Theses
Debbie Onuoha ‘15: Murky Waters on a Gold(en) Coast: Discourses of Pollution Along the Korle Lagoon, Accra, Ghana
Rachel Taylor ‘15: Posthumanism in the Sea King’s Palace: Jellyfish Imaginations and Encounters