What Is Anthropology?

woman carrying a basketThe simplest definition of anthropology is the study of human beings at all times and places; but this definition does not do justice to the scope and scale of anthropology.

In the words of noted anthropologists Carol and Melvin Ember,

“… anthropologists seek answers to an enormous variety of questions about humans. They are interested in discovering when, where and why humans appeared on the earth, how and why they have changed since then, and how and why modern human populations vary in certain physical features. Anthropologists are also interested in how and why societies in the past and present have varied in their customary ideas and practices.”

Given the magnitude of this undertaking, anthropologists often approach the human condition from a holistic perspective, one which attempts to understand how language, culture, biology and the past are interrelated. This perspective is one of the hallmarks of anthropological inquiry. Nonetheless, anthropologists often specialize in one of the four traditional subdisciplines:

  • physical anthropology
  • cultural anthropology
  • linguistics
  • archaeology

Learn more about these fields on our subdisciplines page.

Professor Lynn teaching an undergraduate course

Programs Offered

The Department of Anthropology offers an academic major in anthropology and academic minors in anthropology and evolutionary studies applicable to the bachelor of arts degree. In pursuing its central goal of instructing students in the nature of human social, cultural, and biological diversity, the undergraduate program is organized around a four-field approach to the discipline of anthropology.

The undergraduate curriculum provides students with a solid academic foundation in archaeology, cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, and anthropological linguistics. Competency in social scientific writing is stressed in the anthropology curriculum and a number of anthropology courses earn students writing credit (“W” credit) toward the fulfillment of general core curriculum requirements.