two students digging at a siteOverview

The Department of Anthropology has offered an award-winning master’s degree program since the early 1950s. This is a research degree offered in all four fields of anthropology.

With strong training in research methods, application, and theory, our MA program is appropriate both for students intending to continue on to the PhD, and for those who will enter careers that require only the master’s. For this reason, we do not consider our program a “terminal master’s degree.” Roughly half of the students admitted into our PhD program each year are graduates of our own MA program.


A four-field approach is taken in the MA program, embracing archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. Each student must complete a minimum of 30 credit hours. All students are required to complete satisfactorily a core curriculum composed of one graduate course in at least three of the four fields of anthropology:

  • ANT 501 (Anthropological Linguistics)
  • ANT 625 (Survey of the History of Archaeology)
  • ANT 636 (Social Structure) or ANT 641 (Culture)
  • ANT 670 (Principles of Physical Anthropology)

Additionally, a seminar in research methodology (ANT 600) is required.

These four core courses should be taken during the student’s first year in residence. Remaining credit hours are based on coursework in the student’s area of interest, and thesis hours for students taking the thesis option (see below).

Additional Requirements

Entering students must provide evidence of having taken introductory-level courses in each of the four fields before taking the graduate courses. A student who has not had an introductory course may be required to take or audit the appropriate undergraduate course before enrolling in the graduate course.

Each student is required to demonstrate competency in either a foreign language or research skill (especially statistics).

Degree Options

All of the preceding requirements apply to the degree in general. There are then two options for completing the degree. The student must satisfy the requirements for one of the following two plans of study. Choice of the plan of study must be made by the student in consultation with the M.A. Committee and the faculty advisor.

(1) Thesis Option: Requirements for this option include: thirty (30) hours of non-thesis course work, plus a master’s thesis to be completed in conjunction with registration for six (6) hours of ANT599 Thesis Research. This option is counted as Plan 1 in the degree requirements of the Graduate School (see Graduate Catalog). A student electing this plan of study will be required to conceive and execute a research project under the direction of his or her M.A. committee. A student should present a completed draft of a research project prospectus to the committee for approval no later than April 1 of the second semester in residence. The prospectus must include a conclusion of at least 1000 words outlining how their project relates and is important with respect to the broader discipline of four-field anthropology. This conclusion should specifically draw upon (and cite) assigned readings from their year 1 courses, as well as the four-field bibliography compiled by the faculty and distributed to the students in their first semester. This conclusion (at least) will be read by the entire faculty for purposes of determining future funding. Students who cannot complete a thesis prospectus by the deadline will be switched to non-thesis and expected to complete the non-thesus Plan 2 essay requirement by April 15. The student’s advisor will convene the committee as necessary to discuss, refine, and approve this plan. (Note, faculty take the totality of the student’s work in courses and research into account in funding considerations.)

During the second year in residence, the student must enroll in at least 6 hours of ANT599, Thesis Research. The purpose of this coursework is to provide a structure for supervised contact hours with the student’s faculty advisor. Such coursework, including the decision as to the number of contact hours required, must be pre-arranged in consultation with the faculty advisor. Hours completed in ANT599 must be over and above the 30-hour minimum.

In preparing a thesis, the student should consult guidance found on the Graduate School Website.  A thesis draft that is approved by the M.A. adviser must be distributed to the student’s committee two weeks before a scheduled defense.

Students who take the thesis option must present and orally defend their thesis to their entire committee. The student and adviser will schedule the thesis defense for a time that enables all campus-based committee members to attend in person. The adviser will provide guidance on the MA progress and timeline to ensure students complete the thesis by early to mid-semester to ensure committee members are in town for defense. The defense will be open or closed to the public at the discretion of the student and adviser.

Additionally, students are expected give a presentation based on the results of their research at a departmental colloquium at the end of the semester.

M.A. students in the thesis plan of study should have the thesis prospectus approved by the thesis committee by the end of the second semester of study. If integrative conclusions of the project prospectus is not deemed satisfactory by the faculty to pass, the student will have until September 15 to rewrite, but she or he will drop in rankings for funding consideration. If by September 15 in the third semester of study the student does not have an approved thesis prospectus, the Director of Graduate Studies will inform the student and advisor that the thesis prospectus must be approved by the student’s thesis committee by October 15. If by October 15 the thesis committee has not approved the prospectus, then the student will automatically be placed in the non-thesis plan of study.

Students work with their adviser to meet deadlines. Under extraordinary circumstances, students can petition the Graduate Committee for short extensions.

With the recommendation of the chair of a student’s M.A. committee, a student may write a Journal Style Master’s Thesis. This is to be a minimum 8,000 word document designed for a specific peer reviewed journal. The student’s committee must accept beforehand the decision for the student to write a Journal Style Master’s Thesis and approve the target journal. If the journal accepts fewer words, the student still needs to write 8,000 words, which includes introductory material, references, and appendices. The student can subsequently modify the manuscript to satisfy the journal in question. The Journal Style Master’s Thesis also has to follow all of the Graduate School rules and regulations for a thesis of this type.

(2) Non-thesis Option by Examination: Requirements for this option include: thirty-six (36) hours of non-thesis course work and successful completion of an 8-10 page essay by April 1 of the second semester. The essay should address the value of four-field anthropology as learned in Year 1 courses, drawing on (and citing) readings assigned in those courses and the four-field bibliography compiled by the faculty and distributed to the students in their first semester. A more specific topic will be determined by the student in consultation with her or his adviser. Essays will be read by the entire faculty and used to assess student progress and funding eligibility. If integrative essays are not deemed satisfactory by the faculty to pass, the student will have until August 15 to rewrite, but she or he will drop in rankings for funding consideration. If the student cannot produce a satisfactory essay by August 15, she or he will be cut from the M.A. program. (Note, this essay is one of several opportunities to demonstrate progress in the program and will not be the sole criteria upon which decisions are made by faculty.)

(NOTE: Students planning to go on to a Ph.D. program are urged to take the thesis option.)

Other Information

In general, students in the M.A. program, in their first year, will register for courses at the 500 level. The exceptions to these are the core seminars for the first year (ANT600, ANT625, ANT641, ANT670). Courses at the 600 level other than these four core seminars are not appropriate for first-year M.A. students and require permission of both the student’s advisor and the instructor. In their second year, other courses at the 600 level may be appropriate for M.A. students, depending on their plan of study. The appropriate course numbers for M.A. students for individual investigations and thesis research are ANT598 and ANT599, respectively.

Regardless of which option is chosen for the completion of the M.A. degree, early in the semester in which the student expects to graduate, he or she must submit an application for the degree to the Graduate School. Deadlines for this application can be found at the Graduate School Website.

 According to The University of Alabama Graduate Catalog, “All requirements for the master’s degree must be completed during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the degree is to be awarded.  There is no provision for an extension of the time limit beyond 6 years for master’s students.”


We fund a high proportion of our first and second year MA students on graduate teaching assistantships. There also are university fellowships available to MA students. Contact Dr. Christopher Lynn (, the director of graduate studies, for further information.