Anthropology - Program of Study
Anthropology is the study of humanity in the broadest sense, involving exploration of the nature and significance of human diversity, both biological and cultural, past and present. In order to further our understanding of the full range and complexity of cultural and biological variation within our species, anthropology draws upon knowledge and methods derived from both the humanities and the natural sciences. The discipline overall is organized into four areas of inquiry: socio-cultural anthropology, the study of contemporary societies; archaeology, which reconstructs, describes, and interprets past human behavior, societies, and cultural patterns through the study of material remains; anthropological linguistics, the study of language in its social and cultural context, as a medium of communication that also serves to structure thought and the perception of reality; and biological anthropology, the study of human biological origins, evolution, and diversity in adaptation to diverse environments.
The VCU Anthropology program champions a broad, holistic, and comparative approach to the study of social life and the multivariate complexity of human nature and experience, emphasizing balance and integration among all four fields of the discipline: archaeological, biological, sociocultural, and linguistic anthropology. Faculty and student research often bridges across these subdisciplinary boundaries, and the program encourages an integrative, theoretically oriented, historical, and comparative approach to the study of cross-cultural similarities and differences among human societies, as well as evolutionarily-derived biological universals and variation characteristic of our species, across time and space.
The program is committed to the scientific understanding of our common humanity as members of the same species, as well as the informed appreciation of our global and historical diversity as differentially socialized agents of various cultures. Faculty and students pursue research both abroad and in the United States. In socio-cultural anthropology, our areas of greatest expertise lie in the study of Africa, Latin America, and indigenous peoples of both North and Central America, while our theoretical orientation to the interpretation of these culture areas is often globally comparative in scope, both with regard to research and teaching. Correspondingly, we offer courses in the cross-cultural study, for example, of religion and of health issues (e.g., more generally in Medical Anthropology, as well as specifically about HIV/AIDS). In archaeology, we have particular strengths in the prehistoric and historic-period Eastern Woodlands of the United States as well as in Africa; in these and other areas, we emphasize the integration of archaeological theory with field methods, artifact and skeletal analysis, as well as providing instruction in applied public (CRM) archaeology for our students. In biological anthropology, we emphasize the teaching of human evolution for purposes of general education, while providing more specialized instruction in, for example, the areas of human osteology, primatology, and forensic anthropology. With regard to linguistic anthropology, our main interest is in cultural translation, as well as the teaching of sociolinguistics, the ethnography of communication, and more recent developments in cross-cultural experimental research on how speakers of different languages perceive the world differently; that is, the manner and extent to which the structure of a given language (morphology, grammar, and lexicon) influences, shapes, and constrains human cognition in culturally specific ways.
The program makes a special effort to sustain and develop productive dialogue not only among the subdisciplines of anthropology, but also across disciplines and programs at VCU. When appropriate to their interests, our student majors are encouraged to take courses and work with anthropologists and other faculty in different programs and departments in the university (and, subject to evaluation, we allow credit toward fulfillment of requirements for the major). Members of the Anthropology faculty have a history of collaboration with other programs and departments at VCU and beyond, and we are currently developing new such ties, both on our own initiative and in response to invitations.
In our increasingly globalized world, in which interaction with people of diverse cultures is becoming the norm, developing a cross-cultural understanding about the complexities of human societies past and present makes anthropology an ideal education for the 21st century. Exposure to the variety and relevance of the information, methods, and perspectives available in anthropology assures that students are broadly educated, open-minded, and engaged as global citizens. Moreover, anthropology as a curriculum complements other scientific and liberal arts courses and degree programs (a second major and/or minor) by helping students develop critical thinking skills as well as an understanding of human nature from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective.
As the economy is becoming increasingly international and the workforce progressively more diverse, anthropology provides especially pertinent educational training. Anthropology majors develop knowledge of global importance, historical and contemporary cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as skills in reading, research, and writing that afford them excellent preparation for many professional careers. Some students go on to graduate school to become professional anthropologists, archaeologists, or linguists, and pursue careers in teaching, research, museum work, or cultural resource management (applied archaeology). Alternatively, anthropology is proven as a well-respected undergraduate degree for successful application to various graduate-level education and professional training programs, and so is a path toward careers in law, medicine, social services, and other professions, where alumni find their work greatly aided and enhanced by their background in anthropology. In addition, many NGOs and businesses are interested in hiring anthropology graduates today, since our current era of globalization demands an appreciation of different cultural and linguistic perspectives. Anthropology students are extremely popular as employees in marketing, advertising, and HR due to their ability to effectively interact with and understand people and social relationships of various kinds.