The Catholic University of America

Overview of the Anthropology Major

We've recently revised the undergraduate Anthropology major.  Current and prospective majors can find copies of our Anthropology Major Structure and Advising Guidelines in the Anthropology Department office, 8 Marist. Its high points are...

First, the major is organized as a series of steps:

  1. Entry level courses in cultural anthropology and archaeology, followed by
  2. core courses in anthropological perspectives and research design, followed by
  3. major electives, and culminating in
  4. options for Seniors to have a seminar on a current topic or to do independent work with a faculty member either on campus or in a service organization or project off campus.

Special features:

  • Introductions to cultural anthropology and archaeology are foundational courses for the major and the normal entry points to it.
  • Biological and linguistic anthropology are 'support' courses for archaeology and cultural anthropology that a major may take at any time before the Senior year.
  • A pair of 'core' courses on anthropological perspectives and research design in the Sophomore year focus on concepts, methods, theories that anthropologists use to think about human social life and culture. They are called 'core' because the meat of the major begins here, and they are intended to prepare students for…
  • Major electives are the topical courses that reflect faculty research specialties.* We intend to concentrate these in the middle (Sophomore and Junior) years and extending into the Senior year, making that the time that majors get down to cases and explore topical areas and research subjects on which the faculty are expert.
  • Senior options broadly include, as well as a one-semester Senior Seminar on a current research topic, independent work with a faculty member that may be an on-campus project or internship off campus but under faculty supervision. Not everyone needs, or benefits from, the same capstone experiences, so we will offer a range.
  • Senior theses will be optional and may be submitted for 'Honors in Anthropology' upon faculty recommendation.

This scheme concentrates major electives after a pair of core courses on anthropological perspectives and research design, and before Senior options. For planning your schedules, there are several things to keep in mind.

  • ANTH 200 Core Perspectives (Fall semesters) and ANTH 201 Research Design & Conduct (Spring semesters) are prerequisites for taking Senior options and should be taken in the Sophomore year.
  • An optional Senior Thesis can be developed either in the new Senior Seminar on a current topic, or as an independent work project with a faculty member, or in an off-campus project or service organization also under faculty supervision.
  • Concentrators should plan their Junior year around major electives in anthropology. This means scheduling distribution requirements into other years, and it means that those anticipating a semester or whole Junior year abroad will need to work with their advisors to identify courses that serve both major electives and general distribution requirements.
  • By the Senior year, you should have finished the majority of required and elective courses for the major, leaving only the Senior options in anthropology and general distribution requirements.

Students ask what they can do for Senior projects, and the answer should come out of a mix of personal interests, courses taken, and options available. One option will be a Senior Seminar taught by a member of the faculty on some contemporary topic or perspective in anthropology. In other words, where is anthropology today on a particular subject? Seniors may also opt for independent work on a project with a faculty member who agrees to supervise it or to work, also under faculty supervision, on a project or in a service organization off campus. The normal product for any of these options is a research paper, which may be developed into a more formal thesis in the Spring semester and, on recommendation of the faculty, then be submitted for Honors in Anthropology. The goal of these options is to provide opportunities to go as far as you can or want in wrapping up your anthropology major.

What if you declare a major after the first semester of your Sophomore year? All students must complete ANTH 101-201 to qualify for the new Senior options and before taking Senior comps. Sometimes, this can mean taking 201 (Research Methods and Conduct) before 200 (Core Perspectives), and it may complicate plans for a Junior semester abroad. We will work with students to devise appropriate schedules.

What are the advantages of this scheme? It provides a clear progression from introductory courses to completing the major with independent or seminar work, including a focus on core perspectives and methods early enough to make the major electives work for anthropology majors. It places learning how anthropologists think prior to learning what they think about specific topics, on which other disciplines generate other knowledge, and that before doing it yourself. This sequence is intended to prepare majors for moving into producing, and not just consuming, anthropology by their last year as an undergraduate.

There will be additional opportunities as well. We expect to recruit several upperlevel majors each year to work as peer mentors in mid-level courses, including leading discussion sections, where you will have a chance to think productively about anthropology in the context of introducing it to the next cohort of students. We will also look into more serious internship opportunities in service and other organizations for that real-world hands-on experience. And we will work with those who want a semester or year abroad.

The first step will be to assign you to individual faculty advisors who will help you to identify your interests in a way that gets you through the system - not just ours, but also the University's system of distribution requirements, and so on to your next stage, whether that is graduate or professional school, a job or public sector employment. Dr. Cook will be talking with each of you individually about your options and preferences, and we will do our best to match you with the right faculty advisor.

Admission to the major requires an overall GPA of 2.0; continuation in the major requires a GPA of 3.0 in Anthropology courses.

For students in the Honors Program, courses in the HSSS sequence may be accepted as major electives, and the Department accepts some Politics, Media Studies, and Sociology courses as major electives.


* On-going faculty research specialties are in applied and medical anthropology, immigrants and refugees, globalization, the information society, ancient art & architecture, landscapes and settlements, ancient South America, contemporary Latin America, the Middle East, and the contemporary USA.