Franz Boas founded Columbia University's Department of Anthropology on the eve of the 20th Century making it the first PhD Program in the United States. Originally founded on the concept of the “four field approach” to the study of human culture and society, the department now focuses its graduate program on Sociocultural Anthropology and Archaeology. However, the Department continues its historical emphasis on rigorous language training and analysis, extended ethnographic research, and cultivating a historically informed and evidence based form of critical thought about the world.
The Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology has had a long and distinguished history in generating the doctoral degrees of many of the most important figures in the discipline, ranging from the first Columbia generation of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict to the newest generation of field-defining sociocultural anthropologists. Noted for its encouragement of interdisciplinary pursuits, its cutting-edge theoretical training, and its emphasis on rigorous language study and fieldwork, the Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology combines the rich opportunities within the Department — dissertation writing groups, weekly Boas Seminars with invited guest speakers, and proposal writing workshops — and affiliate programs at Columbia and the abilities to take courses at other many research universities in the New York City area. Sociocultural faculty research interests span the range of the domains most critical to contemporary sociocultural anthropology, including continental philosophy, law, political anthropology, semiotics and post- semiotics, ecology and ecocriticsm, science and technology studies, native studies, aesthetics, affect theory, media (including film, photography, and sound recording), and new media. Area specializations are similarly diverse; faculty expertise is concentrated in (but not limited to) the areas of Africa, the Middle East, Asia (including insular Southeast Asia), North and South America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Each student is supported by careful consultations with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Studies Committee and — after the second year — a hand-picked Sponsor and Dissertation Committee, who work with the student to develop grant proposals, craft and complete Admission to Candidacy examinations, and write a dissertation prospectus; after the student's completion of dissertation fieldwork, this Committee is also responsible for overseeing the dissertation writing process. Sociocultural Ph.D. students from the Department have had great success in securing fieldwork grants, dissertation write-up fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships, and tenure-track teaching positions.
Close dialogue between archaeological and sociocultural scholarship is a hallmark of the Columbia program, and the PhD program in archaeological anthropology complements the socio-cultural program in its emphasis on rigorous training in theory and methods. We understand archaeology as a broad and varied discipline that stretches from the study of the deep past to the material traces of the contemporary world. Our faculty members take diverse approaches to the archaeological past and present-day material culture, but find common ground in a critical orientation toward the relationship between human worlds and material things and places. Collectively our research ranges over questions of materiality, epistemology, semiotics, landscape, religion, empire, human-animal relations, and historical process, encompassing archaeological research in many parts of the world, including Madagascar & the Indian Ocean (Crossland), the American Southwest (Fowles), New York City (Rothschild), Palestine (Boyd) and the Andes (D’Altroy).
The department also offers two Master's Programs: in Anthropology and in Museum Studies.
The Master’s Program in anthropology offers students an opportunity to develop a strong theoretical foundation in the field of anthropology, and to participate in the vibrant intellectual life of the Department of Anthropology through workshops, talks, and other programs. The MA program includes coursework and a thesis. All MA students take a two-semester theory class as well as a thesis workshop. Each MA student is assigned a faculty mentor. The program as designed includes required courses and electives, and students in the MA program take classes in the anthropology department as well as other departments throughout the university. Students in the MA program are encouraged to develop their particular interests through this combination of coursework from within the department as well as from other related disciplines. Students develop the thesis through consultation with faculty. Although fieldwork is not required, many MA students conduct fieldwork for the thesis. MA students may also study a language as part of their program and apply for funding through Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) for summer language study. MA students present thesis projects at the annual MA Thesis Presentation Day in the department. Each year, one thesis is chosen to receive the Best Thesis Award. The program is designed to be completed within one academic year for coursework plus the summer for thesis writing. Part-time enrollment is also possible.
Museums have increasingly become contested places in today’s global world. New approaches to practice in existing museums are now being explored, and there are many ramifications pertaining to the formation of new museums in post-colonial settings. The study of museums connects to issues of heritage and repatriation and adds additional depth and complexity to the significance of objects. The Columbia M.A. in Museum Anthropology is a professional degree for those already employed in or interested in moving into the museum field. This program combines the strengths of Columbia’s premier academic Department of Anthropology and the innovative Department of Museum Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History whose collections and archives span the entire history and geographic range of the discipline. Students learn the varied practical skills entailed in working in museums and develop the strong theoretical perspectives essential to those who are using material culture to express ideas through multimedia display. The program prepares students to interpret ethnographic and archaeological collections to the general public, work in registration or collections management, and to become specialized scientific, educational or research staff for a range of institutions, rom small local museums to larger international museums. Students who complete the program will have had a unique opportunity to engage these issues within the frame of an intellectually stimulating anthropology program and in dialogue with New York City museum professionals who have been exploring these questions in the creation of innovative public exhibits. Our recent graduates have obtained positions in a range of museums, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Bennington Museum, the Chester County Historical Society, the Denver Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, Exhibit A, the Philadelphia Zoo, and the 9/11 Memorial Museum.