The M.A. in Museum Anthropology, offered jointly by the Columbia Department of Anthropology and the American Museum of Natural History, is a professional degree for those already employed in or interested in moving into the museum field. This program combines the strengths of a premier academic department of anthropology and an innovative department of museum anthropology whose collections and archives span the history and geographic range of the discipline. Students learn the practical skills entailed in working in museums and develop the strong theoretical perspective essential to those who are using material culture to express ideas through visual display. The program prepares students to interpret ethnographic and archaeological collections to the general public, work in registration or collections management, and become scientific, educational or research staff for a range of museums, from small local museums with historical or scientific orientations that require generalists, to larger institutions where staff hold more specialized museums.
In the Columbia/AMNH program, "Museum Anthropology" refers to the critical study of museums from an anthropological perspective, including their history and changing role in contemporary society. Museums, while always significant, have become perhaps the major institution of national legitimization, especially for emerging or non-Western states. The project of museum anthropology also includes a perspective on the meaning of placing people or objects on display and whose authority is interposed between these objects and viewers.
Students in the MA Program explore new approaches to museum practice in existing museums, and in 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 and their histories. Students have a unique opportunity to engage with these issues in an intellectually stimulating anthropology program and in dialogue with museum professionals who have deep experience exploring these questions in the creation of innovative public exhibits. The program also requires students to devise and install a professional public museum exhibition each year.
Our graduates have obtained positions in a range of museums-- 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, the Tenement Museum in NYC, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and many others around the world.