Ph.D Program

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).

Archaeology at Columbia also benefits from a robust commitment to interdisciplinarity. We encourage Anthropology students to benefit from the expertise of the many archaeology faculty in other departments at Columbia (e.g. in Art History, Classics, History, East Asian Languages and Culture). The Columbia Center for Archaeology is hosted by the department of Anthropology, and creates a space for conversations between the many archaeologists found across Columbia University, and in New York more widely. It runs a regular seminar series, providing a forum for faculty and students to participate in the exchange of ideas and to discuss recent field research; it also sponsors student conferences. Archaeologists in Anthropology are also involved with other Centers and Institutions at Columbia (e.g. the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Center for Palestine Studies, the Center for Oral History, the Institute for African Studies, Ethnomusicology, and the Center for Science & Society). We work with Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which offers a range of training opportunities for students in archaeology (e.g. in soil morphology, dendrochronology, pollen analysis). Students often take courses with archaeologists at other NY institutions (e.g. NYU, CUNY), as part of the New York Consortium. The department of Anthropology also has formal ties to the American Museum of Natural History, which affords additional opportunity for training and consultation of comparative collections and archives. Finally, our doctoral students are also able to take advantage of the resources offered by the MA program in Museum Anthropology.