The MA in Museum Anthropology, offered jointly by the Columbia Department of Anthropology and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), is a degree for those already employed in, or interested in moving into, the museum world. The program combines the strengths of a premier academic department of anthropology and an innovative museum anthropology department 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 perspectives essential to those who are using material culture to express ideas through visual display. The program prepares students to analyze and interpret ethnographic and archaeological collections; to work in registration or collections management; and to gain hands-on experience in museum exhibitions and aspects of administration and public outreach. Our graduates have been successful in becoming scientific, educational, or research curators in a wide range of museums in New York City and around the world.
In the Columbia/AMNH program, museum anthropology is the study of museum worlds from a critical anthropological perspective, focusing on their global history and changing roles in contemporary society. In the twenty-first century, museums have become increasingly contested places. In current decolonial/postcolonial discourse, there are many social, political, and economic challenges pertaining to the formation of new museums, and the reformulation of existing museums. These challenges require critical and careful consideration of many key issues in museum anthropology, such as cultural heritage, repatriation, race and gender identities, decolonization, the social significance of objects and their curation and display, and the effective communication of such debates—often through digital media—to the general public.
Students in the program have a unique opportunity to engage with these issues in a cutting edge anthropology department, and in dialogue with museum professionals who have deep experience exploring these questions in the creation of innovative public exhibits. As a part of this unique opportunity, the program requires students to devise and install a professional public museum exhibition each year.