Director of Museum Anthropology:
Brian Boyd - 956 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-4564; firstname.lastname@example.org; Office Hours are by appointment only
"Museum Anthropology" refers to the critical study of museums from an anthropological perspective, including their history and changing role in 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.
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.
Museums have increasingly become contested places in today’s global world. New approaches to practice in existing museums are 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. 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 museum professionals who have been exploring these questions in the creation of innovative public exhibits.
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 Philadelphia Zoo, and many others.
The program consists of 30 points of graduate course work, two intensive internships, and a thesis project. 18 of the 30 credits must be taken in Anthropology. The remaining 12 credits may be taken in other relevant departments, but each student works out a unique program suited to his/her interests, in consultation with their advisor(s).
Program requires 30 credits
1. Core courses
GR6352 Museum Anthropology: History and Theory. Fall term. 3 credits
GR6353 Exhibiting Cultures: Politics and Practices of Museum Exhibitions. Spring term, 3 credits
GR6192 Exhibiting Cultures: Practical Considerations. Spring term, 3 credits
GR5201 Principles of Socio-cultural Anthropology (for those without an Anthropology background). Fall term, 3 credits
GR5361 Ethical Issues in Museums. Fall term. 3 pts
2. Intensive internships
Spring and Summer terms (or by arrangement), (Total 6 credits: 6 at one museum, or two 3-credit internships at different museums or related facilities.
Among the museums at which internships may be conducted include, for example, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Museo del Barrio, the Museum for African Art, the Museum of Chinese in America, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Museum of the American Indian, New-York Historical Society, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and others.
3. Additional elective courses (from Anthropology and other departments)
More details on Internships
Each student in the program will complete two internships as part of the program, one in the spring term and one in summer (or by arrangement). Each involves 120 hours of internship at the selected museum. Students are responsible for finding their own internships although faculty can make suggestions and give guidance. During the internship the student will keep a journal of daily research and other activities, which is handed in at the end of the internship. A short paper (5-7 pages) is also required at the completion of the internship. The paper should be reflexive and critical, it should not simply repeat what is in the journal but should assess the internship experience in somewhat broader terms and make use of the literature read in courses during the year. The internship grade is given by the person who supervised the internship in consultation with Prof. Boyd.
In addition to Anthropology courses, students may, in consultation with faculty, take electives in related disciplines and departments.
The thesis can be on any topic relating to the eclectic and related worlds of Museum Anthropology and Museum Studies. It should be an original piece of writing on a topic of the student’s choice. The topic is typically chosen after consultation with the student’s advisor, mentor and/or other faculty member with whom the student has discussed the project. Fieldwork may be involved, although this is not a requirement. The thesis does not have a required length, but is generally between 40-60 pages long. Students work with their advisor to set up timetables for thesis completion and approval. It is read by two people, Prof. Boyd and a second reader chosen by the student in consultation. In the middle of the spring term, students submit a preliminary outline on their topic, with bibliographic references. After approval they will begin work on the thesis. Students work with the MA advisor to set up timetables for thesis completion and approval.
The following sample program is for a full-time student over two semesters plus summer for internship and thesis research/writing:
Fall Semester: ANTH GR6352, GR5201 (if required) plus three courses from Anthropology and other departments (total 15 credits).
Spring Semester: ANTH GR6353, ANTH GR6192, GR9110, GR9111 plus one course from Anthropology and other departments, thesis research. (total 15 credits).
Summer: Internship (already counted as credits in GR9110, GR9111 as above), thesis.
Degree awarded October
Degree/Certificate Application: https://registrar.columbia.edu/content/graduation-and-diplomas
Length of Program
Full time: 1 year (2 Residence Units). An optimal full-time program would include two semesters of coursework and the first internship, a summer internship and the thesis project. Part time enrollment also available.
Columbia: Prof. Brian Boyd (Museum Anthropology Program Director), Nan Rothschild (Research Professor & Advisor); AMNH: Prof. Laurel Kendall
Applications and Admissions
The Museum Anthropology M.A. program accepts only a small number of qualified students each year. We look for a diverse group; an undergraduate anthropology or archaeology major is not required, but we prefer candidates who have had some museum experience. Admission standards and selection procedures are identical to those followed by the GSAS and require a writing sample, letters of recommendation, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Applications must be submitted by the application deadline. We only admit students for the fall semester.
Fees and Financial Support