The Anthropology Major
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Anthropology is an ideal "liberal arts" major. When well-designed by students and their advisers, it can prepare students for a wide range of professional careers, including law, medicine, foreign service, social services and business, among others.
The major provides both a general grounding in three subfields of anthropology (sociocultural anthropology, anthropological archaeology and biological anthropology) and a detailed focus on a particular area of concentration. Students may choose from a range of subjects for their concentration, from identity politics and globalization to prehistory and human evolution. Upper-level courses span a range of topical and theoretical issues related to religion, gender, economics, colonialism, democratization, prehistoric cultures, race, behavioral evolution and conservation, to name a few.
Anthropology welcomes non-majors into many of its courses. Unless prerequisites are explicitly stated, 2000- and 3000-level courses do not have formal prerequisites and can be taken by students without prior experience in anthropology.
No prerequisites are required to enter the anthropology major. Students should see the director of undergraduate studies to apply to the major and obtain an advisor. Majors prepare a short statement about their interests and goals for the major and then meet with their advisor. Majors and advisors collaboratively build a program of study that reflects the student’s individual interests and the intellectual breadth of the field. Our goal is to provide a close and supportive advising relationship and a strong and coherent structure for the student’s major.
A minimum of 37 credits are necessary to complete the major. Students in the major must take:
- One course of 3 or more credits in each of the three subfields (sociocultural, archaeological, biological) from the list below:
Sociocultural - ANTHR 1400, ANTHR 2400, ANTHR 2421, ANTHR 2468
Archaeological - ANTHR 1200, ANTHR 2015, ANTHR 2201, ANTHR 2430
Biological - ANTHR 1300, ANTHR 2310, ANTHR 2750
- ANTHR 3000 - Introduction to Anthropological Theory
- Two other courses of at least 4 credits at the 3000 level.
- Two 4000 - level courses, one of which must be a seminar course in your senior year (ANTHR 4258, ANTHR 4260, and ANTHR 4263 are not seminar courses and do not fill the requirements).
- An additional 8 credits in elective courses, which may be in cognate disciplines with the approval of your advisor.
Exceptions to these requirements may be granted if a written petition is approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. No S/U credits or First-year Writing Seminars may count toward the major. A letter grade of C- or better is required in all courses counted toward the major.
How to Apply to the Anthropology Major
No prerequisites are required to enter the anthropology major. To apply to the major, fill out the Major Application, write a Major Proposal, and take them to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) during their regularly scheduled office hours, which are posted on their office doors.
We recommend that you take courses that appeal to your interests and that cross-cult anthropological subfields (sociocultural anthropology, biological anthropology, and archaeology) and major “pathways.” Pathways through the Anthropology major represent some common interests and trajectories and provide a curricular structure that supports student career interests. They are not rigid sets of requirements but simply road maps through the department’s diverse and rich course offerings. Students may combine courses from any pathway. We encourage majors and minors to discuss these opportunities with their advisors or the DUS. As you think about courses to complete the major, you should also consider how each could further your interests and future goals.
After admittance to the major, the DUS will give you the name and contact information for your new advisor. Go to your advisor’s regularly scheduled office hours as soon as you can to discuss your course plan as well as other aspects of your study, such as study abroad, field schools, honors and/or internships. When you meet, bring a copy of your major application, your major proposal, and your transcript. Majors and advisors collaboratively build a program of study that reflects the student’s individual interests and the intellectual breadth of the field. Our goal is to provide a close and supportive advising relationship and a strong and coherent structure for the student’s major.
Honors in Anthropology are awarded for excellence in the major, which includes overall GPA and completion of an honors thesis. Undergraduate students interested in working for an Honors degree should apply to the Chair of the Honors Committee in the second semester of their junior year (requests for late admission may be considered, but in no case later than the second week of the first semester of the senior year).
It is the student’s responsibility to identify an appropriate topic for a thesis and to find a faculty member willing to sponsor and supervise the research; the advisor and at least the general subject of the thesis must be identified at the time of application for admission to the Honors program. Clearance from the University Committee on Human Subjects usually is required before research involving living people may begin; students contemplating such research should begin to work with their thesis advisor to design their investigations and obtain the clearance well in advance of the date when the involvement with research subjects is to begin.
Admission to the Honors Program requires an overall GPA of 3.3 or greater and a 3.5 GPA in the major. In addition, the student should have no outstanding Incompletes in courses that will be used towards the Major (provisional admission with Incompletes is possible at the discretion of the Chair of the Honors Committee if a student demonstrates that a good faith effort to finish them is underway). Under special circumstances, a student with an overall GPA of 3.0 may petition for admittance to the Program.
Writing an Honors thesis typically is a two-semester project involving eight credits of coursework; most students do this work during their senior year. During their first semester of Honors work, students typically register for (1) Anthropology 4983, Honors Thesis Research (3 credits) and (2) Anthropology 4991, Honors Workshop I (1 credit). During their second semester of Honors work, students typically register for (1) Anthropology 4984, Honors Thesis Write-up (2 credits) and (2) Anthropology 4992, Honors Workshop II (2 credits).
The two course/term arrangement reflects the division of supervision over the thesis between the thesis advisor and the Chair of the Honors Committee. The thesis advisor is ultimately responsible for guiding the scholarly development of the thesis; the Chair of the Honors Committee is mainly responsible for assuring timely progress toward completion of the thesis and providing a context for students in the Honors program to share ideas (both editorial and substantive) as their theses progress.
The Department of Anthropology encourages students to consider a semester of study abroad or off-campus study developed as an integral part of the student's major concentration. Anthropologically-relevant study abroad options, using existing Cornell Abroad and off-campus options, can be worked out in consultation with the major adviser, the Anthropology Study Abroad adviser and Cornell Abroad.
The Global Health Program
The Cornell University Global Health Program offers a minor in global health. This program is intended to compliment any academic major as the University and provide students with basic knowledge about global health, as well as the necessary skills and experience to build their own unique global health career. For more information, visit the Global Health website.
The NFLC is a unique partnership that aligns Cornell faculty and students with experts and community members in the Nilgiris, the “blue hills” of southern India.
- The NFLC learning community explores nutrition and health, land use and livelihoods in a region recognized for its biodiversity.
- Students develop research skills in an engaged, field-based environment.
- Projects address community-identified issues:
- Community wellness and changing approaches to healing
- Dietary diversity, eating habits and sourcing patterns in local food systems
- Contested forest lands as space for food, farming and trade
- Infant feeding practices in the context of maternal health and social networks
- Water and waste infrastructure in an urbanizing environment
Contact Professor Andrew Willford for more information about NFLC.
Study Abroad Links
Specialized individual study programs are offered in Anthropology 497, Topics in Anthropology, a course open to a limited number of juniors and seniors who have obtained consent and supervision of a faculty member. The credits hours for this course are variable. Students select a topic not covered in regularly scheduled courses in consultation with the faculty member who has agreed to supervise the course work.
For More Information
For more information on the Undergraduate Major in Anthropology, contact our Director of Undergraduate Studies: