Anthropology Department Profile
Sometimes called the ‘holistic study of man,’ anthropology attempts to understand humanity in the broadest sense – from the biological evolution of the species, to the creation and maintenance of gender distinctions in language, from the rise of the earliest civilizations, to the social and political implications of globalization in the 21st century. One of the most integrative of social sciences, anthropology seeks answers to the age-old question “what does it mean to be human?” through the detailed study and comparison of all cultural traditions.
Requirements for the anthropology major and minor include a number of fundamental courses and electives from a broad range of ethnographic and topical courses. Paleoanthropology (101) provides an introduction to physical anthropology and archaeology, while Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (102) does the same for cultural anthropology and linguistics. Also required are Anthropological Theory (318) and, for majors, Senior Thesis (491/492). All the rest of our courses are electives and are divided between 200-level “peoples” courses (i.e., focusing on particular geographical regions and cultural traditions) and 300-level “topical” courses (focusing on theoretical issues, such as ethnicity, religion, modernity and development, archaeological theory, language and culture, etc.).
Working closely with an adviser of their choosing, all senior majors research and write a thesis. The senior year culminates with an oral defense of the thesis. Some seniors elect to undertake field research for their thesis project. Recent topics have included the persistence of indigenous languages on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in neighboring Pendleton, Oregon, and the comparison of ideas of creative freedom in the American jazz and Indian classical musical traditions. Opportunities also exist for learning about museum research, cataloguing, and exhibit production at the Maxey Museum. All students also enjoy 24-hour access to Penrose Library’s collection of 18,000 journals, over 200,000 government documents, and more than 400,000 catalogued volumes. In addition, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, via the Summit online catalog, will give you prompt access to more than 26 million volumes in college and university libraries in the region.
The anthropology faculty strongly encourages its majors to enrich their cross-cultural understanding by studying foreign languages at Whitman and through coursework in related disciplines – e.g., history, Asian Studies, and religion. For its experiential value, we also strongly recommend participation in one of the many study abroad programs available through the college. Depending on faculty research schedules and mutual interest, it is sometimes possible for students to join with faculty in conducting archaeological or ethnographic fieldwork during the summer months.