Chair: Charles F. McKhann
Eunice L. Blavascunas
Rachel L. George
Suzanne Morrissey  (on Sabbatical, Spring 2016)
Jason Pribilsky  (on Sabbatical, Spring 2016)

Adjunct Faculty: Gary Rollefson

Anthropology Department Website »

Known as the “holistic science of humankind,” anthropology attempts to understand sociocultural systems in the broadest of comparative perspectives. Anthropology seeks to examine the differences between the vast varieties of existing human societies and to explain their development from simplest beginnings to modern complexity. Archaeology and physical (biological) anthropology add a unique time depth to the discipline among the social sciences.

Generally, anthropology courses coded at the 200 level are ethnographic survey courses (i.e., courses about some particular culture area). Courses coded at the 300 level are theoretical-topical (i.e., aimed at particular theoretical issues). These courses are open to students of all levels.

A student who enters Whitman without prior college-level preparation in anthropology will have to complete 36 credits to fulfill the requirements for the anthropology major.

Distribution: Courses completed in anthropology apply to the social sciences and cultural pluralism (selected courses) distribution areas.

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Major-Specific Areas of Knowledge
    • Understand how anthropological theory has developed over time and how this changes perception of human social and cultural diversity.
    • Have a familiarity with all four sub-disciplines of anthropology and how each specialization contributes to an understanding of human social and cultural variability.
  • Critical Thinking
    • Critically assess issues involving human physical and cultural evolution and appreciate how these contributed to the development of contemporary diversity across the globe.
    • Analyze central aspects universal to culture such as kinship, gender, ritual and religion, exchange, and language, and how such aspects vary across time and space.
  • Research
    • Organize in-depth research on anthropological issues based on collected field data or literature searches, and creatively, expressively, clearly, and soundly write reports.
  • After College
    • Develop a strong foundation for acceptance into graduate schools to continue towards a career in the field of anthropology.
  • Citizenship
    • Bring broad perspectives to discussions outside of Whitman that deal with the state of the human condition, whether within the local community, the nation, or in global affairs.

The Anthropology major: A total of 36 credits in anthropology to include Anthropology 101, 102, 318, 490 and 492 (or 498); plus 18 additional credits. In the final year students majoring in anthropology must pass a senior assessment consisting of a written thesis and an oral defense.

The Anthropology minor: A minimum of 20 credits including: Anthropology 101, 102, 318; plus eight additional credits in anthropology.

101 Paleoanthropology: An Introduction to Archaeological and Physical Anthropology
x, 4 Rollefson

A basic introduction to the goals, concepts, and methods of archaeological and physical anthropology. Human origins, evolution, and modern variation are the focus of physical anthropology. Archaeology will be examined as a means of reconstructing extinct cultures. The broad evolution of culture from the Plio-Pleistocene to the origins of civilizations will be surveyed in archaeological perspective. Three periods per week. Open to first-year students and sophomores; juniors and seniors by consent only.

102 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
4, x George

An introduction to the cross-cultural study of social and cultural systems employing a combination of ethnographic and anthropological theoretical materials. Three periods per week. Open to first-year students and sophomores; juniors and seniors by consent only.

206 Anthropology and Europe
4, x Blavascunas

"Europe" exists as a category under constant negotiation and renegotiation.  This course asks what the region of Europe has meant to the field of anthropology and how ethnography has both sustained and contested ideas of Europe.  How is European geography lived, constructed and contested by a multitude of actors, institutions, and ideologies? The course examines recent ethnographic debates and ethnographies that question the status of Europe as a category with an essential meaning.

219 Chinese Religion
4, x McKhann

An introduction to the religions of the Han Chinese people. The emphasis is on the range of everyday religious beliefs and practices, rather than on institutionalized Buddhism and Taoism. Topics include myth, cosmology, state religion; the cults of ancestors, gods and ghosts; folk Buddhism and Taoism; and religious syncretism.

247 Special Topics in Peoples and Cultures

Any current offerings follow.

249 Prehistoric Background to Western Civilization
4; not offered 2015-16

The course examines the general patterns of human physical and cultural evolution from 1.5 million years ago until the beginnings of “civilization” in western Asia. Students are exposed to the results of archaeological surveys and excavations, gaining experience in the methods of analysis and interpretation of environmental and social parameters that influenced and witnessed increasingly complex cultural development. The emergence of religious ceremony, craft specialization, refinement of economic strategies, and the intensification of social and political complexity are considered from Anatolia in the north, Iraq in the East, and Israel, Jordan, and Sinai to the south.

257 Chinese Society and Culture
4; not offered 2015-16

An introduction to modern Chinese society and culture, rural and urban, with an emphasis on enduring cultural practices and modern transformation. Using ethnographies and films, this course looks at changing ideas about cosmos, the individual, family, gender, social relations, ethnicity, politics, and the state from late imperial times to the present.

258 Peoples of the Tibeto-Burman Highlands
x, 4 McKhann

An introduction to the society and culture of the Tibetan, Yi, Naxi, Jingpo, and other peoples living in the region of southwest China, northern Mianmar (Burma), and Tibet. Studies in history, religion, politics, and social structure point out the differences as well as the similarities among these Tibeto-Burman peoples.

259 Culture, Environment and Development in the Andes
4; not offered 2015-16

This course focuses on the intersection of two major concerns in global development—environmental sustainability and the self-determination of indigenous communities—as they play out in the Andes region of South America. Environmentally, this mountainous region is home to astounding biotic and geomorphological diversity and concentrations of major watersheds, glaciers, and complex forests. Culturally and politically, the Andes region also stands out as a locus of Latin America’s indigenous rights movement. This course asks a series of questions centered on understanding environmental issues and movements from the perspective of indigenous peoples, including: How are pressing environmental changes altering indigenous livelihoods and how are indigenous groups responding to these challenges? How do indigenous movement politics rooted in struggles for sovereignty and legal recognition intersect with global environmental concerns and social movements to address climate change, water resources, and biodiversity? How do approaches to development that take seriously nature-culture connections address issues of indigenous livelihoods and sustainability and in what ways do they fail? Readings will draw from anthropology, geography, global health, political theory, journalism, and history. This course builds on Anthropology 102, but it is not required. May be elected as Environmental Studies 259, but must be elected as Environmental Studies 259 to satisfy the interdisciplinary course requirement in environmental studies.

300 Malignant Cultures: Anthropologies of Cancer
4; not offered 2015-16

Cancer – the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body – is the cause of nearly 13 percent of all deaths annually. (Over 12 million cancers are diagnosed each year with a corresponding 8 million deaths.) Because of its often unknown direct causes, and its association with suffering and the disfigurement of the human body, cancer is frequently described as a “dreaded” disease, the name itself serving as a metaphor for unchecked disorder and chaos. This course, blending a reading seminar with community-based research, will explore a variety of sociocultural dimensions of cancer, from the epidemiology and demographics of the disease, with a particular focus on how cancer maps on to social inequalities including race and ethnicity, to its cultural history – its rich metaphors, symbols and social connotations. Readings will explore cancer in the US as well as its rising incidence in the developing world. Drawing from medical anthropology, course themes will explore both the possibilities and limitations of an ethnographic approach to mine cancer’s meanings, with special attention placed on the perspective of sufferers and the sociocultural contexts in which the disease occurs. In the community-based research portion of the class, students will carry out their own ethnographic research and/or service-learning projects among different cancer communities in the Inland Northwest. Students will have the opportunity to explore issues such as survivorship, the intersection of cancer with poverty, race, ethnicity and gender/sexuality, cultural aspects of treatment, environmental justice, support groups and advocacy, and health activism. Assessment of student performance will be determined through short essays, class participation and leadership, and completion of a community ethnography project.

306 Culture, Politics, Ecology
4, x Blavascunas

This seminar examines a range of approaches to the analysis of ecological and social processes, drawing on interpretations of different socio-ecological studies in anthropology and geography. Covers cultural ecology and political ecology.  Topics include human/environment relations through the lens of gender, race, class, livelihoods, the topic of nature and nature conservation, local knowledge, resistance and resilience, environmental discourses, social movements and the connections between production and consumption.  Students will gain an understanding of how hierarchies, privilege, status and power shape patterns of natural resource use; who and what causes environmental problems; and what the solutions might be. May be elected as Environmental Studies 306 but must be elected as Environmental Studies 306 to satisfy the interdisciplinary course requirement in environmental studies. .

312 Ethnographic Film Studies
x, 4 McKhann

An introduction to the history, theory, and practice of ethnographic film and video. The course is divided into two parts. Students view, read about, discuss, and review a series of classic and contemporary ethnographic films, while simultaneously producing their own in small groups using resources from the college’s Multimedia Development Lab. Prerequisite: Anthropology 102 or consent of instructor.

313 Communism, Socialism, and the Environment
x, 4 Blavascunas

In an age where many associate climate change and environmental destruction with capitalism, what can we learn from the history, ideology and practice of socialism and communism?  Was communism uniformly destructive to the environment, marked by catastrophes like the Chernobyl meltdown or the nightmarish geoengineering of Three Gorges Dam in China?  What are the unexpected environmental surprises or sustainable aspects of the communist experiment, inadvertent as well as purposeful? This course provides both political theory and case studies to examine what was state socialism, the Communist Party, the experience of living in a Communist country.  The course will draw on materials from environmental history, post-socialist anthropology and political ecology to explore the lived realities and utopian projects of communism and socialism.  Course draws examples from around the world, including eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Brazil and Tanzania.  May be elected as Environmental Studies 313, but must be elected as Environmental Studies 313 to satisfy the interdisciplinary course requirement in environmental studies.

317 Language and Culture
x, 4 George

Language is examined as a cultural system. The first half focuses on language structure and includes a discussion of signs, reference, meaning, and categories. The second half examines language use in socially situated contexts (pragmatics), and deals with problems of participant relations, poetic and discourse structure, and the analysis of myth and ritual as linguistic genres.

318 History and Theory in Anthropology
4, x Pribilsky

The course will trace the development conceptually and historically of explanatory theory for sociocultural phenomena from the discipline’s origins in classical thought up through the challenges of postmodernism and poststructuralism in the 1980s. “Schools” of thought such as Racism, Environmental Determinism, Marxism, Cultural Evolutionism, French Structuralism, cognitive science, cultural ecology, and symbolic and interpretative anthropology are analyzed comparatively to emphasize the contribution of each to an emergent synthetic theory of culture. Anthropology majors must take 318 prior to the start of their senior year. Anthropology 318 is a prerequisite for taking Anthropology 490. Three periods per week. Prerequisite: eight hours of anthropology or consent of instructor.

324 Myth and Religion in Traditional Societies
4; not offered 2015-16  

A comparative examination of the role of mythology, ritual, and belief in socio-cultural systems. The primary emphasis is on belief and religious systems other than the major organized religions. Three periods per week.

325 The Anthropology of New/Digital Media
4, x George

In this course, we will explore anthropological approaches to the ways in which people use new media to interact, play with language, and construct various identities in a wide range of political and cultural contexts.  We will compare popular and scholarly discussions of media to each other and to our own observations of how real people behave online and in other digitally-mediated spaces. May be taken for credit toward the Film and Media Studies major. Prerequisite: Anthropology 102 or 317.

327 Anthropology and History
4; not offered 2015-16

A seminar exploring the relations between anthropology and history, in theory and practice. Readings will include short essays and about six to eight monographs by leading social historians and historical anthropologists, in roughly equal proportion. Past authors have included Bernard Cohn, Peter Burke, Marshall Sahlins, Fernand Braudel, Greg Dening, Jonathan Spence, Sherry Ortner, and others. Open to all students, but intended especially for upper-level history and anthropology majors.

328 Medical Anthropology
4; not offered 2015-16

Medical anthropology looks at the interface between culture and health in all its forms across the spectrum of societies and cultures. A starting point for this course will be distinguishing physical “disease” from cultural understandings of “illness.” We will then explore the ways worldviews, beliefs, and practices shape both the incidence of disease and the experience of illness. Topics may include the relationship among biology, ecological processes and culture, ethnomedicine, trance and healing, political economic determinants of sickness, cultural assumptions of biomedicine, cross-cultural mental disorders, “culture bound illnesses,” gender and health, and cultural conceptions of the body. Throughout the course, special attention is paid to the possibilities of ethnographic fieldwork for the critical study of health.

337 Regional Ethnographic Fieldwork: Researching and Writing Culture
4; not offered 2015-16  

This course, run as a workshop-seminar, introduces students to the ins and outs of ethnographic research, from research design to ethics and writing. Focused around a different research topic or problem in eastern Washington chosen each year the course is taught (e.g., housing, health care for the poor and uninsured, food security), students will devise an ethnographic research project amendable to the employment of a variety of ethnographic methods. Methods may include mapping, linguistic/discourse analysis, focused observation, ethnographic interviewing, and focus groups. Technical readings on ethnographic methods, ethics, and writing will be supplemented with critical readings from anthropology and related fields germane to the particular year’s topic of study. Assignments will include short papers and a final ethnographic report. Prerequisite: Anthropology 102 or consent of instructor.

339 Ethnographic Research and Writing
x, 4 George

This course is a hands-on workshop in how to conduct ethnographic research and present findings in the genre of ethnographic writing. We will look at how cultural anthropologists and other ethnographers propose research questions and designs and execute ethnographic projects. Readings will combine straightforward discussions of the technical aspects of specific methods with reflections on the ethnographic process drawn from ethnographic writings themselves, fieldwork reflections, and fictionalized accounts of the fieldwork experience.

347 Special Topics in Anthropology

Any current offerings follow.

349 Urban Life: Readings in the Anthropology of Cities
4; not offered 2015-16

An upper-level introduction to the subfield of urban anthropology using ethnographic examples that explore the form and quality of urban life in the United States, Europe, and selected non-Western cultures. Case studies will be read to assess the varying theories and methods applied in anthropological analyses of cities, their significance in the broader field of urban studies, and the provocative themes that emerge such as social networks, violence, health and disease, and homelessness. The course examines contemporary U.S. “inner city” problems, rapidly urbanizing cities in the developing world, and trends in today’s emerging “global cities.”

358 Social Bodies, Diverse Identities: the Anthropology of Sex and Gender
x, 4 Morrissey

Sex and gender have been framing, analytical categories throughout the history of anthropology. This course explores why sex and gender are invaluable to understanding the human condition. Yet, "sex" and "gender" are not stagnant categories. Instead, they vary across time, place and researcher. Thus, while considering cross-cultural expressions of sex and gender in the ethnographic record, this course is also designed to examine theoretical developments in the field. May be taken for credit toward the Gender Studies major. Recommended Prerequisites: Anthropology 102 or Gender Studies 100.

360 The Cultural Politics of Science
4, x Pribilksy

An upper-level introduction to the widening field known as science and technology studies (STS). Interdisciplinary in scope, this course primarily draws on ethnographic attempts to understand how science and technology shape human lives and livelihoods and how society and culture, in turn, shape the development of science and technology. Throughout the course we will be particularly concerned with ways that scientific visions and projects, broad in scope, articulate, mirror, distort, and shape hierarchies based on such categories as gender, race, class, development, definitions of citizenship, understandings of nature, the production of knowledge, and global capitalism. Topics may include race-based pharmaceuticals, climate debates and “natural” disasters, genomics, politicized archaeology, science in postcolonial contexts, DNA fingerprinting, clinical trials, cyborgs, nuclear weapons production, and human/nonhuman relationships. May be elected as Environmental Studies 362, but must be elected as Environmental Studies 362 to satisfy the interdisciplinary course requirement in environmental studies. 

417 Independent Study in Anthropology
1-4, 1-4 Staff

For advanced students only. The student will undertake readings in depth in an area of theory or content of his or her own choice. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

490 Applied Theory Seminar
4, x McKhann

The goal of this course is to help students further explore the role of social theory and its relevance to the development of anthropological research. In a seminar setting, students will read and critically discuss a number of contemporary anthropological monographs possessing exemplary theoretical, methodological, and empirical sophistication. Short written assignments will supplement in-class discussion. As a secondary goal, students will craft and workshop a proposal for their own thesis research. Required of, and only open to, senior anthropology majors who have successfully completed Anthropology 318.

492 Thesis
x, 2 Staff

Senior major students record in a thesis a substantial original research project based on the previous semester plan and basic bibliography.

498 Honors Thesis
x, 2 Staff

Designed to further independent research leading to the preparation of an undergraduate honors thesis in anthropology. Required of and limited to senior honors candidates in anthropology. Prerequisite: admission to honors candidacy.