Known as the 'holistic science of mankind', anthropology attempts to understand humanity in the broadest of comparative perspectives. Among all the liberal arts disciplines, anthropology is unique in its goal of bridging the humanities, natural and social sciences, and in its long view of human time. Topics of study range from primate morphology and evolution, to brain development and cognition, early, past and present social and political formations, cultural practices and culture change, hermeneutics and textuality, representation and interpretation. Cultural anthropology studies living and historical societies. Archaeology attempts to understand prehistory through the study of artifacts. Linguistic anthropology studies cross-cultural variation in language structure and use. Physical anthropology focuses on the biology and evolution of the species Homo sapiens. 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. Becoming Human: An Introduction to Anthropology (101) provides an introduction to physical anthropology and archaeology, while The Familiar Strange: Fundamentals of Cultural Anthropology (201) does the same for cultural anthropology and linguistics. In addition, required of majors, Senior Seminar (490) and Senior Project (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 create an original capstone project. The senior year culminates with an oral defense of the capstone project. Some seniors elect to undertake field research for their capstone 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, cataloging, 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 cataloged 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.