About Anthropology at GW

What Is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.  — Alfred L. Kroeber

Anthropologists study human beings in all their complexity, using multiple perspectives and covering every time period. They use data from multiple sources: ethnographic (based on long-term observation in a local setting), archaeological (based on physical remains from past cultures), and biological (based on the anatomy, physiology, and genetics of humans and related species).

Through intensive fieldwork and laboratory analysis, anthropologists:

  • compile detailed knowledge of particular social groups and populations
  • develop theoretical generalizations
  • test theoretical claims against empirical evidence

In its broad focus on humanity, anthropology is an integrative discipline, bringing together scholarly work in:

  • the humanities
  • the natural sciences
  • the social sciences

Anthropology is an especially important discipline in a time when it is increasingly imperative to understand the nature of cultural diversity, the effects of globalization, and the interconnected nature of human society, past and present.

For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.  ― Richard E. Leakey

Why Major in Anthropology?

Anthropology is an intellectually exciting discipline.  Students deal with all aspects of human behavior – social and biological, past and present – a broad focus well suited to today’s globally integrated world. They also acquire a range of skills with broad applicability throughout life. These include formulating and testing hypotheses, gathering extensive bodies of data, and analyzing these data in the light of theoretical models.

We have major programs in AnthropologyBiological Anthropology, and Archaeology, as well as several minor programs. For more, visit Undergraduate Programs.

The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.  ― Ruth Benedict

How Anthropology Relates to Other Disciplines

Because of its attention to variation and complexity, anthropology is related to almost every academic discipline, and people majoring in those disciplines benefit from some acquaintance with anthropology.  For specific information, see Anthropology and the Disciplines.

How Anthropology Relates to Other Professions

Many people who majored in anthropology do not get jobs with the title “anthropologist.” Rather, they find that their anthropological training serves them well in a rapidly changing world of work. To see how anthropology relates to various professions, see Anthropology and the Professions.

Like mathematics or music, anthropology is one of the few genuine vocations. One can discover it in oneself even when one is taught nothing about it.  — Claude Lévi-Strauss

Our Particular Mission

GW's Anthropology Department is committed to integrating the humanistic and scientific perspectives of our discipline while pursuing advanced research of the highest quality.  For more, see our Mission Statement.