History of the GW Anthropology Department

Anthropology was established as a field at GW in the late 19th century by Smithsonian scientists Otis T. Mason (1838-1908) and John Wesley Powell (1834-1902). At that time, anthropology was everywhere a four-field discipline — cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology and archaeology — and this department proudly carries on that tradition, as shown by our course offerings, faculty interests, and department-sponsored events.

Important Dates in Departmental History

1881 First anthropology instruction at GW (then the Columbian University).
1892 Smithsonian scientists Otis T. Mason and John Wesley Powell are made Professors of Anthropology.
Anthropology is a separate academic department with Mason as chair.
1908 Death of Otis T. Mason.
1917 Revival of anthropology at GW with the creation of the Dept. of Ethnology. Truman Michelson of the Bureau of American Ethnology is chair. Continued interaction with Smithsonian staff, such as Aleš Hrdlicka.
1932 Retrenchment at GW includes anthropology being subsumed under Sociology.
1959 The Sociology Department becomes Sociology and Anthropology. A full-time anthropologist, John Campbell, joins the faculty.
Substantial expansion of anthropology enrollments and addition of faculty in sociocultural anthropology, linguistics, and New World archaeology.
1965 Creation of a separate Department of Anthropology.
1970 Beginning of expansion of museum-related courses.
1972 A graduate program in Materials Conservation is created by Prof. Robert Humphrey and Smithsonian conservator Carolyn Rose, later a GW alumna (M.A. 1976).
1976 The Materials Conservation Program is replaced by a broader Museum Studies Program, with Humphrey as its first director.
1976 Alison S. Brooks helps establish the Anthropology for Teachers Program, which includes creation of the newsletter Anthro Notes.
1981 First archaeology laboratory in the now-demolished Bldg. V. That had been the fire department's stable, and our space was part of the former hayloft.
1986 Doctoral study in paleoanthropology and biological anthropology becomes possible through their addition to the Geobiology Program.
1989 The Lewis N. Cotlow Fund is established to support anthropological research. The first award is made in 1991.
1996 The Henry R. Luce Foundation agrees to fund an interdisciplinary professorship of human origins at GW.
1996 The Ann Gordon Webster Endowment is created to support non-traditional students who return to school for graduate work.
1997 Bernard A. Wood becomes the Luce Professor of Human Origins.
1997 Creation of the Discourse Laboratory under the direction of Joel Kuipers.
1997 Establishment of the program in Hominid Paleobiology (now Human Paleobiology), replacing Geobiology.
Expansion of the Anthropology Department into three townhouses, two of them extensively renovated through the generosity of alumnus Philip Amsterdam (B.A. 1962).
1999 Establishment of the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology (CASHP).
2001 Establishment of the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER).
2002 IFER acquires Anthropological Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal published since 1928.
2004 Jane B. Hart (B.A. 1970) provides an endowment used to support distinguished speakers and to give prizes to undergraduates.
2008 William Warren (B.A. 1967) provides endowments to support student research in archaeology and related fields.
2010 Establishment of the Capitol Archaeological Institute with Eric Cline as director.

GW and Smithsonian expand their partnership and expand collaborative research.

2011 The master's program concentration in Medical Anthropology joins those in Museum Training, International Development, and Folklife. Barbara Miller is the advisor.
2011 Creation of a Ph.D. program in Anthropology, with the first students admitted in fall 2012.
2012 GW acquires the Koobi Fora Field School in Kenya.
2015 Several faculty and all Human Paleobiology students move to the new Science and Engineering Hall.
2016 Creation of Masters of Science program in Human Paleobiology.