Introduction and Philosophy

Anthropology is the study of the culture of humankind, done on a comparative basis, to include the whole of human society, its diversity, and its past. The Department of Anthropology offers both undergraduate (B.A. & B.S.) and graduate (M.A.A., M.A.A./M.H.P., MPS in CHRM, & Ph.D.) degrees. The degrees reflect the department’s interest and expertise in applied anthropology – the application of anthropological knowledge, anthropology-in-use, and practicing anthropology – in a variety of institutional and community settings. This application of anthropology is intellectually informed by theories and approaches of the four subfields of the discipline (archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural and social anthropology, and anthropological linguistics). In addition, students are asked to focus in one of our areas of research concentration (anthropology of environment, anthropology of health, and anthropology of heritage).

An Applied Focus

The department’s commitment to applied anthropology includes research devoted to the generation and application of anthropological knowledge, perspectives and methods in the service of human problem-solving and decision-making, and support for the practice of anthropology in a variety of professional settings. In practice, the department faculty and students are interested in issues and problems related to human cultural and biological diversity, cultural understanding, the interactions between humans and their various environments, and ethnographic, archaeological, sociolinguistic, and biological research methods.

Applied Anthropology Professional Organizations  

The purpose of NAPA shall be to represent the practice of anthropology and the interests of practicing anthropologists within the American Anthropological Association, to other organizations, and to the general public, and to further the practice of anthropology as a profession.


The Society for Applied Anthropology aspires to promote the integration of anthropological perspectives and methods in solving human problems throughout the world; to advocate for fair and just public policy based upon sound research; to promote public recognition of anthropology as a profession; and to support the continuing professionalization of the field. The Society pursues its mission and purpose by

(1) communicating theories, research methods, results, and case examples through its publications and 
      annual meetings;
(2) recommending curriculum for the education of applied anthropologists and other applied social scientists
      at all levels;
(3) promoting and conducting professional development programs; and
(4) expressing its members' interests-- and anthropological approaches in general--to the public,
      government agencies, and other professional associations.

Through these activities, the Society strives to be a premier professional organization for anthropologists and other applied social scientists and with colleagues throughout the world.


The Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA) is the oldest and largest regional association of professional anthropologists in the world today. Founded in 1976, WAPA serves as a resource, and a social and career development center for anthropologists seeking to apply their knowledge and skills to practical problems for the betterment of society.


COPAA is an independent consortium of university departments and programs, practitioners and organizations that provide education and training in applied and practicing anthropology.


Faculty Subdisciplines

The department’s faculty specialize in the subdisciplines of archaeology and cultural and social anthropology. These subdisciplines provide the theoretical and applied foundation for the faculty’s teaching and research. Within these subdisciplines, faculty training, experience, current research, and teaching are focused on specific topical and methodological areas of health, heritage, and environment, as described below.


The department trains archaeologists who intend to specialize in historical archaeology. We train archaeologists to work in public settings, management environments, and in the academy; they are encouraged to undertake research on the political uses of the past, global climate change, museum interpretations of importance to local communities, and understanding and enhancing the role of cultural resource management (CRM) and applied archaeology. The geographical focus of the archaeology work is in the Americas and the Atlantic World. The faculty encourages research on the long-term environmental change, landscapes, the built environment, and the study of ethnicity, class, and race. Active excavations are used to understand local histories, their impact on national identities for minority members, and the role of reconstructed and rebuilt landscapes and urban environments in shifting power relations. Historical archaeology is strong in Diaspora studies, ties between archaeological practice and community identity, and the use of media to influence political decisions. Training is provided in material culture analysis, zooarchaeology, GIS, web-based communication, and field settings. The department maintains close ties to many distinguished archaeologists who have taught courses or provide internships for graduate students. Historical archaeology is also strengthened through ties to other departments across campus. 

Faculty members have a strong commitment to applied cultural analysis and to engaged scholarship that is broadly participatory and directed to diverse stakeholder interests and concerns. A core interest of the cultural and social anthropologists is the study of learned and shared knowledge and behaviors, and how such knowledge and behaviors affect, for example, the health care “cultures” of different communities, uses of the environment, tourism and heritage resource development, religious groups, aging, and relationships between gender constructs and health and social risks. Most of the cultural and social anthropologists are contributing research and public service that is directly relevant to the needs of our local communities, the State of Maryland, the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and national organizations. These same faculty members also maintain connections and research activities in numerous international settings, including the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. The research methods employed include the traditional inductive ethnographic methods of participant observation and interviewing, life and oral histories, analyses of discourse and text, visual anthropology, and quantitative methods. Individual faculty members have skills in evaluation research, cognitive research methods, social and cultural assessment, and community-based development.

Areas of study

Anthropological contributions to such fields as:

  • agricultural development
  • natural resources management
  • tourism and heritage development
  • urban and/or regional planning
  • archaeology and tourism
  • broad development issues in developing countries
  • cognitive anthropology
  • communities in the United States or abroad
  • community-based development
  • cultural and environmental conservation
  • cultural and gender aspects of development
  • cultural and heritage tourism
  • cultural resource management
  • development of communities, organizations, or individual/family units.
  • ecological anthropology
  • environmental anthropology
  • folk life and oral history
  • historic archaeology
  • historic preservation
  • human-plant co-evolution
  • local community development/organizing
  • natural resources management
  • public interpretation
  • sustainable agricultural development
  • tourism development and planning
  • global health 
  • community-based health research
  • health systems
  • health policy and governance 
  • health disparities
  • immigrant and minority health
  • risk environments
  • disease and diagnostic categories
  • addiction
  • experiences of social suffering
  • hypermarginality and poverty
  • gun violence
  • incarceration
  • racialization