In lieu of concentrating on a specific subfield, Anthropology majors may elect to concentrate in general anthropology. This affords students a strong background in all the subfields of Anthropology and the freedom to more freely customize their major curriculum.
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Anthropological archaeology can be defined as the study of the social practices and cultural processes linking past and present human societies and cultures. It investigates such provocative topics as how we became human, the invention of tools, the origins of language, the beginnings of agriculture, and the rise of the first cities. It also engages with the study of social identity, gender, class, power, and ideology. How people come to think about the past has practical consequences in the present. It thus provides an important historical dimension for the creation of global citizens.
Archaeology takes material culture as its focus of research, where material culture refers to the material residues of past human behavior. These residues are the things that people create and leave behind in the course of their everyday social existence. They are as diverse as artifacts, historical texts, human remains, buildings, monuments, and even landscapes. Through an examination of material culture, students can gain a broad view of the evolution of human societies across time and space as well as the ways the past is mobilized to legitimize social and political structures today.
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Biological Anthropology Concentration
Biological Anthropology is the study of human biology, evolution and adaptation. It attempts to describe the biological basis of human evolution and diversity and its roots in the mammalian and primate past, and to use this information to better inform our understanding of human behavior, health, and disease. This evolutionary link to the past is crucial for how people come to think about themselves and their relationships to other species. For these reasons, Biological Anthropology provides an important prehistoric and evolutionary perspective on contemporary issues affecting all people today.
The Biological Anthropology concentration itself is designed to introduce students to concepts and issues relating to human evolution and biological diversity. Some of the specific issues that are explored in the courses offered in this concentration are the relationships of primates and humans, the evolution of the hominid (human) lineage, the biological basis of human behavior and reproduction, the origin of anatomically modern humans, the origin of language, and the effects of culture on the biological evolution of our species. The concentration is especially suitable for pre-med students who wish to gain a broader evolutionary perspective on issues related to health and disease, as well as those interesting in various aspects of human and primate diversity and evolution.
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Cultural & Linguistic Anthropology Concentration
Cultural Anthropology studies contemporary cultural processes around the world. Its primary method is qualitative ethnographic field research, grounded in long-term participant observation and interviewing, making use of audio and video recording. It is supplemented by other research techniques, including surveys and textual analysis. In addition to theory, the Penn program focuses on topics of broad public interest such as drug addiction, pharmaceutical testing, poverty and homelessness, access to health, immigration, racial and ethnic identities, violence, mass media, and modern business corporations. In preparing students for citizenship in a globalized world, the program attempts to investigate cultural differences as well as global cultural circulations.
At Penn, cultural Anthropology is joined with Linguistic Anthropology, whose focus is language and discourse as part and parcel of cultural processes. Linguistic Anthropology adopts a semiotic perspective on language, viewing it as part of communicative processes more generally, rather than as an autonomous realm (for example, as a manifestation of brain structure). As it blends seamlessly into Cultural Anthropology, it is also concerned with other sign systems, such as clothing styles, body adornments and behavioral habits, as well as brands and icons, and the role these play in broader social processes.
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Medical Anthropology and Global Health Concentration
Medical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that brings unique interdisciplinary perspectives and field research methods to bear on understandings of health, well-being, and disease in both developing and industrialized countries. Its experiential field-based approach and core concepts allow students to discern the determinants, patterns, and outcomes of affliction and disease at the level of individuals and populations. It probes the role of medical technologies in health improvements and the treatment of sickness, and in the way these technologies redraw the line between life and death and human nature and culture, and influence concepts of normality and abnormality. Drawing on anthropology’s subfields (social/cultural, biological, and linguistic) as well as the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences—its approach is interdisciplinary and holistic. As medical anthropologists attend to pluralistic medical systems, they also account for the political, economic and social factors that impact contemporary disease and health processes. Connecting real-world health issues at local levels with global structures, medical anthropologists attempt to comprehensively understand the current conditions affecting patterns of social suffering and our responses to it. Medical anthropology contributes to a challenging, diverse, liberal arts education. It provides students with a theoretical and methodological foundation to address problems in global health and global health inequalities.
Our faculty members teach and are actively involved in research on an array of medical anthropological topics including social injustice, poverty, and trauma; non-biomedical models of belief, healing, and affliction; human rights and structural violence; global disparities in wealth and emerging pandemics; new medical technologies and the redefinition of gender, race, class, and identity; the role of culture in healthcare decision making; and more.
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