Anthropology Course Descriptions

Unless otherwise noted, all upper-level (300 and 400) courses have ANTH 101 or permission of the instructor as the pre-requisite.

Scroll down for detailed course descriptions.   

  • ANTH 101: Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • ANTH 211: Anthropology of Race
  • ANTH 212: Anthropology of Gender
  • ANTH 298: Ethnography
  • ANTH 299: Arguments in Anthropology
  • ANTH 309: Anthropology of Art
  • ANTH 316: Political Anthropology
  • ANTH 317: Economic Anthropology
  • ANTH 318: Anthropology of Religion
  • ANTH 321: Anthropology of Food
  • ANTH 322: Symbolic Anthropology FR
  • ANTH 341: Practices of Memory FR
  • ANTH 342: Touring Cultures
  • ANTH 343: Culture and Identity in Europe
  • ANTH 344: Urban Theory and Ethnography FR
  • ANTH 350: Amazonian Societies
  • ANTH 365: Environment and Development Narratives
  • ANTH 371G: Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 371KK Public and Applied Anthropology
  • ANTH 450: Ethnographic Field Methods in Guyana (study abroad program)
  • ANTH 480 and 481: Senior Research and Senior Thesis

ANTH 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology’s role in developing the concept “culture.” Cosmopolitan, Glamour, or The New Yorker, talk-show hosts and political pundits, and management gurus tell you that groups of people do this or believe that because of “their culture.” We now habitually assume that people can “know” the world and act on this “knowledge” in dramatically different ways. But where do these assumptions come from? Are they assumptions we tend to have “because of our culture?” And, if they are, how can we disentangle our assumptions about what culture is and does as we study “the culture” of others? These will be the kind of questions we confront in this course as we explore the ways anthropologists developed the concept of “culture.” First, in their studies of the so-called “primitive” or “traditional” societies, and second, as anthropologists have deployed the culture concept in their studies of the contemporary United States.

ANTH 209: Anthropology of Art (Gable)

Asking the question, are there universal aesthetic canons, this course introduces students to the sculpture, painting, architecture, textiles, ceramics, and self-secoration of Africa, the Pacific, and native North America, focusing on relating the styles and subject matter of these arts to their respective cultural contexts in order to understand the intentions of the artists and the meanings of the works for the people who make and see them. Students learn to see with the “native’s” eye, understanding the meanings and the aesthetic canons of the cultures in question, rather than the eye of a western connoisseur of art. Finally, we look at how western and non-western artistic forms have mutually influenced each other, and consider issues arising from the western appropriation of these works by museums and private collectors.

ANTH 211: Anthropology of Race (James)

Modern cultural anthropology in the United States began in the early 20th century as a critique of race as a way of understanding differences among human populations.  Both prior to and after that time, however, anthropologists and other scholars have also helped to create and reinforce the idea that race exists as a biological category and can be used as an explanatory variable – to account for differences in intelligence, socio-economic status, and cultural forms.  In this course we examine race and the closely-related concept of ethnicity from an anthropological and historical perspective.  We address the questions: Is race “real”?  How are race and racial identity different from ethnicity?  Is racism universal?  How do notions of race vary across different historical periods and societies?

ANTH 212: Anthropology of Gender (Mentore)

This course concerns the interconnections between social theories of gender, knowledge, and power.  It is grounded by the critical study of the long-standing assumption in Western societies that gender and sexual identity directly correspond with biological sex.  Drawing from fundamental analytic techniques of anthropology, it interrogates cultural assumptions about femininity, masculinity, nature and culture.  We look at what it means to be a man, a woman, or a Third or Fourth gender, in various parts of the world.  We explore such relics in the archaeology of Western thought as phallogocentrism and the hyper-medicalization of childbirth, and debate their future trajectories in science, technology, education, and the global economy.  Drawing from contemporary theories of gender, this course seeks a more nuanced understanding of sexual violence and the will to dominate; the gender politics of conventional ethics; and the confinement of the discourse on sexuality to the realm of heteronormative reproduction.

ANTH 298: Ethnography

Ethnography–writing about a particular group of people in a particular place, with an eye toward describing those people and toward testing currently popular theories in the humanistic disciplines–is the bread and butter of socio-cultural anthropology.  Ethnography, as a particular method of writing based on more or less particular method of research, is also what anthropology offers to the humanistic disciplines. Ethnography, broadly conceived, has come to be a crucial textual form in sociology, philosophy, history, literary studies, and related disciplines. In this course, students are introduced to path-breaking ethnographies in anthropology. Along the way, students will see how anthropologists with a range of theoretical perspectives have used the genre of ethnography to persuade their audiences of the validity of their approaches. Students will use these ethnographies as windows into the ways theories are produced and tested.

ANTH 299: Arguments in Anthropology

As a concept, culture has generated much anthropological debate, especially in the United States. As a phenomenon, if it is one, it has proven notoriously difficult to define or even to characterize. The goal of this course is to introduce you to the most important, i.e., influential, theories about culture and to have you see the reciprocal relationship between these ideas and anthropological representations of people’s lives, which we commonly call ethnography. If you can accept no definition of culture, nevertheless you will understand the difficulties of defining it We introduce you to the problem by having you read what the major theorists have written about culture. At the same time, in ANTH 298: Ethnography, which is the co-requisite for this course, you will read ethnographic works that reflect and shape such theory. You should achieve sufficient familiarity with the theoretical positions presented here that you can recognize their influence on ethnographic work and also decide which of them, or what combination of them, you will use in carrying out your own ethnographic investigations.

ANTH 316: Political Anthropology (Gable)

ANTH 317: Economic Anthropology (Mentore)

Economic Anthropology differs from formal Economics in several major ways. First and foremost, it steps outside the parameters of capitalist logic to examine the processes of production, distribution and consumption in a more neutral and general way; that is, from a cross-cultural, critical and holistic perspective.  It begins with the question of desire (what people in a given culture, context, or environment define as necessary and/of desirable in order to be “satisfied”), and how those desires give way to particular forms of action (subsistence hunting and gathering, grocery shopping, gifting, online gambling, sacrifice, hoarding).  Rather than working from within the regimes of knowledge that present capitalism as the most inherently rational way of doing things, economic anthropology examines how all desires, decisions, and actions emerge in the context of cosmologies, laws, and abstract fields of power.  The course traces how the relation between economy and society has been interpreted in neo-classical, substantivist, Marxist, moralist and other theoretical genres.  The relative merits and limits of these genres are critically examined in the context of ethnographic cases from various world regions.

ANTH 318: Anthropology of Religion

A study of religious ideas and practices, mainly in non-western cultures, from the anthropological point of view. Religious ideas include “sacred,” “profane,” “divine,” “sin,” “taboo,” and the like; and also the varieties and nature of spiritual beings, identified as “gods,” “spirits,” “ghosts,” and so on; and the possible or actual relations between these beings and humans. The practices arise from these ideas and include shamanism, sacrifice, oracles and divination, exorcism, millenarianism and revitalization movements, funeral customs, and mythology. We examine many of these practices in specific cultural contexts to show how they can be used to arrive at the religious ideas of the culture, ideas which may often be otherwise ill-articulated. We see that religion in these cultures is not a sometime thing; on the contrary, for the people who acknowledge them religious ideas permeate, and explain, every aspect of life.

ANTH 321: Anthropology of Food (Mentore)

There is nothing more simultaneously mundane and profound than food. We humans need it on a constant basis throughout everyday lives. Yet the foods that sustain us in the most fundamental sense are also ceaselessly put to work in the complex fields of our symbolic thinking, identity politics, interpersonal relationships, global economy, our notions of the sacred, and our sense of wellness and suffering. Food and food security are often at the center of our discourse on the future of humanity and planet earth. Yet the only thing more remarkable than food is the extent to which we ignore it, passively take it in, throw it away, and generally pay no mind to its increasingly long list of illegible ingredients or their transnational journey to our gullets. The exceedingly complex social life of food, coupled with our tendency to take it for granted, make food a supremely ripe topic for anthropological inquiry.

ANTH 322: Symbolic Anthropology

Arguably, culture is a structure of symbols, or of symbolic classification. Therefore the study of symbols must occupy a central position in cultural anthropology. This course is both an examination of anthropological theorizing on the subject and an introduction to the methods by which anthropology has analyzed cultural forms. We establish a working definition of “symbol,” and then look at such matters as how symbols acquire meaning, how as an anthropologist one may determine the meanings of symbols, whether it is permissible to attribute implicit meanings to symbols, and–depending on the answer to that question–how best to understand symbolic forms such as myth, ritual, art, and text. Most of the course focuses on non-western cultures, but it also addresses comparable American cultural forms such as the birthday cake, Superman and Batman, and the Tooth Fairy.

ANTH 341: Practices of Memory (James)

Collective memory, or a shared understanding of the past, plays a vital role in group identity and in the way present events are understood and acted upon.  Memories are made in the present, and they are always selective.  Indeed, remembering always involves forgetting.  What is remembered and forgotten can be extremely important: the stories we tell about our past, the events we commemorate, the museum exhibits we visit, the films we produce and watch, and the monuments we build all play a significant role in defining our identity by shaping how we view the past.  For this very reason representations of the past are a source of political power and often become the focus of conflict.  In this course we will examine the concept of collective memory, the ways different groups construct representations of the past in different contexts, and explore conflicts over remembering.

ANTH 342: Touring Cultures (James)

In this course we explore “touring cultures”–cultures of tourists and tourism, as well as the cultures of those toured and the effects of tourism on them. Tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the world today, but it also represents a specific form of experience and a culture unto itself that some authors have compared to religious pilgrimage. We will examine interactions between tourists, local people, and institutions, and the ways people, places, and historic periods are produced and packaged for consumption by tourists. Other topics will include the connections between tourism and issues of leisure and consumption, globalization, class and ethnic identities, authentic vs. manufactured experiences, and sex tourism. We will also examine the increasing dependence of many communities on tourist dollars for their livelihood and how this affects those communities.

ANTH 343: Culture and Identity in Europe (James) 

The economic and political integration of Europe finds part of its justification in the idea of a common European culture. Yet efforts by European Union officials to create a European identity have proven only marginally successful. Most Europeans still see themselves first and foremost as members of local, regional, and national communities. In this course we will use ethnographic texts to consider the variety of cultural forms and identities in Europe, including communities in formerly socialist states. The central theme running through the course is how people and institutions construct identities — as Europeans, as “civilized,” as proper middle-class citizens, as belonging to a nation or region, or as members of an ethnic or religious group. The core argument is that these identities are always constructed in a specific context and in reference to Others such as peasants, punks, or Muslims, and that identity is closely intertwined with issues of power.

ANTH 344: Urban Theory and Ethnography (James)

This course focuses on the history and characteristics of cities and suburbs with respect to how they shape social relationships and experience as well as views of cities and society.  We specifically examine issues of public space, suburbanization, and gentrification.  The course also seeks to encourage reflection and dialogue about conducting ethnographic research in and about urban and suburban settings.  In addition to participating in reading and discussion, I will ask you apply theoretical perspectives on cities and suburbs in the course of conducting an ethnographic study in the Fredericksburg area.

ANTH 350: Amazonian Societies (Mentore)

An in-depth study of the anthropological literature on indigenous lifeways of Amazonia (lowland South America).  While most courses take a particular theme or dimension of human experience and analyse it from a cross-cultural perspective, this ethnopraphic course takes the opposite approach: examining many different themes or dimensions of social life (kinship, gender, political economy, aesthetics, ritual) in the region  To apprehend the connections between these dimensions of a lifeway requires seeing “culture” as a total philosophy of being, or cosmology.  From this perspective, it becomes possible to develop a more rigorous comparative and critical understanding of our own philosophical assumptions about what it means to be human, to be beautiful, moral, satisfied or complete.

ANTH 365: Environment and Development Narratives (Mentore)

This course focuses on the two increasingly inter-related subfields in anthropology: (1) the study of cultural practices and beliefs concerning the environment, and (2) the study of “development”: the policies, discourses and practices aimed at improving the human condition, particularly in societies that we label third-world/impoverished.  Historically, environmental conservation and socioeconomic development have been seen (by Westerners) as mutually opposed agendas.  To develop and progress, it was considered necessary for a society to consume natural resources at an increased rate.  While this approach continues to a large extent, our sense of natural resources as increasingly finite/threatened has given way to a novel possibility: turning environmental conservation into the very means of socioeconomic development.  Hence the term “sustainable development”.  This course traces the emergence of the new development discourses and their ideological underpinnings (how the West constructs nature and space, how it imagines tropical rainforest societies, etc).  It also focuses on the indigenous societies being impacted by this new wave of conservation-as-development schemes.  What new forms of conflict and hegemony are these schemes producing?  How are people’s different needs/wants, different environmental philosophies, and different attitudes towards the power structures impacting the viability of such schemes?

ANTH 371G: Medical Anthropology (Mentore)

Every society has a philosophy (or competing philosophies) of what it means for the person and body to be in a state of health or illness, as well as techniques for achieving or altering those states.  Such philosophies and practices do not stand on their own; rather, they acquire legitimacy through their compliance with broader beliefs concerning the nature of the body, the purpose and potentialities of human existence, and the relation between humans and other life forces.  Healing practices also shed much light on a society’s views on rights and morality. Can a refusal to distribute your wealth make you vulnerable to sorcery attacks? Is healthcare a universal human right?  Medical anthropology examines the limits of Western medicine cross-cultural perspective, both because of its limited basis in Euro-American knowledge practices, and  because of the global social inequality in terms of access.  This course covers the foundational debates concerning magic and science, rationality and belief, and the role of symbols in healing.  Ethnographies of healing are also central in this course.

ANTH 371KK Public and Applied Anthropology (James)

This course focuses on the ways anthropology is used to facilitate change and inform decision-making. Public anthropology refers to research and writing aimed at producing social, economic, and political transformation. The aims of applied anthropology may include social and political change as well, such as when it is conducted on behalf of a development organization, but can also include addressing the needs of a corporate client seeking assistance with organizational or marketing issues, for example. While public anthropology usually proposes solutions to social or political problems, applied anthropology tends make more narrowly focused recommendations on specific policies, strategies, or plans in a range of settings.

We will discuss examples of public and applied anthropology, learn about and evaluate research methods suited to the restricted time frame that applied anthropology often entails, and conduct our own research projects on campus with the aim of producing reports with specific recommendations. Students will work in teams to conduct background research, refine research questions, develop research strategies and protocols, conduct research, and organize and present results.

ANTH 480 & 481: Senior Research & Senior Thesis

Required of all senior anthropology majors, this course allows a student to carry out independent research on a topic of specific interest to her- or himself in preparation for writing the senior thesis in ANTH 481: Senior Thesis.  Class combines seminar meetings to discuss individual project progress with independent research and one-on-one tutorials.  Students may focus on a non-western, non-industrialized society, ancient or modern; or create a research project based on the Fredericksburg region. The research should demonstrate the student’s familiarity with the chosen topic as well as with relevant anthropological concepts, including the concept of culture itself.