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Anthropology Department Goals and Objectives

(The following is adapted from the College's '06-'07 catalogue.) The field of anthropology promotes a holistic understanding of human life by offering complex accounts of human evolution and of diverse histories, societies, and cultures among the world's peoples. Anthropologists undertake ethnographic, archival, archaeological, and biological research on the varied aspects of individual and collective experience in all time periods and parts of the world. As a four-field department (our subfields are archaeology, biological anthropology, social/cultural anthropology and anthropological linguistics), we offer a wide range of options for majors and non-majors in recognition of the broad interdisciplinary nature of the field. Non-majors from all classes may choose courses at any level with permission of the instructor and without introductory anthropology as a prerequisite.Our courses meet the College's general-education goals in several ways. They teach students the value of engaging in the attempt to understand and appreciate a culture distant from their own in time, place, and political/social norms. Anthropology courses also help students learn to remain open to differences and to the ways those challenge and enrich their world. Our courses show students the importance of recognizing the limits of their own knowledge; of developing the confidence to explore new areas and kinds of questioning and understanding; and of being willing to make and learn from mistakes. Further, Anthropology teaches students to question claims to knowledge; to challenge received opinion and gain a critical perspective on their own and others' beliefs; and to develop an awareness of their own subjectivity as it is formed by factors such as class, race, and religion. Anthropology also shows students the value of engaging problems, issues, and questions for which there are ambiguous or contradictory answers or solutions and of remaining committed to the inquiry.

Anthropology courses embody these goals in diverse ways, dependent on subfield and topic. For majors and non-majors alike, Anthropology courses develop generalizable skills of analytic and critical thinking, methodological skills (varying according to subfield), and experience in pursuing empirical research and theoretical arguments. Anthropology also helps students to develop the ability to express themselves orally and in writing. Reflecting the College's mission statement, Anthropology courses offer examples and opportunities for students to find their own paths to leading purposeful lives and to understanding and contributing to a complex and interconnected world.

In several "practical" ways, Anthropology's curriculum and curricular goals are designed to reach and serve non-majors. Anthropology's policy of allowing enrollment in most upper level courses with permission of the instructor and without introductory anthropology as a prerequisite makes a practical contribution to the general education of Vassar students. Non-majors from all classes may choose courses at any level and may benefit from courses which are oriented by the goals described above. Anthropology faculty participate in at least twelve multidisciplinary programs. We take our curriculum and curricular goals with us into our multidisciplinary teaching, engaging a wide range of students and contributing to general education.

Objectives of Vassar's anthropology major:  Students gain broad knowledge of current anthropological concepts and methods via coursework from 100-300 level in the twelve courses they use to fulfill the major requirements.  Students learn the history of anthropology's development and its specific contributions to modern social sciences, particularly in Anth 201 and 301.  Students gain familiarity with the four subfields of anthropological inquiry (social-cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology) and gain familiarity with at least two world areas to ensure cross-cultural understanding.  Students learn research methods and analytic skills applicable to one or more of the subfields.  All majors are expected to attain a sophisticated level of understanding in one or another of the subfields and to successfully complete our senior seminar in current social-cultural theory and two other 300-level seminars.  Correlates each design a program of study that complements the student’s major and forms a coherent focus within anthropology.  It is our goal that anthropology students be familiar with the discipline and its contributions and that they develop the ability to approach materials in the field from a sophisticated perspective and be able to read, research, discuss, and evaluate them, and to speak and write about them effectively.   In so doing, students also develop generalizable skills of analytic and critical thinking, methodological skills), experience in pursuing empirical research and theoretical arguments, and the ability to express themselves verbally and in written form

The anthropology curriculum’s course offerings and advising process are designed to meet these disciplinary goals in the following ways:  Courses at different  levels develop familiarity with the discipline and its subfields and develop specific  skills.  (Note that all levels include courses from each of the four subfields.)   100 level courses  introduce concepts and materials relevant to the sub-disciplines. They are evaluated through combinations of exercises, short essays and tests and group presentations.  200 level courses offer more concentrated examination of specific topics or areas within anthropology.   With some exceptions, longer more sophisticated essays or research papers are required, and shorter pieces of writing often assigned, in addition to exams. There is continued emphasis on oral communication, including class participation and group presentations. 300 level courses require independence in reading.  Often written and oral reading responses are required .  Individual presentations of work in progress are expected.  Major research papers  reflect sophisticated understanding of material, appropriate method, and ability to use theory appropriately.  The methodological and analytic skills developed in particular courses may vary by subfield of Anthropology.  For example, they may include quantitative analysis or qualitative and interpretive analysis.  Techniques and methods may be field based or laboratory based or may focus on textual or archival material    

All students take Anth 140 Cultural Anthropology, Anth 201 Anthropological Theory (which includes an introduction to the history of the 4-fields structure of twentieth century US anthropology) and Anth 301 Senior Seminar.  Some majors focus intensely in one subfield, others range more widely across the fields. Coherence is achieved through serious student planning and careful advising by faculty major/correlate advisor. Faculty advising is complemented by chair’s advising at declaration.  Further, the entire department faculty reviews each major and correlate proposed plan of study at the time of declaration.  While the department course offerings and attentive advising process  provide students with a coherent curricular framework, students also have developed additional venues for demonstration of achievement of knowledge and skills.   Student activities in and outside of the classroom contribute to a sense of shared knowledge and coherence.  The Student-Faculty “Marco Polo” series of student and faculty talks on JYA experiences and research projects bring students together to demonstrate achievements and share research results.  The Majors’ Committee newsletter and other forums (parents’ weekend presentations, for example) also generate opportunities for students to discuss how their past coursework has informed current capabilities.