Academic Department Introduction

Anthropology explores the diversity and commonalities of the human condition across the world, throughout time. Anthropologists work in faraway places and at home, examining the contemporary moment as well as the distant past. The field is inherently multicultural and multidisciplinary. It covers history, archeology, biology, and social and cultural studies. Our students gain a profound understanding of human nature and the role of culture in everyday lives, including their own. Our faculty carries out research in Nepal, the Balkans, Bolivia, Sudan, Iceland, Central Asia, and Wellesley, Mass.

Learning goals

  • Learn the basic features of human prehistory, as represented through material and fossil remains.
  • Practice methods used in anthropological field research, including the excavation of archaeological sites and the construction of ethnographies.

Programs of Study

Anthropology major and minor

Students will gain an understanding of how human cultures vary in their social institutions and practices across time and space.

Course Highlights

  • How can the complexities of Cultural Heritage be captured in digital form? Can advanced media visualizations, such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, give new insights on diverse global cultures? Can public dissemination of research using gamification positively impact our lives in the present? What ethical responsibilities do scholars have when digitizing material from ancient and contemporary communities? How can we ensure that our digital cultural achievements last as long as pyramids built in stone? This course will pair readings on the theory, practice, and ethics of visual and public digital humanities cultural heritage projects. Online archival resources for cultural heritage are at the forefront of developing public digital humanities. The digital archive resources used in class will be used to critique current trends in digital data capture and open access resources. The final project will be the creation of a new digital cultural heritage resource, presenting content created by students through a digital platform: an interactive archive, augmented or virtual reality, location-based games, or a combination thereof. Students will be offered a choice of visual and textual cultural heritage archive data from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, UC Berkeley Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and the National Museum of Sudan, or can identify their own open-access cultural heritage archival source of interest. (ANTH 246 and MAS 246 are cross-listed courses.)
  • The identification of human remains for criminological and political purposes is widespread. This course explores issues in the identification and interpretation of human bones including methods for determining sex, age, stature, and ancestry as well as for identifying pathologies and anomalies. The course will pay particular attention to those anatomical elements, both soft tissue and bones, that aid in the reconstruction of individuals and their life history. In addition, the course explores search and recovery techniques, crime-scene analysis, the use of DNA in solving crimes, and the role of forensic anthropology in the investigation of mass fatalities from both accidents and human rights violations.

Research highlights

  • Adam Van Arsdale sits at his desk in front of a laptop. He is holding human skeletal remains and showing them to students on Zoom.

    In collaboration with Wellesley colleagues, Professor Adam Van Arsdale is constructing a virtual reality (VR) evolutionary anatomy lab, which enables students to access, explore, and interact with human skeletal anatomy and the human fossil record in ways that are not possible in the “real” world.

  • Susan Ellison reads through papers on her desk.

    Professor Susan Ellison’s research links debates about democracy, foreign aid, justice, and trust to lived experiences of violence and financial insecurity. Ellison’s book, Domesticating Democracy: The Politics of Conflict Resolution in Bolivia (Duke University Press, 2018), received the Bryce Wood Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association and the Association of Political and Legal Anthropology book prize in critical anthropology.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Careers of anthropology graduates include health care, K–12 education, and higher education. Recent employers include Massachusetts General Hospital, Americorps, and Oak Spring Garden Foundation.

Department of Anthropology

Pendleton Hall East
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Adam Van Arsdale
Department Chair