Career Guide to JMU Majors: Anthropology
The Anthropology major is a department within the College of Arts and Letters.
Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.
Description of Major
Anthropology is offered as a major and minor at JMU. The Anthropology Program provides students with an excellent undergraduate education in the major sub-fields of anthropology: archeological, cultural, biological, and general anthropology. Students gain an enhanced comprehension of culture and different cultural systems and the methodological and theoretical basis for interpreting human cultural differences and similarities. An understanding of the cultural origins and development of humans by analyzing the materials remains of prehistoric and historic cultures is also taught to students. In addition, students learn fundamentals of evolutionary theory, the fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution and the importance of human biology for understanding contemporary human populations, biological variation and disease. The anthropology major offers multicultural and globally oriented courses that stress critical thinking, cultural and scientific interpretation, intensive reading, rigorous writing, skills in presenting both qualitative and quantitative data, application of learning and research techniques used by anthropologists to understand contemporary problems. The courses offered prepare students for graduate degree programs, which is usually required to work as a professional anthropologist. An undergraduate degree, however, provides graduates with a solid foundation to pursue options both in and outside the field of anthropology in either public or private sectors. A minor in Historical Archaeology is also offered by the Anthropology Program.
Tell me more about this field of study
Anthropology is the study of humankind. Anthropologists study the origin, development and functioning of human societies and cultures, as they exist now, or have existed throughout history. Many sciences study humans and their behavior (anatomy, medicine, psychology, sociology and economics, for example), but anthropology is the only field which studies humans both as biological and cultural beings. Anthropologists are concerned with the total complexity of social and cultural life, including religion and rituals, family and kinship systems, languages, art and music, symbolism and economic and political systems. This "holistic" approach has forged anthropology into a unique and diverse social science discipline -- a field of study that both draws from and contributes to the natural sciences, the humanities and other social sciences. Anthropology is divided into several sub-fields, each of which looks at humanity from a different, but related, perspective. Anthropologists use a variety of research methods, including archaeological excavation, anatomical analysis, and fieldwork, participating in the daily lives of the people being studied.
Tell me more about specialization
Other than the general degree, which is the primary program for the major, there are three concentrations within the Anthropology Program at JMU. They are: Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, and Biological Anthropology. In Cultural Anthropology there is a focus on the diversity of human cultures, both Western and Nonwestern, and is concerned with understanding and explaining the differences and similarities among the world's societies. Cultural anthropology is noted for its distinctive research method known as extended participant-observation in which the anthropologist lives the everyday lives of the people being studied. Archaeology is a sub-area of cultural anthropology that studies extinct societies by analyzing their material remains. Archaeologists attempt to understand how societies that no longer exist were organized and how this relates to contemporary societies. Biological Anthropology focuses on the evolutionary history of humans and biological variation among contemporary human populations. As such, biological anthropologists study human anatomy, genetics, human growth and adaptation, biological and cultural evolution and primate behavior. The General Anthropology program serves as the centerpiece of the major and serves to introduce students to the breadth of anthropology and includes a review of the theory, methods and topic areas of the sub-disciplines of the larger field.
Common majors or minors that complement this major
Some common combinations include Africana Studies, American Studies, Art, Art History, Asian Studies, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Communication Studies, Economics, English, Environmental Studies, Family Studies, Geographic Science, Geology, Historical Archaeology, History, Humanitarian Affairs, Human Science, International Affairs, Justice Studies, Latin American Studies, Modern Foreign Languages, Philosophy and Religion, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Statistics, and Women's Studies.
Students who do well in this program are drawn to broad questions about human experience and social organization, globalization and multiculturalism. They are interested in exploring these questions through research and careful analysis. Good writing, strong analytical and oral communication skills help students do well in this program. Many of our majors see anthropology as crucial in helping humans understand, function in, and positively re-figure a culturally diverse and increasingly interconnected world.
Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.
Who employs graduates?
Anthropology majors are attractive to employers interested in people with an understanding of global issues, with the ability to observe and interpret human behavior, cross-cultural beliefs and practices, and who can think and write clearly and contextually. Some of these employers include a variety of businesses, colleges & universities, conservation institutes, cultural resource organizations, environmental companies, government agencies, historic preservation offices, international organizations, libraries, museums, non-profit organizations, publishers, research institutions, and laboratories.
Each summer the Anthropology Program sponsors Archaeological Field Schools that have so far provided educational and research opportunities to numerous students. These programs are in historical archaeology at James Madison’s Montpelier, and more recently have included research on prehistoric sites in the American Southwest. In addition, students can participate in a spring-break program in Dominica, an ethnographic summer field school conducted in Kenya, West Africa, and a bio-anthropology field school in primate studies and conservation in Cameroon, West Africa. In order to gain additional exposure to the discipline, students may want to join the Anthropology Club, or Lambda Alpha, the national anthropology honor society. Students have recently interned at the Smithsonian Institution, the Blue Ride Area Health Education Center, and the Harrisonburg Hispanic Services Council. Anthropology faculty also regularly invite highly qualified students to gain hands-on experience through the administration of introductory courses and participation in research projects. Interested students should contact the Coordinator of the Anthropology Program for more information on both programs.
What are JMU graduates doing with this major?
A Day in the Life on an Anthropologist
A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist
Anthropology and Archaeology Teachers
Behind-the-Scenes Look at Anthropologists at Work (video)
Careers in Anthropology
Careers in Physical Anthropology
Physical Anthropology Careers
So You Want to be a Forensic Scientist
Social Scientists – Anthropologist
What do Anthropologists Do?
A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in the Career & Academic Planning Resource Center.
Make an appointment with a CAP career counselor to learn more about this major and your career options.
A few titles from our Resource Center related to this field include:
© Career & Academic Planning, James Madison University, 2013