Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology is a dynamic, expanding program of teaching and research with a clear focus on in-depth and comparative studies of societies and cultures around the world, past and present. With social anthropological research focusing on transformative social changes realized in the present day through such processes as transculturalism and globalization, and with archaeological research examining transformational processes from the rise and spread of humans to the emergence of complex societies around the world, the department offers graduate students the resources, training and guidance required to pursue successful careers in a variety of fields of academic and non-academic endeavors, The character of the department, as it looks to the future, is also grounded in a unique and venerable history: the department was founded in 1886 in response to the desire for instruction in the then new fields of archaeology, ethnology, and physical anthropology to complement what were at the time – and remain today – the virtually unparalleled collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Equally important as a resource base to the department is the Alfred M. Tozzer Library, which holds more than 250,000 volumes in all fields of anthropological research and study. The department offers coursework and guidance leading to the Ph.D. in two principal fields of specialization: Archaeology and Social Anthropology. Prospective candidates should consult the department website.
In addition to its graduate programs in archaeology and social anthropology, Harvard offers facilities and intellectual opportunities for anthropology graduate students that are difficult to match elsewhere; these include: Widener Library, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Bauer Center for Genomics Research, the Concord Field Station, the Fogg Art Museum, a wide range of computing facilities and resources, and, above all, the distinguished departments in the other social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences throughout the university, including Harvard’s many institutes and centers dedicated to research on specific regions of the world (e.g., the Asia Center, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, or the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs). Members of the Department of Anthropology often coordinate their research with other faculties in the University and encourage graduate students to tailor their programs of research and study with faculties and facilities around the University. Additional research opportunities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Brandeis University, and other educational institutions in the Boston area are available to faculty and students in the department.
Fieldwork or lab work, essential components of graduate training in the department, are available to students in both individual and Harvard-sponsored projects. Another opportunity offered to graduate students, after their second year of study, is to assist faculty members in the preparation and teaching of undergraduate courses in Harvard College. Each year, prominent scholars from around the world participate in the department’s seminar series in archaeology and social anthropology. The seminar series are designed to give faculty and graduate students the opportunity to learn about current research and critical issues in their respective fields, as well as to engage in debates about future directions in the discipline.
Master of Arts (AM)
With the exception of the master’s degree in medical anthropology (see below), a terminal master’s degree is not offered in anthropology. Since one of the principal objectives of advanced training in anthropology is preparation for college teaching, for which the doctoral degree is generally required, the master’s degree in anthropology is not taken as an end in itself. A master’s degree may be awarded at some point during the student’s progress toward the doctorate, if the student qualifies and so desires; or, in some cases, as a terminal degree for students unable or unwilling to continue toward the doctorate. At least one year of residence at the full tuition rate is required for each Harvard degree; students who take a Harvard AM must, if they continue for the PhD, complete an additional year of residence in the Harvard Graduate School at the full tuition rate.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Prerequisites for Admission
A bachelor’s degree, ordinarily with distinction. Previous concentration in anthropology is not required, but some substantive engagement with anthropology is generally expected of applicants. All applicants are required to take the aptitude tests of the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition to academic qualifications, admission decisions are based on the best possible fit between a student’s prospective research area and the current areas of research and teaching of department faculty.
Minimum of two years of full-time study (up to 16 half-courses or the equivalent). The department considers a period of six years in residence the norm for PhD candidates, after which students will receive lowest priority for access to departmental aid, teaching fellowships, and the use of facilities. For financial residence requirements, see the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Guide to Admissions and Financial Aid.
Students admitted to the PhD program receive five years of funding. This guarantee by the GSAS includes tuition and fees, plus ten months of stipend support in the G-1 and G-2 years; four semesters of support from guaranteed teaching fellowships in the G-3 and G-4 years and a final year of support for dissertation completion. Students will ideally obtain support from outside funding agencies for a year’s fieldwork for their dissertation research. This fieldwork will normally occur in the fifth year of the student’s program of study.
Two-month summer research awards are available for the summers following the first through the fourth years. Awards are reviewed annually and are contingent upon students making satisfactory progress in their program of study.
Prospective graduate students are urged to apply for outside fellowships that offer tuition and stipend support during graduate school. These include the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships, and the US Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Fellowships. Application deadlines for these fellowships are in the fall, well before Harvard’s admissions deadline. Eligible applicants are encouraged to investigate these funding opportunities early in the application season.
Anthropology students are eligible for Harvard grants, including summer and term-time research awards, traveling fellowships, and dissertation completion awards. Many students also receive support for dissertation research from outside agencies, such as the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships, and scholarships offered by other departments or research centers in the University, including the area studies centers and institutes that focus on particular cultural regions or on specific topical concerns (e.g., the Harvard Center for the Environment).
Programs of Study
Archaeology and Social Anthropology have their own programs of study and examination procedures. Prospective students normally apply, through the GSAS, to one or the other of these programs, although in exceptional cases students may be accepted on a joint basis between the two programs (see below). A student may change his or her area of interest after admission to the program, contingent upon the continued willingness and availability of a faculty member to supervise the student’s research.
The application process, which proceeds through the office of the GSAS, is now completely online. The application for admission may be obtained and submitted here.
The principal objectives of the graduate program in archaeology are to provide 1) informed, critical examinations of core issues in archaeology, 2) comprehensive training in principal methods and theories of anthropologically oriented archaeology, and 3) direction and support for PhD candidates preparing for research and teaching positions in a wide variety of domains of archaeological practice. While students who wish to pursue PhD training in any area of expertise are invited to apply to the program, there are several areas of particular strength in terms of faculty interests, departmental facilities, and institutional resources. Principal strengths in archaeology at Harvard include: a) the archaeology of complex societies, b) the archaeology of ethnicities and languages, c) archaeology, art and religion, d) the archaeology of human evolution, e) landscape archaeology, f) the archaeology of colonialism, and g) environmental archaeology/bioarchaeology. Students are strongly encouraged to select one of these areas of specialization in focusing their work, although the specific program of study pursued by each student will be developed in close consultation with his/her principal advisor and advisory committee.
In addition to a primary area of specialization, all students are expected to acquire a basic understanding of the archaeology of complex societies in both the Old and New Worlds as well as general knowledge of those aspects of ethnography, ethnology, and biological anthropology that have particular relevance to his/her area(s) of interest in archaeology. The expectation is that the student will be able to complete the program in six years.
Each student will have a faculty advisor, whose research interests will be close to those of the student. For the first three or four semesters, the student’s progress will be overseen by an Advisory Committee, normally consisting of the advisor(s), and two other archaeology faculty members. The student will meet with his/her advisory committee at least once during each of the first two years of residence, generally before or during the first week of classes, in the fall term. The purpose of these meetings is to review proposed plans of study, completion of the language and other requirements, and overall progress in the program. The progress of each student will be assessed annually by the archaeology faculty, and this appraisal will be communicated to the candidate. Students are expected to maintain an overall B+ average in coursework. Incomplete (INC) grades are strongly discouraged. Any INC should be made up by the end of the term following the term in which the INC was taken. No grade of INC can fulfill any departmental requirement. A transcript with an outstanding INC is likely to jeopardize a student’s chances of obtaining teaching fellowships and financial awards.
After the successful completion of the general exam and generally no later than the end of the fourth semester, an examining and dissertation committee will be chosen by the student and the major advisor(s) on the basis of the student’s domain(s) of specialization.
During the first two years of graduate study, the student will normally enroll in 16 half courses (four each term). Within this program of study, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
- Anthropology 2250a and 2250b: Proseminar in Archaeology (2 half courses)
- Anthropology 2070a, Archaeological Method and Theory
- Twelve half-courses in archaeology or other fields chosen in consultation with the advisor and advisory committee.
- Anthropology 2070b, Case Studies and Research Proposal Preparation
In the latter category, serious consideration should be given to taking courses outside the Department of Anthropology in fields related to the student’s domain(s) of interest (e.g., Earth and Planetary Sciences, Biology, Near Eastern Studies, Classical Archaeology, History, Chemistry, Modern or Ancient Languages, etc.). In addition, research time (Time R) can be utilized with advisor and advisory committee approval as part of the 16 half-course requirement.
In addition, and as part of the 16 half-course requirement, the following seminar must be taken prior to the prospectus defense:
Courses taken to fulfill requirements (a-d) must be passed with a grade of B+ or better. In addition, students may continue to take classes into their third or fourth year should these be relevant to fulfilling requirements (e.g., languages, see below) or to their domain(s) of study. Students are expected to obtain competence in quantitative methods or computer applications (e.g., GIS) as these relate to the practice of archaeology.
Proficiency in one modern, scholarly language other than English is required. In addition, the candidate must attain proficiency in a second scholarly language or in a field language or in a laboratory skill. The election of one among these options shall be made following consultation by the student with his/her advisor. Proficiency in language(s) and/or a laboratory skill must be demonstrated before the defense of the dissertation prospectus.
Although no specified period of fieldwork or field training is required, it is expected that each student’s program of study will include adequate experience in field methods through the student’s participation in archaeological field projects. This fieldwork is normally related to gathering data for the dissertation.
In addition to primary advisor(s), students will also have an advisory committee, consisting of three archaeology faculty members, including the primary advisor(s), for the first three to four semesters of the student’s academic career. Student shall meet with their advisory committees at least once during each of the first two years of residence, generally before or during the first week of classes in the fall term. The purpose of these meetings is to review proposed plans of study, completion of the language and other requirements, and overall progress in the program. The Advisory Committee normally will comprise the student’s advisor(s)and two additional faculty members.
Near the end of the third term of graduate study there will be general examinations. These examinations will consist of written and oral components pertaining to important issues in world archaeology. The purpose of the general examinations is to assess the student’s progress and determine his/her general knowledge of current archaeological issues. Students deemed weak in specific areas or topics may be required to retake the examination and/or to take designated courses.
Dissertation Prospectus and the Prospectus Examination
A dissertation topic will be developed in consultations among the student, the principal advisor, and other appropriate scholars. The dissertation prospectus consists of a proposal that describes the research on which the dissertation will be based. It should include a statement of the problem(s) and topic(s) to be addressed and should relate how the student intends to address them. The prospectus normally should be no longer than 20 double-spaced typewritten pages of text and include relevant visual and bibliographic materials as well as details on possible funding sources. With the approval of the student’s advisor, the prospectus may be produced in the form of a proposal to the National Science Foundation for a dissertation improvement grant.
The student is required to have developed and submitted the prospectus to each member of a prospectus examining committee at least two weeks before the prospectus examination. The examining committee shall consist of at least the student’s advisor(s) and at least two other faculty members, one of whom must be an archaeology program member, although any other faculty member who wishes may participate in the examination. The chair of the examining committee must be a member of the archaeology program and is ordinarily (one of) the student’s advisor(s).
Following the prospectus examination, the final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the prospectus examination committee (or to the dissertation committee, should said committee have been constituted by that time) at least two weeks before being placed on file with the department’s graduate program administrator. The special examination shall take the form of a defense before the student’s advisory committee of the dissertation prospectus.
Students ordinarily may not apply for outside funding for dissertation field research until they have successfully defended their prospectus, in the Special examination. Any application to a funding source outside of Harvard University for either fieldwork or other research funding for dissertation research must be approved by the student’s advisor(s), and it is expected that students shall submit all research proposals to their advisor(s) before submitting them.
The Dissertation Committee and the Dissertation Defense
The dissertation committee shall be composed of at least three members, two of whom must be archaeology program faculty members. The chair of the committee must be a member of the archaeology program faculty. Normally the prospectus examination committee and the dissertation committee will be composed of the same individuals, although it may be appropriate that substitutions or additions be made. A complete draft of the dissertation must be received by all members of the dissertation committee at least two months before the approved dissertation is due at the Registrar’s office and must be approved by that committee at least one month before the Registrar’s due date. A draft of the dissertation must be made available to other members of the Department at least two weeks before the public defense. The text of the dissertation, exclusive of charts, figures, and appendices, ordinarily may not exceed 250 typewritten pages.
The dissertation ordinarily must be 1) assessed by the dissertation committee at least two months before the dissertation is due at the Registrar’s office; 2) formally defended in a closed meeting with the dissertation committee and other interested faculty members approximately one month before the Registrar’s due date, and 3) presented orally to a general audience, including other faculty members soon after a successful private defense. After successful completion of the above assessments and after the incorporation of any required revisions, signatures of the committee members must be obtained on the dissertation acceptance certificate, which is submitted with the bound dissertation to the Registrar’s office. The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, available from the Registrar’s Office and online.
A complete draft of the dissertation is expected to be submitted by the end of the sixth year of graduate study, and ordinarily the dissertation must be approved by the end of the eighth year of graduate study or the student will be required to withdraw.
Upon admission to the Ph.D. program in social anthropology, each student is assigned an advisor, based on a preliminary assessment of mutual interests. After the first year, the student may select a permanent advisor, either the person to whom they were assigned when they entered, or another faculty member whose interests more closely match those of the student. Normally, in preparation for the General Exams (discussed below) students will put together an advising committee consisting of three faculty members (which may include one faculty member from outside the department.
Students should schedule meetings with their advisor(s) at least once a term – more often is very strongly encouraged -- to discuss their progress and to work out a plan of study. Students should also keep their advisors informed about their progress while in the field.
The course of study in social anthropology at the Ph.D. level requires a minimum of 16 half-courses (not including TIME), at least 12 of which must be in the anthropology department.
a) Proseminar (two half-courses) ANTH 2650a and 2650b
All candidates are required to take the Proseminar in Social Anthropology, which is a full-year course designed especially for first-year graduate students and intended to introduce them to the history and theory of the field.
b) Area-Specific Ethnography (one half-course)
All candidates are required to take one area specific half-course devoted to the ethnography of the region in which they plan to do research. See Area Studies Research, below.
c) Related Courses (two half-courses)
The department recommends that Ph.D. candidates take at least one half-course in Archaeology. These courses should be selected in consultation with the student’s advisor. A student who has already done extensive work in these fields may petition to be excused from this requirement, as may a student whose advisor deems other courses more appropriate to his or her research interests.
As a rule, students should demonstrate competence in two languages, other than their first language, one of them a language in which fieldwork will be conducted, and the other a language with an extensive scholarly literature relevant to the student’s research. In some cases, the fieldwork language and the scholarly language may be the same. Determination of appropriate standards of competence is determined by the advisor in consultation with other faculty, including language faculty.
The General Examination
The General Examination in social anthropology is designed as a process that builds from the first year (G1) of graduate studies through the third year (G3). The stages of this process, with the required courses and activities relevant to each stage, are outlined below.
Year 1 (G1): Foundations of Theory and Ethnography in Social Anthropology
- General Theory Requirement: This will be satisfied by the submission of satisfactory final papers for the fall and spring semesters of the Proseminar sequence (2650a and 2650b). To be completed by the end of Semester 2
- First Year Progress Review: At the end of the spring semester, the progress of each G1 will be reviewed by the Social Anthropology Program faculty, in consultation with the Proseminar (ANTH 2650a,b) course heads, the student's primary advisor, the DGS and the Graduate Program Administrator. Review to be completed by the end of Semester 2
Year 2 (G2): Focusing in on the Dissertation Research Area, Topic, and Themes
- Formation of Generals Committee: Following a successful first year progress review, each student should form a general examination committee composed of three faculty members and to be chaired by the primary advisor. The formation of the committee should be completed by the beginning of Semester 3
- Individualized General Examinations:
- Reading Lists. In consultation with his or her generals committee, the student will develop two reading lists that pertain directly to his or her research interests. The two lists will ordinarily include one regionally focused list and another, primarily thematically focused list.
- Field Statements. Between the end of the fall (3rd) semester and the beginning of the fall (5th) semester, each student should have submitted to his or her committee two essays or field statements (each a maximum 15 pages) based on a close and selective engagement with key works on the previously submitted reading lists, in consultation with the advisor and/or committee members. These two essays jointly constitute an important step in the students’ process of defining the doctoral dissertation research topic.
- Dissertation Project Statement. By the end of the spring (4th) semester or at latest the beginning of the fall (5th) semester, each student should have composed and submitted a preliminary research proposal (maximum15 pages) to his or her generals committee.
- Oral Examination. Upon agreement from all members of the student’s Generals committee, an oral examination will be scheduled. While the oral examination will ordinarily focus on the Dissertation Project Statement and the two Field Statements, the student’s previous work may also fall within the scope of the examination, at the committee’s discretion. The oral exam will typically be held by the end of the 4th semester or the beginning of the fall (5th semester). The dissertation project statement and the two field statements are critical preliminary steps toward the writing of grant proposals and the prospectus, which will normally be completed before the end of the spring of year 3 (semester 6).
Dissertation Prospectus and Defense
All candidates must, in consultation with their advisors, select a dissertation topic and describe their proposed doctoral research in a prospectus. The prospectus should: 1) give a concise statement of the problem to be addressed in the dissertation or of the hypotheses it proposes to test, 2) demonstrate a thorough scholarly knowledge and understanding of the area, 3) provide a clear research design, and 4) address the project with appropriate research methods. The dissertation prospectus should be presented no later than the end of the third year. The prospectus should normally be no more than 25-30 double-spaced pages in length, exclusive of bibliography and any figures. The candidate will discuss and defend the prospectus before his or her dissertation committee. The prospectus defense will normally take place no later than the semester prior to the beginning of dissertation fieldwork. Completion of the Human Subjects compliance forms and approval of them by Harvard’s Institutional Review Board must be completed before dissertation fieldwork can begin (see the IRB website.)
Dissertation and Defense
A dissertation committee, formed by the student and approved by the social anthropology faculty, will review the dissertation and decide when it is ready for defense. The doctorate will be awarded when the candidate passes a defense. The final copy of the dissertation should be in committee members’ hands one month before the scheduled defense. The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, available from the GSAS office. Dissertations are now submitted on-line.
Satisfactory Progress to Degree
A degree candidate’s program will be reviewed annually by all members of the social anthropology faculty. An overall B+ average is expected. First-year students must attain at least a B+ in each of the first-year required courses. All course requirements must be fulfilled and the general exam passed before the dissertation prospectus may be submitted.
First year graduate students are not permitted to receive a grade of incomplete in any of their course work.
Students may not proceed to their dissertation research until the dissertation prospectus has been approved. Normally, a complete draft of the dissertation must be submitted within five years after entering the program (exclusive of the time required to complete the dissertation fieldwork). Students entering their seventh year (exclusive of the time required to complete the dissertation fieldwork) must submit a letter to the department requesting an extension of this time limit.
All students must be able to demonstrate that they are making satisfactory progress toward the completion of their degree. Failure to meet these deadlines normally will be grounds for dropping the student from candidacy. If dropped, a student can be reinstated only by formal readmission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and to the department; the student may also be required to retake the General Examination.
The Joint Ph.D. in Archaeology and Social Anthropology
In exceptional circumstances, the Department of Anthropology may admit students who have a strong interest in pursuing graduate studies combining archaeology and social anthropology. The policies and requirements governing these joint degrees are outlined below.
Upon entrance into the program, candidates will be assigned co-advisors, one in archaeology and one in social anthropology.
- 16 courses are required for the joint program
- 12 courses must be taken within the department of Anthropology. The remaining 4 courses will be selected by the candidate in consultation with his/her co-advisors
- Pro-seminars in Social Anthropology – A-2650A & B
- in Archaeology: either A-2250A or A-2250B (to be selected in consultation with the co-advisors) and A-2070A (Method & Theory)
Formation of the Generals Committee
Following a successful first year progress review, each student should form a general examination committee composed of three faculty members and to be chaired by the co-advisors. The formation of the committee should be completed by the beginning of Semester 3.
Candidates will take the General examination following the procedures and the schedule described above for the Social Anthropology program. The selection of the topics for the two required research papers should be made in consultation with the student’s co-advisors. The oral defense will be directed by the candidate’s co-chairs and the Generals committee.
Upon successful completion of the Generals Examination, the candidate shall form a prospectus committee, which will normally consist of at least one faculty member in Archaeology and one in Social Anthropology both of whom are members of the Department of Anthropology and one additional faculty member chosen from the department.
The Prospectus and Its Defense and the Ph.D. Dissertation and Its Defense
The policies and procedures for the production and defense of the Ph.D. prospectus and the Ph.D. dissertation for candidates studying jointly in archaeology and social anthropology follow the guidelines laid out in the Social Anthropology program description (see above).
M.A. Program in Medical Anthropology
The Department of Anthropology offers an M.A. in Medical Anthropology. The program is intended to provide a basic education in medical anthropology, in particular for physicians or other health professionals, and can be completed in an intensive 12 months. Application to the program follows the same procedures as application to the Ph.D. program.
Application to the M.A. program in Medical Anthropology follows usual procedures for application to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, including GRE examinations. Prospective candidates should indicate your interest in medical anthropology in the statement of purpose when applying to the Ph.D. in Social Anthropology. Prospective applicants who visit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website will find an Application Request Form that can be completed on-line.
The social anthropology program of the Anthropology Department will accept applications for the master’s degree in medical anthropology only from persons who have a demonstrable commitment to work in medicine and who want supplementary training in anthropology. Students enrolled in this AM program are expected to provide their own funds.
Prerequisites for Admission
The requirements and standards are the same as those for the PhD as discussed above.
Program of Study
Requirements for the M.A. program in Medical Anthropology include one year of full-time residence, a minimum of eight half-courses or the equivalent, five of them in the Department of Anthropology, is required. These must include the first term of the Proseminar in anthropological theory taken by all first-year graduate students in social anthropology, an ethnography course, and three courses in medical anthropology. Only one course may be included that is outside of social anthropology. Required courses above this minimum are determined individually. Each student will submit a thesis, which must be read and accepted by two department members.
The minimum program consists of one academic year of full-time study (eight half courses or equivalent) plus one summer. Where other professional or pre-professional commitments make it desirable to spread this year of course work over a two-year period, this will be permitted. Some students will want to take an extended program of full-time study over a two-year period, and in suitable cases that will also be allowed, but no AM candidate will be permitted to remain in residence for more than a two-year period. An overall B+ average is expected of the student.
Recent PhD Dissertation Titles
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