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About the Department of Anthropology

The department is among the major North American centers for anthropological training and research, supplemented by the contributions of an array of anthropologists elsewhere on campus.

Multi image anthropology banner

The discipline of anthropology encompasses biological, cognitive and evolutionary sciences as well as the social sciences and humanities. The UC Davis Department of Anthropology is distinctive in our respect for multiple pathways through the discipline. We are organized into two distinct but related wings.

Evolutionary Wing

The Evolutionary Wing comprises biological anthropologists and archaeologists. Specialties include the study of human and primate biology and behavior in ecological contexts over archaeological and evolutionary timescales. The Evolutionary Wing draws upon the rich resources provided by the natural and behavioral sciences at Davis, including the graduate groups in Ecology, Population Biology and Animal Behavior, the California Primate Research Center, and the rich archaeological record of California and neighboring states.

Sociocultural Wing

The Sociocultural Wing is composed of social, cultural and linguistic anthropologists committed to understanding how people organize their lives and interpret their circumstances in the modern and postmodern world. Faculty members focus on meaning, language, power and inequality, and the historical processes in which they are embedded in North, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, South, Southeast and East Asia, Australia and the Pacific. The Sociocultural Wing faculty members contribute exemplary scholarship in science and technology studies, feminist theory, medical anthropology, state-building, post-socialist states, knowledge systems and knowledge production, film studies, and world anthropologies.

The Sociocultural Wing draws upon the considerable resources in the humanities and social sciences at Davis, particularly the departments of History, Sociology, Women and Gender Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Film Studies, and Linguistics, and the interdisciplinary graduate programs in Social Theory and Comparative History, Cultural Studies, and Critical Theory.

The Department's Rich History

David Olmsted, the first anthropologist at UC Davis, began teaching courses in physical anthropology, ethnology, American Indians, language and culture, and the peoples of Africa in the 1954–55 academic year. His training at Cornell University prepared him in the full four-field approach to anthropology, but his specialty was anthropological linguistics. Martin Baumhoff (Ph.D., UC Berkeley) joined him in 1958 and, until his passing in 1983, trained a generation of archaeologists. Daniel Crowley (Ph.D., Northwestern University) arrived in 1960 and began teaching cultural anthropology courses.

By 1964 the faculty had grown to nine members and offered graduate studies leading to the Ph.D. degree. One of the earliest graduate students, David Hurst Thomas (Ph.D., 1971), became curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History and was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1989. By the 1970s the number of permanent faculty grew to 14 and the editorial office of American Anthropologist, the journal of the American Anthropological Association, resided in the UC Davis Department of Anthropology under the editorial leadership of David Olmsted. By 1990 the department had grown to 22 full-time faculty members including two National Academy of Sciences members: G. William Skinner and Sarah Hrdy.

Breadth and Depth

Today the discipline of anthropology at UC Davis has the great breadth, combined with penetrating depth in focused areas of research. It ranks among the top 14 anthropology departments in this country, and in several areas it is the program of choice for ambitious students. Its strength lies not only within the department, but very importantly in the extensive collaborative connections with other graduate research groups, including a formal network of faculty in other departments.

These graduate groups and graduate emphases include Animal Behavior, Cultural Studies, Ecology, Genetics, Linguistics, Native American Studies, and Population Biology, along with the newly developing graduate groups in Race, Ethnicity and in Comparative Religious Studies. Broad-ranging choices for designated emphases at the doctoral level include Critical Theory, Feminist Theory, Nutrition, Social Theory and Comparative History.