About the Department of Anthropology

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.

  • 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.