About KU Anthropology

The Scope of Anthropology

Dr. Hofman demonstrating flint knapping

Dr. Hofman demonstrating flint knapping to
an introductory archaeology student.

From its inception as an academic discipline in the 19th century, American anthropology has distinguished itself by its holistic and integrative approach to the study of human cultural, cognitive, and biological variation. Concerned with both the expressions and evolution of this variability, departments of  anthropology traditionally have adopted a “four-field approach”—a pedagogical framework linking the theoretical foundations, research strategies, and interpretive methods of anthropological archaeology, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Given its broad focus, anthropology historically has defied categorization into traditional divisions of social science, natural science, and humanities.

Anthropological holism, as interpreted in the early 21st century, assumes that the defining feature of the human species is a complex interrelationship between biology and cultural behavior arising from their coevolution in varied environmental contexts throughout the world.  As a consequence of this evolutionary history, human environments, human biology, and human culture are linked ineluctably.  Any understanding of human biological and cultural diversity deriving exclusively from one aspect of this association, to the exclusion of the others, has limited explanatory power.  Furthermore, modern anthropology, recognizing that anthropology itself is a form of cultural behavior, is strongly self-reflexive, drawing upon its holistic perspectives for a robust and ongoing self-critique.

Anthropology at KU

Dr. Radovanovic and students working with collections

Dr. Radovanovic and students working
with collections in the archive.

The Department of Anthropology at The University of Kansas maintains a commitment to a holistic and integrative approach to studying human beings.  In insisting that its students acquire a solid grounding in the evolution and preservation of human biological and cultural diversity, it provides them with the broad training required to understand human interactions and human affairs in a world where long-standing boundary markers between countries, cultures, and races have been negated, blurred, or redefined.

This emphasis on integration and holism is reflected in the composition of its faculty, whose interests and expertise range from:

  • The transnational flows of policies, professionals, and resources devoted to intervening in global health problems
  • Characterizing the human genome to the cultural consequences of genetic engineering
  • The biological evolution of language to the preservation of endangered
  • Languages and linguistic diversity
  • Genetic epidemiology and historical epidemiology to the cultural meaning of health and disease
  • The origins of human technology to the World Wide Web
  • Biological evolution of humans to the cultural and symbolic construction of human differences
  • Statistical modeling of human biology and behavior to film and video representation of human affairs
  • The impact of violence on the physical growth and development of children to its shaping of collective grief and guilt
  • Subsistence strategies of early hunters and gatherers to human adaptability in industrialized nation

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