A Major Dilemma: Anthropology

At William & Mary, students may choose to major in anthropology, which will earn them a Bachelor of Arts, or minor. In order to earn a BA in Anthropology, students must take 33 credit hours within the major. These include a major computing requirement, a major writing requirement, and a set of core requirements that expose the students to the major subfields of anthropology:  archaeology, and biological, cultural, and linguistic anthropology. A minor requires 18 credit hours, and exposure to at least two subfields.

A more detailed list of these requirements can be found in the Course Catalog and on the Anthropology website for a major, and also for a minor. Students interested in anthropology may choose to focus on one particular subfield or to choose courses across all of them. There are many related minors that students may pursue as well, including the recently added Asian & Pacific Islander Studies and Native Studies. Those who would like to know more about the classes W&M offers in each subfield can find a detailed sorting of anthropology courses. Because students can build their degree schedule around any subfield they’re interested in, it is unlikely that any two students will have the same schedule or experience under the anthropology department. Here’s the experiences of one W&M student, who is interested in archaeology:

Why did you choose this major? History has always been a part of my life because my parents would take me and my siblings around to various sites, museums, and battlefields, but I had always been more interested in a more hands-on approach. Eventually I found out about archaeology and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, so I decided to pursue anthropology as a way to become an archaeologist.

Favorite thing about the major? One of my favorite things about anthropology is the fact that it’s an incredibly self-aware discipline. While it was originally founded on incredibly racist ideology, throughout the past century anthropologists have been addressing their past grievances and have attempted to change the discipline for the better. I admire the fact that the discipline acknowledges its past rather than attempting to sweep it under the rug, and actively works to ensure that it does not happen again.

Favorite class you’ve taken in the major and why? It might not count as an actual class, but one of my favorite experiences so far has been working in an archaeological research lab for credit. Instead of just sitting in the classroom taking notes from a PowerPoint and writing papers, I was able to actually get some hands-on experience while also helping a professor with their research. It also exposed me to archaeological processes that would be much harder to learn about in a classroom setting.

As for a real class, one of my favorites was Intro to Biological Anthropology because I had never experienced that side of anthropology before. While I had learned about evolution in general in other classes, Introduction to Biological Anthropology went into much more detail about the evolution of the human species, all the way from roughly Australopithecines to modern day Homo sapiens. It kind of blew my mind just how gradually humans evolved, and how we can track our evolution through archaeological/paleontological finds.

Favorite professor/s in the department? This question was a lot harder than it should have been… The anthropology department at William & Mary is full of amazing professors, so it’s hard to just choose a couple. For starters, I’ve had some really interesting classes with Neil Norman and Joseph Jones, who both just also happen to be two of the nicest, most helpful professors I’ve ever had. There are also a few professors who I’ve heard great things about from both anthropology and non-anthropology majors alike, but have never actually had classes with such as Michael Blakey and Martin Gallivan.

What would you tell someone considering this major? I would say do it! There’s a whole lot of reading and writing involved, but it’s totally worth it if it’s something you’re truly interested in! Even if you decide against it as a major I would recommend anthropology courses as electives, whether to fulfill requirements or just for fun. Anthropology is such a versatile subject, there’s sure to be something that interests you.

A big thanks to this student for offering their thoughts on the anthropology department! If you want to hear about a specific W&M program, message Peer Advising on Facebook, and we’ll incorporate that program into our Major Dilemma series this summer. If you have any questions regarding academic programs or policies, or questions about life at W&M, you can email Peer Advising at OAAPeeradvising@wm.edu.

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