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History and current aims of the Anthropology Department

Anthropologists at the University of California, Davis have established a distinguished record of teaching and research. Recently, the Department has initiated a major phase of expansion and reorganization. Six new faculty members have been recruited over the past two years, and additional searches are either underway or planned. Supplemented by the contributions of an array of anthropologists elsewhere on campus, the Anthropology Department at UC Davis is currently one of the major North American centers for training and research.

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 academic year of 1954-55.  His training at Cornell University prepared him in the full four field approach to anthropology, but his specialty was anthropological linguistics.  Martin Baumhoff (UC Berkeley Ph.D.) joined him in 1958 and trained a generation of archaeologists until he passed away in 1983.  Daniel Crowley (Northwestern University Ph.D.) 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.  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 the American Anthropologist under the editorial leadership of David Olmsted resided in the department. In 1990 there were 22 full time faculty members including two members of the National Academy of Science (G. William Skinner and Sarah Hrdy).

In the first decade of the 21st Century 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, but 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 (http://gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/programs/graduate_groups.html) 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 (and the newly developing graduate groups in Race, Ethnicity and in Comparative Religious Studies), as well as broad-ranging choices for Designated Emphases at the doctoral level, such as Critical Theory, Feminist Theory, Nutrition, Social Theory and Comparative History.


Today, the Department is organized into two distinct but related wings. 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, such as 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.

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/postmodern world. Current faculty give particular emphasis to issues of meaning, language, power, and inequality and to 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.  S-Wing faculty stand out for their work 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 located 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.

Department Chair:  Lynne A. Isbell

Evolutionary Wing Director:  Teresa Steele

Sociocultural Wing Director:  Alan Klima

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Dept. of Anthropology

328 Young Hall
One Shields Ave.
University of California
Davis, Ca 95616-8522

Ph.  530-752-0745
Fax. 530-752-8885