overview people courses labs graduate undergraduate events
Graduate Programs
Social Anthropology
Media Anthropology
Medical Anthropology
Frequently Asked Questions

Resources for Students
Forms for Students

Related Information
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS)
Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)
Information for TAs and TFs

Social Anthropology Graduate Program Overview

The field of social/cultural anthropology is changing rapidly in response to economic and political developments in the post-Cold War world. Harvard's Social Anthropology Program is now focusing on issues of globalism, ethnic violence, gender studies, "new" nationalisms, diaspora formation, transnationalism and local experience, medical anthropology, and the emerging cultures of cyberspace.

Faculty members have built ties to colleagues in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard's regional centers (e.g., Davis Center of Russian Studies, Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and Asia Center), the Barker Center for Humanities, the Afro-American Studies program, and the professional schools (especially the Harvard Medical School).

Our graduate students (drawn from over 30 countries) expect to work in the worlds of academe, government, NGOs, law, medicine, and business.

Our mission during the next two decades is to develop new methodologies for an anthropology that tracks cultural developments in a global economy increasingly defined by the internet and related technologies.

Social Anthropology Program faculty are keenly aware that material culture is a key element in the study of globalism and the new world economy. Accordingly, we are cooperating with Peabody Museum staff who share our interests in redefining the study of popular culture, art, and the origins of industrial society. Research at the Peabody Museum also makes it possible for us to maintain close ties to our departmental colleagues in the Archaeology Program.

PLEASE NOTE: Inquiries regarding the Social Anthropology Graduate Program should be directed either to the Director of Graduate Studies or to individual faculty members based on their own research and teaching interests.

Graduate Program Outline

Years One through Three
Coursework in the first three years includes a minimum of 16 half-courses, 12 of which are in anthropology, including: Proseminar A and B, area-specific ethnography, biological anthropology, and archeology.

Scholarly and field language requirements should be fulfilled before going to the field unless the field language can be learned only in the field.

Full-time students must be registered for four half-courses per semester. Students should register for TIME-C, TIME-R or TIME-T to indicate full-time study if enrolled in fewer than four courses. Please note however that TIME is not graded and that the department does not count TIME toward the 16 half-courses required.

First Year
- Proseminar
- 3-half courses

- Proseminar
- 3-half courses/time

- Language training
- General exam reading

Satisfactory Progress:
- B+ minimum grade in proseminars.
- Minimum overall grade average of B+.
- Satisfactory review by first year review committee.

Second Year
- 4 half courses
- General exams

- 4 half courses
- General exams

- Predissertation research

Satisfactory Progress:
- Pass the General Examination
- Minimum overall grade average of B+

Third Year
- Thesis prospectus committee members approved by program.
- Write grant proposals for fieldwork.

- Thesis prospectus committee meeting held

Satisfactory Progress:
- Thesis prospectus approved.
- Minimum grade average of B+. No incompletes.

Years Four and Five
Satisfactory progress determined on the basis of student’s reports to the advisor.

Fifth Year and Beyond
Write up dissertation:
Satisfactory progress determined on the basis of the writing schedule a student arranges with his or her advisor. This program is designed to be completed in six or seven years.

Final Year
- Inform Graduate Program Administrator of intent to graduate
- Schedule public dissertation defense with Graduate Program Administrator
- Give readers chapters for advice
- Defend, and submit dissertation with signed Thesis Acceptance Certificate

The Application Process In General

The Ph.D. program receives over 160 applications each year and, in the past few years, has had entering classes of approximately 8 or 9 students. Each year the program receives many more applications than we can possibly accept and with great regret must turn down many very well qualified candidates.

A previous background studying anthropology is not a prerequisite for admissions, but successful candidates, whether they have studied anthropology previously or not, must be able to state clearly their interests in anthropology and demonstrate familiarity with intellectual issues in current anthropological theory and method.

Admissions Decisions
Decisions on admission are made by a faculty committee which reads all applications, and which consults with other members of the faculty on candidates who are applying with specific theoretical, topical, or areal interests that correspond to those of individual faculty members. The aim of the graduate admissions committee is to select very well-qualified applicants who represent a range of interests and backgrounds and who will form a reasonably well-balanced class cohort. An effort is made each year to ensure that the entering class represents a range of interests in the geographical and cultural regions of the world that are covered by current faculty research and teaching, but there is no automatic allocation of slots in the program for specific areas.

Admissions Numbers
The number of students we can admit each year is determined by the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Social Anthropology program does not learn the final number of admissions until February or March of each year.

Language Proficiency
Prior preparation in languages related to an applicant’s intended area or areas of specialization is advantageous. Current language abilities should be explained in the application essay.

Students in the graduate program are required to demonstrate (within their first three years in the program) that they have sufficient abilities for research in both a language they will use for conducting fieldwork and in a language in which there is a body of anthropological writing relevant to their proposed research.

Personal Essay
Generally, successful applicants have a strong background in either a geographic, cultural region and/or a particular topical or theoretical interest in anthropology. The essay required as part of the application should make such backgrounds and interests very clear.

Writing Samples
The admissions committee for the social anthropology program pays particularly close attention to the writing samples submitted by applicants. You should carefully select an example of your best academic writing that demonstrates your capacity for rigorous analysis and independent work. It is not essential that the writing sample you submit be directly related to the topics or areas that you are proposing to study in the future.

GRE Scores
The Social Anthropology Program does rely on GRE scores particularly the verbal and qualitative reasoning scores as general indicators of academic ability. Relatively low scores do not automatically disqualify an applicant from consideration, but to be successful an applicant with relatively low GRE scores will need to demonstrate outstanding potential in other aspects of the application, such as the personal essay, background and preparation, letters of recommendation, and writing samples.

TOEFL Scores
TOEFL examinations are required of all applicants whose native language is not English or who have not received a degree (bachelors or graduate degree) from an accredited college or university where the primary language of instruction is English. Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sets the regulation that "a minimum score of 550 on the paper test and 213 on the computer test on the TOEFL is required for consideration by the Graduate School."


Director of Graduate Studies
Mary Steedly

- Professor
- Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
- Social Anthropology Program

steedly@fas.harvard.edu | website
(617) 495-3730 | Tozzer Anthropology Building 212

Graduate Program Administrator
Marianne Fritz
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University
Tozzer Anthropology Building 103 A
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138
(617) 495-5564
mfritz [at] fas.harvard.edu

Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
©2012 President & Fellows of Harvard College