Graduate Study at Duke

Cultural Anthropology today is marked by the dynamism of the times. No longer just the study of remote societies, the field explores how people produce, inhabit and make sense of all corners and aspects of today's globalized world. This department is committed to studying the politics of culture, power, and history and the complex questions of theory, method, and interpretation that this project demands. As such, we offer 2 programs for graduate students -- a doctoral program and a Certificate Program in Anthropology & History for Ph.D. students.

Program Features & Benefits

Key Features and Benefits of Our Ph.D. Program

  • Focuses on a Student's Portfolio not written or oral exams
  • Encourages interdisciplinary outlook engagement with other departments across campus
  • Promotes close contact between faculty and graduate students
  • Emphasizes student-designed Plan of Study that enables you to develop particular interests, acquire general competence through exposure to classic paradigms and current trends within the field, and meet departmental and university requirements
  • Does not require a Master's thesis or an Anthropology undergraduate degree
  • Provides opportunity to apply to receive a Master's degree after successful completion of their third year Portfolio Workshop

Outstanding Job Placement Track Record

We have an excellent record of placing our graduates in tenure-track jobs, including many at top universities. Of our graduates in the last five years, 58% are in tenure track university positions, 25% are in visiting or adjunct university positions, and 17% are in either non-university positions or not working (usually fulfilling family obligations). We have graduates now professors at Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, University of Washington, University of Chicago, Wesleyan, and many other leading institutions. Some of our Ph.D.s choose non-academic careers, including taking museum directorships or working in government or for Non-Governmental Organizations.

Vibrant Colloquia Series

The department also hosts a regular colloquia series, in which outstanding national and international anthropologists present their work. Faculty are closely connected to many other departments and programs on campus, including African and African-American Studies, the Global Health program, Women’s Studies, Music, History, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Latino/a Studies Center, the Asian Pacific Studies Institute, Center for South Asian Studies, Documentary Film Studies, and the Franklin Humanities Center.

Key Benefits of the Certificate Program

Our program fosters close collaboration between students and their mentors, working together to create a coherent program of study to obtain the Certificate. Mentors—from both the Cultural Anthropology and History departments—have diverse backgrounds which enable you to work with someone more aligned to your interests and needs. 

Synergy Between Anthropology and History

For several decades, historians have been turning to cultural anthropology, and anthropologists to history, for methodological and substantive guidance. By now a relatively large number of historians and anthropologists work within a shared framework, asking similar questions, and seeking answers to these questions from similar kinds of evidence. In both disciplines, it is widely understood that cultural diversity and cultural change cannot be accounted for either by the traditional narrative techniques of historians or by the traditional ethnographic descriptions of anthropologists. 

Historians realize they must look beyond action, intention, and event, to underlying patterns, unspoken presuppositions, institutional and discursive structures. Anthropologists realize that kinship, ritual, social role, discourse, and belief are all subject to improvisation, contestation, politicization, and thus to change. Scholars in both disciplines have looked to practice theory, as developed by Bourdieu, Giddens, Ortner, and Sewell; to postcolonial studies, as developed by Stoler, Dirks, Spivak, Das, and Burton; to performance theory, as developed by Sahlins, Butler, Sedgwick; and to other, related approaches.

Drawing on these streams of theory, anthropologists and historians strive to come to grips with the full implications of cultural diversity and change. The challenge is to understand what all actors in a given context consciously know and intend as well as what they unconsciously take for granted, what they do on purpose and what they do without reflection, and to see how action and conflict have both intended and unintended consequences.