About the Department of Anthropology

With over a dozen Faculty and Lecturers, the Department of Anthropology carries out research and provides Undergraduate and Graduate education in four areas.

Archaeology

By studying the material remains of past human behaviour, archaeology is a fundamental component of Anthropology. At San Francisco State, Archaeology covers a time-span ranging from the earliest appearance of hominids in Africa over 4 million years ago, through the emergences of key technologies (such as pottery making or metal working), economies (such as foraging, hunting and gathering and plant and animal domestication) and socio-political organizations (households, villages, towns, and cities), to the much more recent developments of western colonialism and the study of the contemporary past.

To study and interpret this vast record, students require skills drawn from across the social and hard sciences as well as the humanities and health sciences. To study the past requires a dynamic range of abilities that enable archaeologists to reconstruct extinct environments and animal demographics, to meticulously uncover fragile finds by excavation, to analyse the composition and manufacturing technologies of complex alloys, to trace the origins of prestige raw materials and understand their position in ancient burial ceremonies, and to question the political ends to which conflicting reconstructions of the past are preferred by modern governments.

San Francisco State is particularly strong in the study of world prehistory (with special emphasis on Europe and on Ancient China), the study of ancient art and visual culture, and the role that past communities, sites, monuments and museum collections play in the multi-cultural world of San Francisco and the Bay Area at the start of the twenty-first century. In addition to its own resources, the Department is particulary well connected to colleagues, classes and projects in other departments in the university (e.g., Classics, American Indian Studies) as well as at neighboring institutions such as UC Berkeley, the California Academy of Sciences, and Stanford University.

Biological Anthropology

The study of Biological Anthropology focuses on the biological nature of being human. Integral to this study is an understanding of our primate heritage, our evolutionary origins, and our modern anatomy and physiology. The understanding of human variation over time and geographic space provides the framework for reconstructing our shared evolutionary history and the mechanisms of adaptation to local environments. Biological Anthropology is also highly-interdisciplinary and, in addition to the other subfields of Anthropology, it is strongly allied with the biological sciences, integrating aspects of evolutionary biology, ecology, zoology, anatomy, and the medical sciences.

In the program at San Francisco State, students examine a wide-range of topics including our place in nature, the history of evolutionary theory, the fossil record of our origins (including developments such as upright walking), behavioral and biological inferences derived from the analysis of human skeletal remains, and patterns of morphological, physiological, and genetic variation in modern populations. Courses covering the human fossil record, contemporary human variation, human osteology, and quantitative methods are integral parts of the program.

The biological component of the Anthropology Department at SFSU concentrates on human skeletal biology and evolution. California Bioarchaeology has been the primary emphasis in the program since the beginning of the Department under the direction of Adan Treganza and later under Michael Moratto. Bioarchaeology is the scientific analysis of human skeletal remains to reconstruct demographic profiles, diet, ancestry, health, and lifestyles (habitual labor stress) of archeological populations. The Department currently maintains two laboratory spaces in the Old Science Building. We have one teaching laboratory space (SCI 273), which is shared by biological anthropologists and archaeologists.

The Department maintains a large collection of instructional resources and equipment, including an extensive collection of modern human osteological specimens, a collection of fossil replicas (including the entire skeleton of Lucy and many important fossils from Koobi Fora), a collection of comparative primate skeletons, including Great Apes, Old and New World monkeys, and prosimians, and paleopathology specimens. A second laboratory space is located in SCI 395. This is the bioanthropology laboratory, and its 1000 square feet of floor space provides separate areas for analysis, wet-processing, limited-term artifact and skeletal curation, photography, computer operations, and cold storage.

Cultural Anthropology

By studying human societies in their diversity, cultural anthropologists contribute to the appreciation of cultures that are endangered, dominated, or exploited. Cultural anthropologists stipulate that power is predictably unequally distributed; this results in advantages and disadvantages for particular communities. At San Francisco State, classes in Cultural Anthropology sharpen students' sensibilities for social justice and their responsibilities in becoming advocates for more equitable distributions of power and resources in contemporary communities.

The study of Cultural Anthropology draws on research methods that range from extended fieldwork in particular locales to interview and survey. Our students receive training in a variety of research methods. In addition, students receive Internal Review Board (IRB) training which certifies their awareness of and commitment to ethical research codes. Much teaching includes assignments in the neighborhoods of San Francisco and the East Bay; by moving out into the community, students’ education transcends the limits of the classroom. Students actively engage in current issues that affect surrounding communities; many present academic papers at the Human Rights Summit, an annual event which brings together community activists, community members, faculty and students.

SFSU's Department of Anthropology is particularly strong in the areas of Central and South America, the Middle East, and East Asia. Many of our faculty carry out community-based participatory research projects (with student involvement), and most hold research affiliations in public policy and academic institutions in the Bay Area, such as the Cesar Chavez Institute, the Public Research Institute, the Bio-Behavioral Research Group, and the Health Equity Initiative.

Visual Anthropology

Since the earliest days of the motion picture camera, anthropologists have used visual media both to record and analyze cultural phenomena, and to represent visions of distant cultures to the public. Filming techniques and goals have followed Anthropology’s course through the many theories of culture that characterized the field in the last one hundred and twenty years. Because the Department at San Francisco State has a strongly applied focus, our Visual Anthropology courses concentrate on the use of media in constructive social change. Students turn their anthropological expertise to design films that are made in collaboration with activist community groups, whether in the Bay Area or in our Tanzania Field School.

Expertise in Visual Anthropology is developed along three parallel lines. In the first place, students must acquire a fundamental understanding of the scope of Cultural Anthropology and the theoretical transformations that the discipline has undergone. Anthropological films are grounded in anthropology; they are not simply documentaries made about people who don’t speak English. Second, Visual Anthropology is based on the ethnographic method. Our students develop expertise in field research and in the development of critical hypotheses on which film strategies are based. Finally, Visual Anthropology students travel the steep learning curve of filmmaking, from the technical requirements of expertise in image and sound reproduction to the development of treatments, budgets, grant proposals, and edits. Our success can be measured in the many national and international screenings and prizes that our students’ films have won.

San Francisco State University has a long history in Visual Anthropology. One of the founders of the discipline, John Collier, Jr., taught here for many years. With John Adair, Collier established San Francisco as a preeminent center for anthropology and film. The Departments of Anthropology and Cinema work closely together, sharing students, faculty, digital editing labs, and festival screenings: all is focused on excellence in training. In addition, SFSU has an excellent domain for visual production, burgeoning with communities from every part of the world. In their collaborative, applied approach to Visual Anthropology, our students find great interest and willing partners in the making of beautiful films for community development.