A 4-panel illustration showing 3 people communicating with hand signs.
Program Overview

Anthropology

Study human practices from stone tools to social media.

A comic-style transcript from Professor Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway's research with deaf signers in Nepal.

Open-Ended Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Methods

From language and medicine to kinship and dwelling, anthropology asks questions that are fundamental to understanding our place in the universe. A discipline founded on curiosity about the human condition, it has evolved into a methodologically self-aware field that combines a questioning spirit with respect for holistic forms of knowledge. Anthropology provides students with skills in data-literacy, cultural-literacy and media-literacy that are crucial for a range of professional pathways in a rapidly changing world.

Collaborative Work with Artifacts and Communities

Oberlin’s Anthropology department brings students together from a range of backgrounds to work on an array of projects. You may find yourself recreating an ancient clay pot in a laboratory, studying Nepali Sign Language in Kathmandu, or joining faculty research on why social media platforms should account for cultural differences when devising their content moderation policies. With individualized faculty attention and support, our majors are able to pursue their intellectual passions while opening themselves to communities both near and far.

Oberlin’s Ethnographic Collection contains over 1,600 cultural objects from around the world.
Browse the collection

Multimodal Methodologies

Anthropologists experiment with a wide range of media for generating and sharing insights about the world - including but not limited to writing books, curating online archives, and drawing ethnographic comics.

Illustration of 3 people under the words "Wash Hands"
Anthropology includes 7 subfields including cultural, linguistic, and medical anthropology as well as archaeology and ethnomusicology.

Language and Communication

In addition to the study of individual languages, Oberlin offers a rich course of study in the field of linguistics, the formal study of language itself.

Student writing on a whiteboard.

Featured Courses

Anth 102

Human Origins

This course adopts a biocultural approach to investigating the age-old question of what makes us human? Anthropology is simply – and powerfully – the study of the human species past and present, and in all of our facets as cultural, linguistic, and biological entities.  Students will explore our species’ shared evolutionary heritage, the origins of the rich cultural diversity observable among us today, and our place in the natural world.

Taught by
Amy Margaris ’96
Anth 227

Medical Anthropology

This course will cultivate an anthropological understanding of the intersections between disease, health, society, the body, culture, and global political economy. Drawing on accounts from across the globe, our topics will include: comparative study of health systems; cross-cultural definitions and understandings of disease, illness, and health; bodies, medicine, and the media; maladies from chronic pain to AIDS to cholera; topics in disability studies and fat studies; health, ethics, and morality; health inequalities; and global health.

Taught by
Damien Droney
Anth 278

Human Rights, Universalism and Cultural Relativism

How do we affirm the importance of cultural difference while also recognizing that oppression is often rooted in culture? Through an examination of the ways in which people in different societies of the world identify and define ethical and social standards, this course examines the concept of universal human rights and attempts at applying it in the United Nations system and beyond.

Taught by
Baron Pineda
Anth 322

Language, Disability, and Sensory Ecologies

This course introduces students to anthropological perspectives on language use as an embodied practice, with attention to the diverse sensory ecologies through which language is produced and perceived. Drawing on comparative work from around the world, we will highlight how perspectives from deaf and disability studies enrich understandings of the political and phenomenological dimensions of language. We will also explore how linguistic practices contribute to the construction of and experience of disabilities.

Taught by
Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway

Student Profiles

Community-Based Engagement

Zola Barnes ’19, a double-degree student, received a funded year of training, mentorship, and learning opportunities focused on the skills needed to achieve social change as part of the Newman Civic Fellowship.

Zola Barnes

Oberlin Shansi Fellow

Radia Lahlou ’18, a double major in Anthropology and Linguistics, grew up balancing American, Moroccan and French cultural norms, and is a heritage speaker of French. At the Shanxi Agricultural University in Taigu, China, she will explore how cultural exchange can be used as a pedagogical tool in her classroom.

Radia Lahlou

Poet, Activist, and Optimist

Anthropology and Creative Writing double major David James ("DJ") Savarese '17 now works as a public speaker, artful activist (poet, essayist, filmmaker), and practicing optimist, working to make interdependent, self-determined lives a reality for non-traditionally speaking people.

D.J. Savarese

What does Anthropology at Oberlin look like?

A professor handles an artifact with white gloves.

A fish skin and caribou leather bag from the Alaskan Arctic receives treatment by Professor Amy Margaris.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna
Students have a discussion around a table covered with reference books and a map..

Anthropology students have the opportunity to collaborate on community-informed exhibits that include artifacts, interviews, and digital content.

Photo credit: Yvonne Gay
Two people pose at a fountain.

In 2015, Oberlin students traveled to Nepal to assist Professor Hoffmann-Dilloway on her research focusing on Nepali Sign Language.

A dozen people pose on a wooden platform overlooking a lush forest. There is a mountain in the background.

Oberlin Anthropology faculty and students participating in an interdisciplinary trip to Indonesia, combining sociocultural and geological perspectives to understand natural disasters.

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.


Fall foliage and campus buildings.