Museum Anthropology

Program Category: MA Programs
Chair: Claudio Lomnitz
Director of Graduate Studies: Brian Boyd

The free-standing MA in Museum Anthropology, offered jointly by the Columbia Department of Anthropology and the American Museum of Natural History, is a professional degree for those already employed in or interested in moving into the museum field. This program combines the strengths of a premier academic department of anthropology and an innovative department of museum anthropology whose collections and archives span the history and geographic range of the discipline. Students learn the practical skills entailed in working in museums and develop the strong theoretical perspective essential to those who use material culture to express ideas through visual display. The program prepares students to interpret ethnographic and archaeological collections to the general public, work in registration or collections management, and become scientific, educational, or research staff at various levels at facilities ranging from small local museums to larger institutions.

In recent years, museums all around the world have become deeply contested places. New approaches to practice in existing museums are being explored, and there are many ramifications pertaining to the formation of new museums in post-colonial settings. The study of museums connects to issues of heritage and repatriation and adds additional depth and complexity to the significance of objects. Students who complete the program will have had a unique opportunity to engage these issues within the frame of an intellectually stimulating anthropology program and in dialogue with museum professionals who have been exploring these questions in the creation of innovative public exhibits.

The program consists of 30 points of course work, including three core courses and six points of internship. A thesis is also required.

Related courses in other departments (such as Art History and Archaeology or Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology) are encouraged. Among the museums at which internships may be conducted (depending on interests and availability) are: the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Museo del Barrio, the Museum for African Art, the Museum of Chinese in America, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Museum of the American Indian, New-York Historical Society, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The program accepts only a small number of qualified students. We aim for a diverse group of students; an undergraduate anthropology or archaeology major is not required but may be preferred. Students who have undergraduate majors in history, art history, and related disciplines are welcome to apply, but it should be noted that we strongly prefer candidates who have had some museum experience.

Special Admissions Requirements

In addition to the requirements listed below, all students must submit one transcript showing courses and grades per school attended, a statement of academic purpose, a writing sample (a course paper, term paper, etc.), a personal statement, and three letters of evaluation from academic sources.

All international students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English must submit scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or IELTS.

For more information, refer to our Admissions Information and Frequently Asked Questions pages.

*GSAS will accept up to four recommendations, regardless of the number required by your program of interest. However, to be eligible for admission at GSAS, at least TWO letters must be submitted by academic recommenders.