UMass Boston

Undergraduate Learning Goals

See below for a list of objectives and learning goals for all Anthropology Majors to develop during their time in the program.

Knowledge and Skills

  1. An appreciation for human cultural diversity
  2. An understanding of our origins as a biological species and the ways in which our capacity for language and culture has shaped our diversity historically
  3. An awareness of how culture shapes the way people view the world and how that world view has consequences for society locally and globally
  4. An appreciation for the ways in which human societies shape their physical and social environments and in turn are affected by them,
  5. An understanding of how social categories, especially race, are constructed entities and how those constructions are contingent on historical and cultural variables
  6. An understanding of how post-1500 A.D. forces of globalization have shaped the lives of both indigenous populations and settler groups
  7. An understanding of the relationship between data and theory and at least a modest personal experience conducting empirical research
  8. An understanding of the ethical responsibilities of anthropologists to the individuals and communities whose lives and material remains they document
  9. An awareness of the plight of marginalized and oppressed groups and other human rights and social justice issues
  10. An ability to address issues affecting the world in which we live through an anthropological lens that promotes a holistic and contextual understanding
  11. A capacity to make connections, through anthropology, to multiple disciplines in the humanities and sciences
  12. An ability to read and understand the scholarship on which an anthropological perspective is based
  13. An ability to articulate an anthropological analysis of problems through a clearly organized written or oral argument
  14. A sense of career awareness or potential post-graduation job possibilities through their coursework and their time in the department 
  15. A capacity for students to plan their own trajectories, create opportunities, and market themselves to potential employers
  16. An ability to recognize, acquire, and deploy anthropological skills in a variety of allied fields and job contexts

We hold central a commitment to open and critical learning that fosters inquiry and discovery; to training that nurtures diversity, respect, and inclusion; and to our collective obligation to cultural and environmental stewardship. Our approach is based not only on our conception of what kind of preparation will best serve the aspiring professional anthropologist, but on what anthropology has to offer the educated individual in both local and global settings. Anthropology offers useful resources for understanding current trends that affect our workplaces, families, and communities, and this knowledge is applicable to many lines of professional work, including careers in health and science, education, business, social service, and many types of graduate study.


Common Pedagogical Goals and Learning Capabilities in Multi-Sectioned Anthropology Courses

The following descriptions chart the substantive or topical goals and identify critical learning capabilities for Anthropology Department courses taught in multiple sections each term or by several different faculty members in different terms.  These courses consist of the three introductory courses (Anth 105, Anth 106, and Anth 107)--all three of which satisfy GenEd Distribution requirements--and two courses required of all majors (Anth 345 and Anth 425).

ANTH 105  - Introduction to Biological Anthropology

Substantive Topics Covered in Each Section

  • Theory and Methods – present facts supporting evolutionary theory and natural selection; consider counter-narratives by critics of evolutionary theory; understand how analysis of fossilized skeletal remains are used to establish the human evolutionary record.
  • Non-Human Primates – a comparative survey of non-human primates and evidence shared genetic history; understanding of how primatology informs our understanding of human evolutionary development and human behavior.
  • Basic Genetics – key concepts, definitions, and mechanisms in genetics to serve as a foundation for deeper understanding of evolutionary forces affecting genetic diversity.
  • Race and Human Biological Variation – critical assessments of race as a scientific, biological category describing human populations; evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses with the race concept; reflection on wider society’s understanding of human biological variation; consideration of the ways that the social construction of race affects health and well-being of racialized groups.
  • Human Culture and Biology – exploration of the relationships among biology, environment, and culture; critical assessment of race, class, and gender and historical and political economic contexts in patterning lived experience and consequent health risk; understanding of how inequalities serve as a catalyst for the emergence of health disparities.

Critical Student Learning Capabilities

In fulfilling the General Education Distribution requirements in Natural Sciences, the course places special emphasis on:

  • Critical thinking
  • Enhanced understanding of scientific inquiry
  • Development of science literacy, and reflection on the relevance of science to wider society 
  • Quantitative reasoning through assignments that require students to apply theoretical and mathematical concepts in genetics 


ANTH 106 – Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Substantive Topics Covered in Each Section

  • Anthropology & Anthropological Subfields – overview of the four subfields of anthropology; discussion of historical and spatial scope of the field, and the field’s holistic / comparative character
  • Ethnographic Methods – discussion of skills, methods, and ethical considerations involved in doing ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation; examination of classic and current examples of ethnographic research
  • Culture & Cultural Assumptions – define culture and outline its characteristics; critically assess how culture shapes the way people view the world and the consequences of this
  • Culture Change, Colonialism & Globalization – examination of how cultural practices and beliefs are maintained, transformed, reinterpreted and replaced in the course of time; critical assessment of forces of cultural change, particularly colonialism and globalization; discussion of the impact of colonialism and globalization on indigenous groups throughout the world; discussion of how globalization shapes people’s lives; reflection on how people and cultures will respond to future opportunities, challenges, and threats.
  • Culture, Biology, Environment – exploration of the relationships and feedback interactions among biology, environment, and culture; discussion of how humans have used culture to adapt to their environments
  • Identity, Ethnicity, Race & Racism – introduction to the concepts of ethnicity and race and how they have been defined historically and cross-culturally; critical assessments of race as a scientific, biological category describing human populations; consideration of the ways that the social construction of race affects well-being of racialized groups; consideration of ways that people orient to, perform, and find meaning in social categories
  • Diversity and Multiculturalism – exploration of the range of human cultural variation; consideration of people’s memberships in multiple cultures; reflection on the challenges and opportunities posed by life in a multicultural society; examination of the causes and consequences of cultural diversity
  • Subsistence / Economic Systems – distinctions between different subsistence systems and forms of exchange
  • Social Relations, Structures & Political Economy – examination of the groups and institutions that people are organized in, from kinship and family relations to political systems; discussion of how a group’s structures and activities influence the behavior and ideas of its members; critical assessment of the ways that groups, and individuals through them, acquire and use power
  • Meaning Making & Symbolic Action – discussion of how people make their experiences in this world meaningful; assessment of the symbolic significance of myth and ritual and their connections to worldviews; consideration of anthropological perspectives on the origins and functions of religion; cross-cultural comparison religious and ritual practices
  • Applications of Anthropology – discussion of how anthropological knowledge can be used to address social problems and advocate on behalf of disadvantaged or marginalized groups; discussion of the ways individuals can develop cultural fluency and sensitivity as a way to engage responsibly with the world

Critical Student Learning Capabilities

In fulfilling the General Education Distribution requirements in Social and Behavioral Sciences, the course places special emphasis on:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication in writing
  • Awareness of the complexity of the human experience across cultures. 

The course encourages students to develop explicit awareness of their own cultural assumptions and how these inform the way they view the practices and beliefs of others. 
Cultural sensitivity is developed in the course through in-class discussions, activities, and assignments that develop close listening, speaking and collaborative work skills.


ANTH 107 – Introduction to Archaeology

Substantive Topics Covered in Each Section

  • Theory and Methods – how archeologists find evidence and interpret the past, history of archaeological thought and theory, concepts and techniques of archaeological research, theory as a framework to consider evidence
  • Origins – origins of humankind, early evidence of hominid society from fossil record, early hunting and gathering societies, exploration of theories about the emergence of cultivation
  • Lifeways – material culture as evidence of past lifeways, evidence of lifeways of past foraging and agricultural societies
  • Complexity – rise of complexity, social and political inequality, civilization, early urbanism
  • Historical archaeology  - role of archeology in studying last 500 years, connections to work of historical archaeologists in the department
  • Contemporary Issues and Debates – significant trends and issues around the world, particularly regarding the politics of archaeology (repatriation, ethics, public archaeology, etc.), and key controversies therein

Critical Student Learning Capabilities

In fulfilling the General Education Distribution requirements in Social and Behavioral Sciences, the course places special emphasis on:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication in writing
  • Application of systematic observation along with theory to address research questions about human behavior. 
  • Developing quantitative reasoning
  • Collaborative work skills through individual and group projects that require students to gather their own evidence, document counts and percentages, reflect on findings, and develop conclusions


ANTH 345: Sociocultural Theory

This required course for majors is a comparative, historical survey of major theoretical schools of thought in sociocultural anthropology that guide, inform, and generate anthropological research and writing.  Students will learn about the social and historical contexts for the roots, emergence, change, and fading away of major ideas within the discipline. Students are not only trained to assess current issues in the discipline; they learn how  historical processes and movements (like feminism, civil rights and independence movements) have affected directions of anthropological inquiry. Students are encouraged to reflect on the ability of anthropology to help us address important (social, political, and even economic) issues of our time. Students will explore their own theoretical predilections through discussion and debate and consider ways to connect theory with everyday life.  Students also make connections between theory and ethnographic research through the careful reading and analysis of major ethnographic works.  Through thoughtful reading, discussion, and writing, students will become aware of and be able to critique those assumptions, biases, and other factors that influence anthropologists’ observations, considerations of evidence, and interpretations of data.  In this way, students will better understand the nature and politics of theory and of knowledge production. 

Key Topics

  • Founding Social Theories: development of a science of the social through studying exchange, symbolism, praxis, and culture, among other core anthropological approaches.
  • Anthropology in Colonial Contextotion of “culture” as teachable; ideas about progress; the dynamic history of anthropological fieldwork.
  • Classical evolutionary, structural, functional and interpretive approaches to studying culture.
  • Critiques of classical approaches:
    • Coverage of contemporary methods, theories, debates that emerged to contest them, which foreground issues of ethnographic representation and power relations in research practice
    • These include political economy, feminist theory, post-modernism, post-colonialism, and theoretical considerations of globalization, modernity, process, and agency

Critical Student Learning Capabilities

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Analytical writing
  • Reading comprehension and synthesis
  • Ability to apply theoretical material to questions of practical significance for individuals, societies, and the discipline of anthropology 


ANTH 425: Contemporary Issues in Anthropology (Capstone Course)

The goal of the capstone seminar is to explore the value of an anthropological perspective by focusing on a single, contemporary issue.  The specific focus of the capstone seminar varies according to the particular theme selected by Department faculty members who teach the course on a rotating basis.  Common to all versions of the seminar, the topic of the course is examined from at least two of the four traditional subfields of anthropology and in doing so, will provide students with the opportunity to pull together the various threads of anthropological knowledge received in courses for the Anthropology or Archaeology and History major.  Students will gain an appreciation for the ways in which their training has equipped them with tools for understanding contemporary social issues. 

Substantive Topics

Substantive topics vary according to the specific course theme chosen by the instructor.  Examples of themes addressed in recent iterations of the capstone course include: 

  • Social networks
  • Ethnic interaction
  • Global piracy
  • Tourism
  • Cultural representation
  • Slavery.

Critical Student Learning Skills

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Analytical writing
  • Reading comprehension and synthesis
  • Ability to apply theoretical material to questions of practical significance for individuals, societies, and the discipline of anthropology 

Students will develop oral presentation-ability to make innovative connections between knowledge gained in other courses in the major.