A Harvard sophomore has written an article in the Crimson about the demise of the biological anthropology program, which seems to have been killed off by the creation of a new “human evolutionary biology” (HEB) program which “was identical to biological anthropology in every way except that it replaced social anthropology and archaeology requirements with pre-med classes.” The results were predictable, there are now only three biological anthropology majors left.
As someone who graduated from a four fields anthropology program, I’m glad that I had to take courses in biological anthropology, and many of my friends in that program were similarly happy to have taken their share of cultural, linguistic, and archaeology classes. Still, it was clear that the programs were moving further and further apart. The “linguistic turn” in Anthropology long ago moved cultural anthropology further towards the humanities, but more recently the increasing importance of genetic data have placed additional strains on biological anthropologists. My colleagues told me that the amount of specialized training required to handle genetic science placed tremendous demands on them, forcing them to take far more biology courses.
It remains to be seen if the remaining four-field programs will continue to hold together. Another source of pressure seems to come from the success of specialized programs in medical anthropology and science and technology studies. These programs seem to offer a truly interdisciplinary approach to combining science and cultural anthropology whereas traditional four-field programs are increasingly loosing their raison d’être.