Who Majors in Anthropology? An Infographic and a Request


A little irked by the tone and skepticism with which some ask the question, “What can you do with a degree in anthropology,” I’ve decided to address the quandary with an infographic. Often, I’m confronted with the assumption that after finishing my Bachelor’s in Anthropology, I would find myself behind a bar or waiting tables. From my perspective, my question is “What can’t you do with a degree in anthropology?” I’ve taken at stab at answering this question here (after the jump), but I want help from Savage Minds’ readers to find lesser-known examples of influential former-anthropology students.

Of course, the debunking of the uselessness of an anthropology degree has already been undertaken in a number of ways. Notably, the textbook publisher Pearson Higher Ed developed a poster (“Leave your mark. Major in Anthropology.”) that lists the job titles that (implied by the use of the imperative “Major”) one can obtain with only a Bachelor’s. It leaves out the caveat that many of those careers require a Master’s degree, and probably in something other than anthropology.


A couple years ago, the American Anthropological Association developed the website, “This is Anthropology” – a portal through which anthropologists can introduce themselves and their work to the public. I’ve certainly found it useful for professional networking, but I wonder how many high school juniors, seniors, and college freshman reach out. (Really, is there any data?)

I don’t mean to suggest that either of these efforts is in vain – they weren’t designed to withstand the tides of your Governor Rick Scotts and your FIRST Act of 2014s alone. No, these projects, others (e.g. BOAS Network), and many more in the future must weave a web that stands at the interface of anthropology proper and skeptical tax- and tuition-payers. This infographic (and the one that hopefully follows) is my contribution to that web.

What I want to do is use this infographic to dispel any notion that no one studies or uses anthropology aside from academics. It is designed to be easily shared, read, and even altered. This image features 24 people with degrees in (or at least very strong ties to) the field of anthropology – some you know (i.e. Kurt Vonnegut) and maybe some you don’t (i.e. Hugh Laurie). While those represented in this list are well-known people – actors, actresses, musicians, authors – I’d like to develop a second list of lesser-known, high-impact people – politicians, lobbyists, philanthropists, journalists, inventors, CEOs, television producers. And this is where you come in. If you are or someone you know is one of these people, please email me at richard.powis@gmail.com. Thank you!

Here’s the whole thing:

wma infographic SM
Dick Powis

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.

63 thoughts on “Who Majors in Anthropology? An Infographic and a Request

  1. Prince Charles studied anthropology and archaeology at Cambridge. Former leader of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta studied social anthropology with Malinowski. Musician Johnny Clegg studied and taught anthropology in South Affrica.

  2. Corey Harris, blues musician and former MacArthur fellow, anthropology at Bates College (1991)

  3. This is fantastic – I’m starting my BA in anthropology next semester and kind of wondering what comes after, so thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Kathy Reichs, forensic anthropologist in Montreal, professor in North Carolina, and novelist all at the same time!

  5. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark studied archeology at Girton Colleege, Cambridge University.

    Gary Larson, of The Far Side fame, is reputed to have studied anthrpology (how can you doubt if you know his comics!), but I don’t think he majored in it

  6. They studied anthropology, yes, but most of them are not “using” their degree at all. They decided to do completely unrelated things (acting, cooking, etc.). For the record, I think there are many things you can do with a degree in anthro and i’m irked by that question as well. However I don’t think this list reflects that. It’s just a bunch of people who pursued their passions and just happened to have studied anthropology.

  7. Aura, I disagree entirely.

    As a former chef who studied nutritional anthropology incessantly in the hopes one day becoming an anthropologist, I can tell you that thinking about food through an anthropological lens can reveal perspectives that most chefs don’t think about.

    As someone who knows many actors and actresses, I can tell you that it’s very useful for them as well. I just had a friend (an actress) contact me yesterday about this infographic to say “It was a great major for me as a performer. It really helps with the whole ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ thing, in a way that an acting teacher just telling you can’t.”

    As for the rest of ’em, I guarantee that even Rob Portman falls back on his anthropological training now and again.

  8. Film and T.V. director Jane Campion received her B.A. in Anthropology from Victoria University of Wellington.

  9. Thanks for the list and follow-ons! Several things I struggle with in teaching undergrads in a rural region of the eastern seaboard: no geography and no social science in K-12, no foreign language or travel exposure for many, and very little awareness of larger events outside of their world of personal experiences. Many are first generation college students who hear the constant mantra to “got to college to get a good job ” from family and In this age of high debt and significant unemployment/underemployment for college grads, who can blame them? In addition, the media harps on the negative aspects of non-professional degrees.

    Therefore, this list can start a very positive discussion at the start of a semester in our small (30) introductory classes, where we focus on “thinking anthropologically.” It also lets students know that selecting a major is simply the beginning of the development of one’s professional identity. It’s ok to do different things in grad school and/or during one’s work life.

    I came to anthropology from an MBA, preceded by BA in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. Now teaching, all of those backgrounds inform what I do. Life is not linear.

    This is a great thing to do at the end of the academic year, when students are exhausted and questioning why they even bother to load up on debt and work part or full time in order to fund an education. They are often also required to take a full load of classes for grants and loans. This sort of message does matter to them.

  10. George Lucas attended junior college in modesto, CA, and studied anthropology there. In many interviews, he has discussed the importance of studying anthropology to the development of his craft as a story teller and myth-maker. He had a close friendship with the mythologist Joseph Campbell. George hosted Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers at Skywalker ranch for the filming of the six-part documentary, “The Power of Myth”. In this documentary J. Campbell discusses his life work studying myth. At Skywalker Ranch, George maintains a library that includes a vast collection of anthropological and mythological texts. The influence of anthropology on his life’s work is quite deep.

  11. Thank you Linda for your feedback. I’m happy to know that my efforts mean something somewhere. I appreciate it.

  12. Evangelist Billy Graham majored in anthropology (Wheaton College 1943), because he thought that he might follow in his father-in-law’s steps as a missionary in China.

    But don’t forget the fictional anthropology majors, too, such as Betty Draper (nee Hofstadt) of Mad Men (“We all have skills we don’t use. I was an anthropology major at Bryn Mawr. Can you believe that?” Season 3, episode 7); or Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss (http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1998-01-25/).

  13. William Bass – created the Body Farm and co-author of a book series
    Beverly Connor – author
    Dana Cameron – author
    Rachel Grant – author

    Kate Ellis, Kendra Elliot, & Lyn Hamilton – not sure if they have degrees but it obviously influences their work

  14. I have a B.S. in Anthropology and some grad work. I moved to Romania and I teach conversational American English and do community volunteer education. I work with students from age 7 through adult. I also spiritually adopted a Romanian boy who has since grown up. I could never have managed this without the broad perspective my studies gave me, particularly the gift of discovering and observing my own unconscious ethnocentrism. I use what I learned every day. I often have English conversation lessons with my older students about early humans. They love it!

  15. I appreciate this effort, but I’m not quite convinced that a list of actors and chefs is the best way to communicate “what you can DO with a degree in Anthropology.” For most people on the list, it seems safe to assume that where they ended up was because of serendipitous events in which new (not at all anthropological) opportunities popped up, which is a far cry from “this is how an anthropology degree can be used.” I think steering towards a picture of successful people who are actually using their anthropology degrees would be much more convincing.

  16. Well first, this isn’t meant to convey what you can do with anthropology. It’s meant to show readers that you need not be pigeonholed into an academic career, if that’s not what you want. It’s not only meant to show high school juniors and seniors that they have options, it’s meant to remind my undergraduate colleagues who took their degrees into nearly minimum wage retail positions that they have options.

    Secondly, what makes you think that the people listed are not “actually using their anthropology degrees?” If you have anyone else in mind, perhaps you wouldn’t mind making a suggestion for the second infographic in this series?

  17. For a second infographic, it would certainly be useful to consider journalists, radio and tv hosts who studied anthropology and use the skills they acquiered in our discipline in their current work. Serge Bouchard and Bernard Arcand are two wonderful examples of this. Their work at Radio-Canada provided anthropology with more visibilty. They were anthropologists hosting a radio show more than journalists really.

    Several of my colleagues who do not work in academia teach outside of universities, serve a consultants for communities, NGOs or private compagnies, work within NGOs or as researchers for the government, create documentaries about social movements, or work as photographers. They all use the skills they learned in anthropology, and I am conviced that their views have been transformed by the discipline.

  18. This really makes me feel great about being an anthropologist! Please do extend your list of well-known and influential degree-holders (despite of what they’ve done with it – I’m sure it has given them a special outlook on life)!! Just love Leave Your Mark.

  19. Saying that and actor or a chef with a BA in anthropology didn’t DO anything with their athro degree is like saying that a lawyer with a BA in philosophy didn’t really DO anything with their philosophy degree.

    The fact of the matter is that an anthro BA may not bee the best choice in the world if that’s the only degree that you’re ever going to get, but it gives you some fantastic groundwork for some amazing opportunities if you see it as a stepping stone (which Dick has clearly articulated here).

  20. Lest we forget, there is also <href=”http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/the-prince-of-wales/biography/education” title=”Education | The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall” target=”_blank”>the heir apparent to the throne of the United Kingdom.

  21. I love this list. It highlights the “public” portion of doing anthropology and how Anthropologists (some will argue with me on this for a person with only a BA) can fit into any niche even though they didn’t always get upper level degrees in Anthropology.

  22. With my BS ChemE and MBA degrees 31 years in industry were emotionally and financially rewarding. But I had lots more fun working on a BA Anthropology degree at the University of Delaware’ over-60 program. The professors and many students are making a real difference in people’s lives. With my ‘new’ career bringing literacy materials to inner-city children, my life has become even more rewarding. Engineering and business students would greatly benefit from taking a few anthropology courses.

  23. What’s the point of this list? People have done all those things without having even been to university. If you’re irked by the tone and skepticism of some non-anthropologists, then this really isn’t the best response if you want people to take your subject seriously.

  24. Lol. Since this post is exactly about “the point of this list,” I think it’s fair to say that you’ve missed the point entirely. I don’t think anyone believes (or claims) that what has been achieved by those on this list could have only been done with an education in anthropology, but that anthropology uniquely shaped their achievements.

    And since you’ve opted to refer to anthropology as my/our subject (i.e. not yours), I assume you’ve made up your mind. You are not my audience, at least not that the audience I intend to win over with an infographic.

  25. Don’t take it to heart. Anthropology is a wonderful subject. But it seems the list is aimed at appeasing an inferiority complex, rather than trying to promote anthropology among those who don’t study it. But you are right, I am not your audience.

  26. Sorry, perhaps my criticism is too harsh. I think the second list you propose is a much better idea, and would be more successful in fulfilling the purpose for which the lists are intended.

  27. I am a editor now, got my anthropology master almost 3 years ago. In China, anthropology is a really “useless” major, but I still like or thank it very much. I think such major can change one’s world view…Hmmm… life attitude very much, of course, in a positive way.

  28. This information is interesting but I think it doesn´t help to increase anthropology´s value or it´s usefulness in the eyes of the public to know anthropologists who are successful in OTHER fields. It even seems to me harmful for the discipline´s public image, because it implies this people FAILED to meka a living and a life based on their anthropolocial studies. We could say that as anthropologists they are good actors or singuers, etc.
    From a prospective student´s point of view, if you will succeed as an actor or a singer it would be a waste of time studying anthropology. You better study music and drama right away.
    We need to highlight the occupation of all of us who serve our communities other than doing academic teaching. In other words the “applied” uses of anthopological knowledge and training.

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