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M.A. in Museum Anthropology
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Director of Museum Studies:
Nan Rothschild - 954A Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-4977;

 "Museum Anthropology" refers to the study of museums from an anthropological perspective,  including their history, role in society and changes in this role. Museums, while always significant, have become perhaps the major institution of national legitimization, especially for emerging or non-Western states. The project of museum anthropology also includes a perspective on the meaning of placing people or objects on display and whose authority is interposed between these objects and viewers.

The M.A. 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 are using 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 for a range of museums, from small local museums with historical or scientific orientations that require generalists, to larger institutions where staff hold more specialized museums.

Museums have increasingly become contested places in today’s global world. 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.

Our graduates have obtained positions in a range of museums-- the American Museum of Natural History, the Bennington Museum, the Chester County Historical Society, the Denver Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York – and related institutions, Exhibit A, and the Philadelphia Zoo.

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Program Requirements

The program consists of 30 points of course work, two intensive internships, and a thesis project. Twenty one of the thirty credits must be taken in Anthropology but each student works out a unique program suited to his/her interests, in consultation with the student’s advisors. Related courses in other departments (such as Art History and Archaeology or Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology) are also encouraged.

Core Requirements

Program requires 30 credits plus thesis

  1. Core courses/requirements
    • G6352 Museum Anthropology, History and Theory, fall term. 3 credits
    • G6353 Exhibiting Culture: Politics and Practices of Museum Exhibitions, spring term, 3 credits
    • G6192 Exhibiting Cultures, Practical Considerations. A lab-type class, spring term, 3 credits 
    • G4201 Principles of Socio-cultural Anthropology, for those without an Anthropology background
  2. Intensive internship (see below) 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. (6 credits: 6 at one museum or two 3-credit internships at different museums or related facilities)
  3. Additional elective courses (from Anthropology or other departments)
  4. Thesis (not a course)


Each student in the program will complete two internships as part of the program, one in the spring term and one in summer. Each involves 120 hours of internship at the selected museum. Students are responsible for finding their own internships (largely through web-based searches) although faculty will often make suggestions and give guidance. During the internship the student will keep a journal of daily activities, which is handed in at the end of the internship. A short paper (5-7 pages) is also required at the completion of the internship. The paper should be reflexive and critical, it should NOT simply repeat what is in the journal but should assess the internship experience in somewhat broader terms and make use of the literature read during the year.  The internship grade is given by the person who supervised the internship in consultation with Prof Rothschild.


In addition to Anthropology courses, students make take electives in related disciplines, such as Art History, History, Urban Studies, Arts Administration, Area Studies, Womens' Studies, and others.


The thesis can be on any topic related to a (or many) museums. It usually varies in length from about 35-55 pages.  It is read by two people, Prof. Rothschild and a second reader chosen buy the student with Prof. Rothschild’s concurrence.
In the middle of the second term, students will be asked to hand in a paragraph on their topic with a few bibliographic references. After approval they will begin work on the thesis.
For those wishing to graduate in October, a first draft is due to Prof Rothschild by about Aug 10th. After it has been read and returned, a second draft is due to Prof Rothschild and the second reader by about Sept. 10th. The final copy is due to Prof Rothschild by about Oct 10th.
Copies of past MA theses are kept in the Anthro Dept office, if students wish to consult them. 

Sample Program

The following sample program is for a full-time student over three semesters (including summer):

Semester 1:
- ANTH G4201
- ANTH G6352
- Area/topical course
- Supplemental course

Semester 2:
- ANTH G6353
- Area/topical course
- Internship
- MA thesis (or project/exhibit)

- Internship
- MA thesis

Length of Program

Full time: 1 year (2 Residence Units). An optimal full-time program would include two semesters of coursework and a summer internship and M.A. thesis project.
Part time: 2-3 years (four years maximum)

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Core Faculty

Terence D'Altroy, Zoe Crossland, and Nan Rothschild (Columbia), Severin Fowles (Barnard); and Laurel Kendall, Peter Whiteley (AMNH) and Enid Schildkrout (Museum for African Art)

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Applications and Admissions

The program accepts only a small number of qualified students each year. We look for a diverse group; an undergraduate anthropology or archaeology major is not required, but we prefer candidates who have had some museum experience. Admission standards and selection procedures are identical to those followed by the GSAS and require a writing sample, letters of recommendation, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.  Applications for each year will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

See the general Graduate Applications and Admissions page for the Department of Anthropology, as well as the GSAS website, for more information.

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Fees and Financial Support

Information on cost of Attendance and financial Aid are available from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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