This is content from the Catalog 2019–2020 back issue. Please visit the current catalog for current information.

Department Chair: Kathleen L. Kawelu

Social Sciences Division Office :
Office: University Classroom Building (UCB), Room 308
Tel: (808) 932-7100


Professor Emeritus:


Associate Professors:

Assistant Professors:

  • Tarisi Vunidilo, Ph.D.


Anthropology is the holistic study of human cultures and the human place in nature. The discipline emphasizes comparing human groups to understand the range of variation in human behavior and biology, and therefore considers what it is to be human.

The Anthropology program in the College of Arts and Sciences is designed to provide students with a broad, holistic, and scientific understanding of human culture and the human place in nature. Anthropology helps students gain a fuller understanding of human behavior through introductory and advanced courses in the subfields of archeology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, and physical anthropology. Field courses in these subfields are designed to take advantage of the varied ecology and history and the rich multicultural environment of Hawaiʻi Island.

The international nature of anthropology makes this field of study increasingly important in our shrinking world. People in all fields of business, politics, medicine, ecology, and academia now work daily with people from other cultures. The success of their enterprise often depends on their ability to understand and communicate with people whose cultures differ from their own.

Anthropology attempts to provide a general worldview, characterized by its holistic ideal: a belief that an understanding of human nature requires drawing together and relating information from all aspects of the human condition. The contribution of anthropology is in integrating concepts from many different disciplines into a meaningful understanding of that most complex animal, Homo sapiens.

Goals for Student Learning in the Major

The main goals for student learning in anthropology are to think and communicate more broadly and holistically by gaining a basic understanding and integrated perspectives of the following:

  • the nature and range of cultural diversity worldwide and through time;
  • how human cultural diversity derives from our cultural and biological adaptations;
  • the anthropological enterprise from a four-field approach;
  • human origins and present day biological variation;
  • the importance of prehistory and the archeological record;
  • the role of language in culture, cultural transmission, and intercultural communication;
  • cross-cultural health and illness and the application of anthropological skills and techniques towards resolving problems nationally and internationally;
  • the major theoretical orientations in anthropology as they relate to our general understanding of human cultural behaviors and cultural and biological adaptations;
  • the human experience that will enable graduates to become more effective at communicating cross-culturally and working in multicultural settings;
  • anthropological ethics as they relate to human cultural interaction and research with humans.

We also strive to have our undergraduates gain basic skills in one or more of the field and laboratory research methods used in anthropology, and to provide opportunities for hands-on research by working on special projects either independently or jointly with faculty.

Prospects for Anthropology Graduates

Graduates in anthropology are employed in a number of different occupations, spanning professional anthropology work, education, social services, government service, and business. The international approach and cross-cultural nature of the perspective gained in the anthropology major is of great benefit to our graduates who plan careers in social services, particularly in Hawaiʻi. People in business also have placed continually greater emphasis on cross-cultural communication skills, as business becomes increasingly international. In addition 21 private consulting firms are working in Hawaiian archaeology and various state and federal offices that regularly employ our graduates.Thus, many local and international jobs are available to anthropology graduates at the bachelor’s level.

Anthropology also serves as an excellent major for those students who intend to go on into professional programs such as law, medicine, nursing, public health, and business administration. UH Hilo anthropology graduates include lawyers, teachers, archaeologists, social workers, academic counselors, public health officials, registered nurses, and business professionals.

For graduates who wish to continue in a career in anthropology, graduate work is usually necessary for advancement into professional level positions. Graduates of the Anthropology Department at UH Hilo have been very successful at gaining admission into graduate programs, and these students are beginning to achieve degrees at the master’s and doctoral level in anthropology, archaeology, and other social science and humanities disciplines.

Contributions to the UH Hilo General Education Program

ANTH 205 Cultural Anthropology (3) may be counted for three credits in the World Cultures requirement of General Education. Alternatively, it may be counted in the Social Sciences area requirement. The course uses examples from a variety of cultures worldwide and gives students the tools and concepts to understand and appreciate cultural differences. ANTH 210 Archaeology (3) , ANTH 215 Human Evolution (3) , ANTH 221 Intro to Language (3) , ANTH 300 Cultures of Oceania (3) , and ANTH 324 Culture, Sex And Gender (3) may also be counted for three credits in the Social Sciences area requirement of General Education.

Special Aspects of the Program

The Anthropology Department at UH Hilo currently operates a sizeable archaeology laboratory with facilities for cleaning, sorting, labeling, analyzing, and storing archaeological materials. The Department also has a large preparation room for archaeological fieldwork and operates an energy dispersive X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer to analyze the geochemical characteristics of lithics. Opportunities exist for trained students to participate in archaeological excavations both on Hawaiʻi Island and elsewhere. Student internships are available for students to work at the national parks, local museums, and with contract archaeology firms.

A physical anthropology laboratory in the department has facilities for studying human adaptability, osteology, and a variety of aspects of human physiology and variation. Trained students also may participate in biomedical anthropology. Ongoing National Institutes of Health-supported biomedical research is carried out in the human biology laboratory and in the community.

Anthropology students also have been involved in ethnographic research on Hawaiʻi Island. Studies of oral histories of Hawaiʻi Island communities, as well as the study of culture change on the island, are ongoing. Hawaiʻi also offers students a natural laboratory of anthropological linguistics, where scholars are studying pidgin and Creole languages and their relationship to an understanding of language in general.

The faculty in anthropology at UH Hilo are committed to undergraduate instruction. This commitment goes beyond the care and energy placed in coursework and extends to extensive work on the individual level with students who major in anthropology. Virtually all anthropology graduates have had at least one, and often several, directed reading/research courses, in which the student worked on an individual basis with a faculty member to explore a topic in anthropological research of mutual interest.

The program prides itself on being one of high standards, but also one where the sense of wonder, interest, and fun that brings people into anthropology has not been lost. People in the program make life-long friends who have shared the unique experience of learning about anthropology in a setting of unique importance for anthropology, the natural laboratory of Hawaiʻi.

Student Anthropology Club

The Anthropology Club at UH Hilo is one of the most active, and oldest, on campus. The club has sponsored parties, presentations, field trips, anthropological films, and other special events of interest to students. Club activities maintain the excitement of doing anthropology outside the classroom.