About the Anthropology Department

Anthropology is an engaging discipline devoted to the humanistic and scientific study of humankind with a commitment to educational outreach and advocacy. The Department of Anthropology is home to a diverse community of anthropologists united in our dedication to the communities of Hawaiʻi, the broader island groups of Oceania, and the individual communities within which we live and work. Students benefit by learning directly about our current research on such varied topics as heritage management, traditional navigation and voyaging, biocultural aspects of women’s health, cross-cultural analysis of stress, and linguistic analysis of Polynesian and Asian languages.

Voyaging and navigation revival in the Marshall Islands

Our undergraduate experience offers opportunities for professional development, research, and collaborative projects through course work and research assistantships. Anthropology students and their professors ask questions about all components of the human condition, and seek to describe and interpret human behavior and culture, language, biology, and our relationship to the environment. We provide students with meaningful and tangible experiences and facilitate conversations that are dynamic, provocative, and steeped in critical analysis.

Our department focuses on a four sub-discipline approach to Anthropology, which fosters valuable skills and critical thinking for our students when entering the professional world. These subdisciplines are Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and Linguistics. Our department has a well-rounded holistic lens of educating students in Anthropology, and our faculty are able to identify individually with students on specific interests they share, and therefore build strong bonds over common perspectives.

In addition to the B.A. in Anthropology, the department offers an M.A. in Heritage Management and a Medical Anthropology track, and co-sponsors several certificates, including the Certificate in Pacific Island Studies and Global Engagement Certificate. We also have a number of cross-listed courses with the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.

Anthropology Disciplines

Archaeology is concerned with cultural development and variation through time. It involves the reconstruction of past human behavior through the study of material remains recovered by field survey and excavation. Archaeology encompasses a wide variety of analytical and experimental methods and techniques which draw on both the natural and social sciences. Students in our department will have incredible opportunities to explore their interest in archaeology during field schools and numerous field trips that such a unique location provides us with.

Biological Anthropology is concerned with the physical or biological aspects of being human, especially how we evolved and why we vary from each other. The study of biological anthropology encompasses a wide range of scientific fields, including genetics, forensics, primatology, biomedical anthropology (chronic, infectious and genetic diseases), human growth and the physiology and evolution of behavior. Lab courses offered will allow the students opportunities to do specific research projects that spark their interest and will help broaden the scientific spectrum from a biological, genetic, evolutionary, biomedical, or human growth perspective.

Cultural Anthropology is concerned with the world’s cultures and ways of life in both the present and the recent past – from remote tribal communities in Africa to the villages of contemporary Polynesia and everywhere in between. Cultural anthropologists employ a wide range of perspectives on human social life including material culture, social organization, politics, economics, religion, symbolism, change and “development,” ethnicity, and modern nation-state formation. In classes, students engage and analyze provocative topics such as our survival as a global village, the underlying reasons for escalating disparities and inequities, the cultural construction of violent conflict, and how we come to believe certain ideas.

Linguistic Anthropology explores the complex relationships between language and culture by examining variation in language across time and space and the social uses of language. With the extremely unique location of our department, many opportunities for the students to experience linguistic diversity arise daily. The number of languages spoken in Hawaiʻi is remarkable and it gives our students advantages when understanding the diversity of languages past and present, around the world.

Kūikapiko Anthropology Club

Heiau clean-up with the Kūikapiko Anthropology Club in Keaukaha

The Kūikapiko Anthropology Club is a vibrant Registered Independent Student Organization (RISO) that embraces the application of anthropological knowledge in an effort to directly contribute to the well-being of communities on Hawaiʻi Island. Kūikapiko means “standing rooted (kū) in our origins (i ka piko).” The name is fitting for the mission of the club and by extension the UH Hilo Department of Anthropology and the broader discipline—it is being “here” in the present and knowing your sense of place, and doing work that is grounded in our origins and histories to embrace the future. Several times each semester the club organizes service projects with various community organizations (which means getting your hands dirty!), such as taro cultivation in Waipiʻo, a heiau clean-up in Keaukaha, and maintenance of cultural sites in Keauhou. The club also meets each month with fun, engaging activities such as games, guest talks, film screenings, and parties. Other activities include educational field trips such as a tour of the Lyman Museum in Hilo and hosting guest speakers on current anthropological topics. Club members also regularly volunteer at and participate in academic conferences, such as the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology (SHA) and the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO). Perhaps the favorite on-campus event is the annual dunking of professors in a dunk tank!

To become a member of the Kūikapiko Anthropology Club or for more information, please send an email to kpac@hawaii.edu.