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Archaeology and Anthropology
FROM 2013 ENTRY ONWARDS, THE ARCH & ANTH COURSE AT CAMBRIDGE WILL NO LONGER EXIST. IT'S BEING CHANGED INTO THE HUMAN, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCES COURSE, WHICH INCLUDES ALL OF THE ARCH & ANTH SUBJECTS ADDS IN OTHER SOCIAL SCIENCE SUBJECTS LIKE SOCIOLOGY, POLITICS, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND EGYPTOLOGY.
CUSU President 2011-12
“ Arch & Anth makes you challenge your assumptions and discover what it means to be human. ”
Archaeology and Anthropology (‘Arch and Anth’) will appeal to those interested in a broad interdisciplinary degree. Like many arts degrees it may not provide you with a definite career path, but it more than makes up for it in challenging you to think critically about the world around you. If you want to question your own beliefs and assumptions, discover other societies and ways of life, and study the course of humanity itself, then Arch and Anth is for you. No specific subjects are required and the only qualities really needed are curiosity and a healthy interest in humanity and what it means to be human. If you’re interested in pursuing the biological anthropology part of the course (one of three streams), previous knowledge of Biology is useful. You are expected to have some basic scientific knowledge from the start in this section of the course, so if you can’t remember your Biology GCSE, it might be useful to find out what a gene actually is! If you don’t know your alleles from your elbow, though, you’ll be in good company, as many ‘bio anthers’ come from an arts background. Similarly, if you haven’t written essays before, you’ll be given ample practice and guidance once you get here.
So what is ‘Arch and Anth’ actually about? You probably have a vague idea about archaeology through watching Time Team or Indiana Jones. As an academic subject, it uses ‘material culture’ (objects and artefacts) to understand the form and development of past societies. It’s not just about digging up stuff (though that is large part of it!); it also explores heritage and how the past is used in the present, which may appeal to the more politically-minded among you. The archaeology stream also includes compulsory fieldwork, for which the department will take you all on a training dig somewhere in Cambridgeshire to prepare you for! Anthropology is ‘the study of mankind’ and at Cambridge is split into two disciplines. Biological anthropology (‘bio anth’) studies humanity from a biological perspective (unsurprisingly!) – genetics, primates and human evolution. How does where we live effect what we look like? When did we become human? Social anthropology, ‘philosophy with the people left in’, is closely related to sociology but differentiates itself by refusing to privilege Western Euro-American perspectives. You’ll study ritual, nationalism, Marxism, ethics, witchcraft, human rights, tribal law, art - if people do it, you can study it!
Best thing? Amazing access to academics in a tiny and sociable department.
Teaching is world class and Arch and Anth is one of those subjects where many of those lecturing you and marking your essays are likely to have written your textbooks. It's also one of the smallest subjects in Cambridge, so the yeargroup is very close-knit and very sociable - interesting people tend to study Arch and Anth! If this hasn’t convinced you, there are very few 9am lectures, and in some cases plenty of field trips. In general, the lecture load is not too heavy, around 8-12 per week in the first year. However, your rate of progress will be astronomical and it’s satisfying see how far you’ve come.
For me, the best thing about arch and anth has been belonging to a close knit and sociable department. Arch and anth overlaps with virtually every other subject and envious friends will constantly tell you how fascinating it sounds!
Worst thing? Being the only boy in a yeargroup of 15 archaeologists!