What is anthropology?

Anthropology is the holistic study of human beings. This field of study pursues answers to some of our most puzzling questions about who we are as a species: where we came from, how we’ve changed, what unites us, how we vary.

In fact, anthropology is the only discipline that approaches human questions from historical, biological, linguistic and cultural perspectives – offering you a big picture perspective on the past, present, and future of humanity.

A major in anthropology offers opportunities to learn about the diverse societies of today’s world, as well as about their biological and cultural origins.

In anthropology courses, you will find answers to these profound questions about human nature while applying this knowledge to confront some of the most urgent problems our world faces today, from global climate change and economic inequality to global pandemics and food insecurity.

The UTC Anthropology Program includes three subfields: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology. As a program, we take an applied approach, focusing on how can use anthropology outside the classroom.


Archaeology explores past human societies by excavating and analyzing their material remains — in essence, the garbage that these societies left behind.

In archaeology classes, you’ll learn about past human societies, focusing on how humans have adapted to diverse environments and how different societies have confronted new challenges and shifting environmental conditions.

Developing a skillset in site excavation and the ability to analyze diverse historic and prehistoric artifacts, you’ll hone data analysis skills while learning to interpret the human past.

Working in our archaeology lab, you’ll also learn key skills to help you land that dream job after graduation, including the use of the latest digital mapping software, technology, and analytical methods.

In archaeology classes, you’ll consider questions like: When did humans begin practicing agriculture and how did it affect other aspects of human societies? Why are some societies mostly egalitarian while others are characterized by extreme social inequality? How did prehistoric people adapt to a changing climate and sea-level rise after the last Ice Age? What does local archaeology, from both right here in Chattanooga and elsewhere in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina tell us about the earliest Southeasterners? Why were the Natives of the southeast so differently organized than their neighbors to the south? What can studying the material culture of the historic period help us see about daily life and power dynamics in the antebellum South that’s absent in the written record?

Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology explores the evolution of humans as a species.

In biological anthropology classes, you will study the fossil record of human ancestors and learn about the traits of different human ancestors, like Homo erectus, and what kinds of evolutionary pressures led to the emergence of our species, Homo sapiens. You will also study our closest living biological relatives – non-human primates like chimpanzees and gorillas – in order to see the roots of human culture in their own political alliances, tool-making, and social complexity.

In biological anthropology classes, you will also learn about how humans are genetically very similar and that traditional distinctions made between different “races” of humans are based on socio-cultural divisions and not biological ones.

In biological anthropology classes, you will find answers to question like: Where do humans come from? How have humans evolved as a species? How and when did we come to walk bipedally (on two feet)? When did our brain expand? How did the development of language help our thinking? Why do we have different skin colors? What is adaptation and how does it help us explain human physical variation? Are we still evolving today?

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology is the study of cultural difference.

Taking a comparative approach, courses in cultural anthropology focus on the diverse ways humans make meaning in their lives through culture, and how culture has allowed humans to adapt to diverse ecological contexts.

As a major, you will develop a keen sense of the universal characteristics found across all cultures, the myriad differences that make cultures unique, and the processes that drive cultural change. You will learn about the relationships between culture and power, and hone an ability to critically analyze the structural forces that shape our cultural beliefs and practices.

Cultural anthropology courses will focus on relationships between culture and the environment, health and medicine, food, agriculture, identity, as well as cultures of specific world regions. Overarching questions these classes address include: What is culture and what is the scope of cultural diversity? How do different cultures organize their social, economic, and political lives? How does culture shape the way humans experience the world? How and why do cultural anthropologists use ethnographic methods to understand culture? How and why do cultures change? How is globalization changing cultures?

Applied Anthropology

Applied Anthropology is an increasingly important part of the field of anthropology. This is where you take the practical analysis and skills you have learned in the classroom and apply them to solve real world problems today.

Think of it as anthropology outside the classroom. Applying anthropological theories, perspectives, knowledge, and methods in diverse industries and contexts from tech and pharmaceuticals to international development and social work, applied anthropologists are helping develop creative solutions to some of society’s most urgent problems. In fact, the vast majority of anthropology majors at UTC go on to apply their anthropology training in sectors outside academic anthropology.

For instance, understanding how cultural change works is proving essential to designing policies that can effectively curb climate change. As a business anthropologist, you can explore the emotional significance of products for branding or look at consumer behavior in detail in order to design new products, from cell phones and medical devices to snack foods (anthropologists, for example, developed the breakfast product “Go-gurt” and the Swiffer mop).

An evolutionary perspective on the human body offers nuanced insight into medical challenges from global pandemics to proper running posture. As a program, we are committed to helping students figure out how to apply anthropology in the diverse careers they go on to pursue.