Museum Anthropology MA


Director of Museum Studies:
Prof. Brian Boyd
961 Schermerhorn Ext
212 854-1390

"Museum Anthropology" refers to the critical study of museums from an anthropological perspective, including their history and changing role in society. 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, the Philadelphia Zoo, and many others.

More information is available at the Museum Anthropology program webpages, Department of Anthropology

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.

Fees and Financial Support

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