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Anthropology professor Nikhil Anand said environmental anthropology allows scholars to understand the connection between humans and the environment. Credit: Audrey Tirtaguna

Penn undergraduate students majoring in anthropology can now concentrate in environmental anthropology for the first time starting this semester.

Anthropology professor and Undergraduate Chair Katherine Moore said the new concentration was created because of interest from students and faculty in past years, amid the growing benefit of studying anthropology through an environmental lens.

“We really care about these topics ourselves, both from a teaching point of view and personal point of view,” Moore said.

Moore said the proposal for this concentration was submitted in October 2018 by the Anthropology Department to the College Curriculum Committee for review and was approved in April.

“Because of [the] increasing interrelationship between health and the environment, we are trying to offer people more tools that give them [a] more nuanced sense of the environment,” Moore said.

Anthropology professor Nikhil Anand said environmental anthropology allows scholars to understand the connection between humans and the environment.

Katherine Moore is the undergraduate chair for all anthropology majors.

“Environment is much better understood with the perspective of an anthropologist with the historical, political, cultural, and spiritual aspect of how people use resources,” Moore said.

“It is no longer plausible to look at humans and the environment separately,” Anand said. 

College junior Maria Murad is one of two students currently majoring in environmental anthropology. 

Murad, a Daily Pennsylvanian news photo editor, originally wanted to major in ancient history and environmental science. But she became convinced that environmental anthropology could provide the link between the statistical aspect of environmental science and the people-centric aspect of ancient history.

Anand and Moore both suggested students that are interested in the environment should take introductory environmental anthropology courses to see how anthropology approaches some of the basic environmental questions.

Environmental anthropology is an anthropological subfield that studies the relationship between humans and their environment.

The new environmental anthropology concentration will have a different set of requirements. They include foundational courses in Political Ecology; Science, Technology, Environment; Material Worlds, Landscapes, Archaeology; and Biology, Environment, and Health.

Currently, 11 out of 16 Penn Anthropology professors teach courses that are approved for electives of the environmental anthropology concentration. Many students work with faculty from the Anthropology Department in research funded by various grants and programs on campus.

College junior Maria Murad is one of two students currently majoring in environmental anthropology. (Photo from Maria Murad)

An environmental anthropology degree can have more career outlooks than research and academics in anthropology, Moore said. Moore said the concentration is also beneficial for students interested in going into medical schools, law schools, business, and consulting. 

The unique nature of the environmental anthropology major can be seen as a benefit in the job market, said Murad.

"It's interesting to people when you have a major that is not commonly done — you have a different skill set and you've gone through different experiences," Murad said.

Currently, there are two students signed up for the new concentration, Moore said, with a few more students expressing interest in the new concentration.

Although the numbers are low at the moment, Murad said she expects the major to grow in popularity as more learn about its benefits.

"If people want to take a different spin on environmental science and focus on the human aspect of it and how we interact with our environment, I think it's a different and unique angle that a lot of students aren't studying," Murad said.

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