SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology Through History

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

Anthropology Through History introduces developments in social/cultural anthropology over time in two respects.

In Term 1 (Anthropology in Action), we examine historical shifts in the ways anthropological research has been used (or 'applied') and conveyed outside the academy, with emphasis on museums, public anthropology, policy contributions, humanitarian work and the world of business. Along the way, we will address debates over distinctions between 'academic', 'applied' and 'popular' anthropology, as well as ethical issues that arise in using anthropology to effect change.

In Term 2 (Theory in Anthropology), we critically examine a series of fundamental changes in anthropological theorising from the 1970s to the present, contextualised both in theoretical and historical terms. Major topics include interpretive, postmodern, and poststructural perspectives, as well as technologies of power, especially politics of numbers and data (plus other less-obvious workings of power). The second half of term 2, moreover, looks at some fairly recent currents of anthropological thought, whose development has relied on explicit conversations with other fields of inquiry, such as biomedical studies, postcolonial studies, and interspecies studies.

Some representative readings:

Term 1

  • Ames, Michael. 1986. Museums, the Public, and Anthropology. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
  • Hastrup, Kirsten and Peter Elsass. 1990. Anthropological Advocacy: A Contradiction in Terms? Current Anthropology 31(3): 301-11.
  • Kirsch, Stuart. 2018. Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • McClancy, Jeremy. 2017. Anthropology and Public Service: The UK Experience. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Price, David H. 2008. Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995. The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36(3): 409-20.
  • Sillitoe, Paul. 2006. The Search for Relevance: A Brief History of Applied Anthropology. History and Anthropology 17(1): 1-19.

Term 2

  • Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. Writing Against Culture. In R. Fox (ed.) Recapturing Anthropology. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, pp.137-162.
  • Hoffman, Danny. 2011. The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Mbembe, A. Joseph. 2016. Decolonizing the University: New Directions. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education 15(1): 29-45
  • Nelson, Diane. 2010. Reckoning the After-Math of War in Guatemala. Anthropological Theory 10(1-2): 87-99.
  • Pandian, Anand and Stuart McLean (eds.) 2017. Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Stoler, Anne Laura. 2008. Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination. Cultural Anthropology 23 (2): 191-219.


This module is required of all Year 2 Anthropology students. It is also available as an Open Option to students in other programmes who have successfully completed Introduction to Social Anthropology (151801001).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students will:

  • have acquired a sense of the historical shifts in the discipline;
  • the ability to engage with and evaluate the debates and arguments that have made these shifts possible;
  • be familiar with a series of very important theoretical trends;
  • be equipped with key analytical concepts.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules