BA in Anthropology—Specialization in Anthropology, Health & Medicine

Medical anthropology is an important and rapidly expanding subfield of anthropology that explores how society, culture, and biology influence group and individual health and well-being. It focuses particular attention on the experience and distribution of illness, mental health, healing processes, and the utilization of pluralistic medical systems. The Anthropology, Health & Medicine specialization allows students to develop knowledge and skills that are important for thinking critically about various approaches to health and healthcare. The program of study combines broad introductory coursework with specialized electives in the CAS departments of Anthropology and Biology and in the Program in Medical Anthropology & Cross-Cultural Practice at Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine/Graduate Medical Sciences (GMS). Students pursuing this specialization will be well positioned for graduate study in anthropology, biology, medicine, and public health and for careers in a variety of health-related fields.

Learning Outcomes

Students specializing in Anthropology, Health & Medicine will:

  • Develop an appreciation for the diversity of human cultures and the principles and methods that anthropologists employ for studying them.
  • Master the fundamental cultural themes in at least one society other than their own, and the relationship of those themes to the dynamics of social organization.
  • Recognize and be able to describe human linguistic diversity as well as the shared properties of all languages that are associated with the unique capacities of our species.
  • Understand the biological principles and historical contingencies that explain and govern the deep history of humanity as revealed by the findings of paleontology and archaeology.
  • Grasp the fundamental laws and processes of heredity and evolution, and their implications for individuals and populations.
  • Acquire a basic theoretical and practical understanding of the biological and sociocultural factors that underlie, impact, and constrain nutrition, reproduction, and behavior in humans and other primates, and reflect on the role of culture, politics, and biology in shaping human and primate health and well-being.
  • Demonstrate an ability to relate theory to empirically grounded research that will help to equip them for an era of globalization in which they will need to understand and interact with societies and cultures beyond their own as well as divisions within their own societies.


All BU undergraduate students, including both entering first-year and transfer students, will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, the University’s general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements can be satisfied in a number of ways, including coursework in and beyond the major as well as through cocurricular activities. Students majoring in Anthropology with a Specialization in Anthropology, Health & Medicine will ordinarily, through their required coursework, satisfy the following BU Hub requirements: Global Citizenship; Scientific Inquiry I; Social Inquiry I; Social Inquiry II; and Ethical Reasoning, while also satisfying Intellectual Toolkit requirements for Critical Thinking and Research and Information Literacy. Other required and breadth courses within the larger major may also satisfy BU Hub requirements in Philosophical Inquiry and Life’s Meaning; Aesthetic Exploration; Historical Consciousness; Scientific Inquiry II; Quantitative Reasoning I; Quantitative Reasoning II; Individual in Community; Writing Intensive; Oral and/or Signed Communication; Digital/Multimedia Expression; and Toolkit requirements in Teamwork/Collaboration and Creativity/Innovation. While most BU Hub requirements for the major may be fulfilled within Anthropology, we encourage our students to explore the breadth of the University offerings that are relevant to their interests, particularly for their elective requirements, in keeping with the expansive educational goals of the Hub.

A total of 13 courses, or 52 credits, is required to complete the Anthropology, Health & Medicine specialization. All courses should be chosen in consultation with an advisor.

All courses listed below count as four credit hours each for undergraduates.

Prerequisites (2 courses)

  • CAS AN 101 Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology or CAS AN 103 Anthropology Through Ethnography (only one of these two courses may be taken for credit in the major)
  • CAS AN 102 Human Biology, Behavior, and Evolution

Principal Courses (4 courses)

Four principal courses are required, one from each of the following areas:

  • One 200-level or above course in Biological Anthropology: CAS AN 233, 234, 263, 330, 331, 333, 335, 336, 337, 339, 534, 550, 551, 552, 553, 554, 555, 556, 558, 559, 562, 588, 595, 597, 598.
  • One course in Linguistics: CAS AN 351, AN 521, or CAS LX 250
  • One 200-level or above course in Sociocultural Anthropology: CAS AN 210, 211, 220, 240, 243, 252, 260, 285, 290, 302, 305, 307, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 323, 325, 326, 327, 340, 344, 345, 347, 348, 349, 350, 351, 355, 360, 362, 363, 365, 368, 371, 372, 375, 379, 382, 384, 397, 438, 461, 462, 505, 515, 519, 520, 521, 524, 525, 530, 532, 533, 538, 540, 541, 547, 548, 557, 560, 563, 568, 570, 571, 573, 585, 589, 590, 593, 594, 596.
  • One course in Archaeology at any level, excluding CAS AR 100: CAS AR 101, 150, 200, 201, 202, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 215, 221, 222, 230, 232, 240, 250, 251, 261, 262, 270, 273, 280, 283, 290, 305, 307, 322, 323, 330, 331, 332, 337, 338, 341, 342, 343, 346, 347, 348, 353, 365, 370, 371, 372, 375, 390, 393, 396, 410, 430, 435, 438, 450, 480, 500, 503, 505, 506, 507, 511, 513, 516, 518, 528, 531, 532, 534, 535, 551, 556, 570, 577, 580, 590, 593.

Additional Courses (7 courses)

  • CAS AN 210 Medical Anthropology (required)
  • Two 200-level or above courses in Anthropology or Biology taken from the following list: CAS AN 233, 234, 260, 263, 290, 302, 311, 330, 333, 335, 372, 401, 402, 491, 492, 530, 550, 551, 554, 555, 556, 557, 558, 559, 560, 571, 588, 595; CAS BI 206, 210, 211, 310, 315. CAS BI 114 may also be used to fulfill one of these courses.
  • Four 300-level or above courses in Anthropology, Biology, the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine’s MA in Medical Anthropology, or Sargent College, taken from the following list: CAS AN 302, 311, 330, 333, 335, 372, 401, 402, 491, 492, 530, 550, 551, 554, 555, 556, 557, 558, 559, 560, 571, 588, 595; CAS BI 310, 315; GMS MA 605, 610, 620, 622, 624, 630, 640, 650, 670, 676, 677, 678, 679, 680, 691, 692; SAR HS 325, 369, 400, 430, 445.

Note that no more than three courses fulfilling major requirements for the Anthropology, Health & Medicine specialization may be from outside of CAS Anthropology. Please check with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Anthropology if a course does not appear on this list.

Honors in the Anthropology Major—Anthropology, Health & Medicine Specialization

Students with a strong academic record (GPA of 3.5 or higher) are encouraged to pursue honors in the major. Eligible and interested students should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) and request the required forms. If the student’s GPA is between 3.2 and 3.5, they must request permission from the DUS to be accepted into the program. Accepted honors students must fill out an Honors Contract that includes forms to be signed by a supervising professor as various steps of the program are completed. The student is expected to maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 while undertaking honors research.

Students in the Anthropology, Health & Medicine specialization should choose either the Sociocultural or the Biological Anthropology honor’s process, in consultation with their advisor. The normal progression through the honors process includes the following steps:

Junior Year

  • Student consults with their research mentor.
  • If pursuing a primarily Biological Anthropology set of courses, the student enrolls in either CAS AN 595 or a 500-level biological anthropology course related to the thesis.
  • If pursuing a primarily Sociocultural Anthropology set of courses, or if taking about an equal number of sociocultural and biological anthropology courses, the student devises a coherent plan with their research advisor to ensure that they will be prepared to write an honors thesis.
  • In all cases, the student should begin developing their project ideas during the junior year or earlier and may conduct research during the summer between their junior and senior years, and/or during one or both semesters during their junior year.
  • By the end of their junior year, the student is required to have identified and met with a faculty member who is willing to supervise their proposed research project.

Senior Year

  • By the beginning of the senior year, the student must develop a 2–3 page proposal and research plan. This plan should be attached to the Honors Contract (Part I) and signed by the supervising faculty member. The student should return these documents to the DUS.
  • In the senior year, the student enrolls in CAS AN 401 and/or CAS AN 402 Honors Research in Anthropology and undertakes a significant research project under the supervision of their research advisor for either one or two semesters. It is possible to take CAS AN 401 during the junior year if the research has already begun during that period.
  • The student is expected to write a thesis of 35–40 pages (for a two-semester project) or 25–30 pages (for a one-semester project). The supervising professor, in consultation with the student, assembles a committee of 1–2 additional faculty members and sets a date for the defense of the thesis, giving committee members sufficient time to read the thesis. The student then defends the thesis before the committee. After a successful defense, the supervising professor will submit Part II of the Honors Contract to the DUS.

Please visit the Anthropology Department website for additional information regarding undergraduate research in anthropology.