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  SHESC History

 

Our History

The Department of Anthropology has a rich history at ASU. Its transformation into the School of Human Evolution & Social Change builds on its success as a strong, single unit. In contrast to some of ASU’s other organizational initiatives, the School of Human Evolution & Social Change is not a fusion of different academic units within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; rather it is an expansion in intellectual scope of one department. The road to SHESC began in 1960 when the Department of Sociology hired its second anthropologist and his appointment as its chair. The Department of Anthropology was officially formed two years later. From this modest beginning, the department has risen steadily to national prominence by shaping itself in accordance with Arizona’s rich ethnic diversity, indigenous traditions, desert environment, and global relevance.

Building excellence

Hiring decisions have been a key to the department’s successful history and to its tightly knit organization. A strong sense of collegiality with respect to department-wide issues has made it possible to attract and retain strong, even stellar scholars. The faculty collectively chose to build excellence in particular areas by adding members whose interests were, at the same time, relevant to other areas, building strength through convergence. A number of topical and areal specializations evolved, notably in the archaeology of the American Southwest and the Mediterranean Basin, dental anthropology, and bioarchaeology. Mirroring the national organization of the discipline as did most departments of anthropology, ours was organized around the traditional subdisciplines of anthropology: archaeology, physical anthropology, and socio-cultural anthropology (including anthropological linguistics). Unlike most departments, ASU maintained approximately equal faculty representation of the subdisciplines. Indeed, in the order that emerged, the subdisciplines operated as quasi-autonomous units with respect to research, graduate programs, and curriculum.

Turning points

Although the department has engaged in literally hundreds of projects and enterprises, certain developments can be viewed as significant turning points. Among these were the formation of the Office of Cultural Resource Management in 1977 and the award of the multi–million dollar contract for the Roosevelt Platform Mound Study in 1989. In 1997, the Institute of Human Origins came from Berkeley to join ASU; the associated faculty made anthropology their departmental home, adding a block of international expertise in paleoanthropology. Of equal significance, the IHO is a thematically driven research group that cross-cuts the subdisciplines and has wide appeal inside and outside of academia. The very recent establishment of the Center for Bioarchaeology is expected to have similar effects. And now, the establishment of the SHESC and the integration of faculty from fields such as sociology, geography, and economics presents another important turning point and significant challenge.

Student success

The true measure of an academic department is the success of its students. The department graduated its first Ph.D. in 1971. Graduates of the program have gone on to positions of influence within and outside of academia; for example, one is now a university president and another is the chief executive officer of a private firm with 19 offices throughout the United States. As we develop additional question-driven research enterprises with a wider mix of disciplinary approaches, we expect to give our students a unique kind of preparation for the academic and societal challenges of the future.

SHESC and the New American University

We see the development of the Department of Anthropology into School for Human Evolution & Social Change not only transformational for us, but also a fertile place to contribute significantly to the transformation of the role of anthropology in the 21st century. The acceptance and integration into SHESC of faculty from fields such as sociology, geography, and economics presents another important turning point and significant challenge, but is consistent with the goal of creating a shared vision within the New American University at ASU.

The School will not only be a catalyst for intellectual fusion, enabling scholars to focus on topics beyond the capabilities of individual scientists and individual disciplines; it will also become an international leader in transforming anthropology and its role in understanding today’s world and creating a better tomorrow.