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Research Overview

Dive Deep. Faculty in the Department of Anthropology are internationally prominent for their research and publications on the New World, especially Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Amazonia. The department maintains research interests and active field programs in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.


The Department of Anthropology is the principal center for archaeological research at Vanderbilt University, and our faculty and students conduct archaeological research in collaboration with a variety of centers and programs on campus.The department has an active and internationally renowned research profile. Some of the key research themes and projects are listed below.

Key Research Themes

  • Space and landscape
  • Urbanization
  • Bioarchaeology
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Social complexity
  • Colonialism and culture change
  • Historical archaeology

Ongoing Projects

  • Long-term human and environmental interactions on the north coast of Peru
  • Mound-building and ethnoarchaeology among the Mapuche of south-central Chile
  • Early complexity and urbanization in the Bolivian Highlands
  • Provincial life under Inka rule and early missionary encounters in the southern Peruvian highlands
  • Conquest-period urbanism and culture contact in Mexico and Central America

Cultural Anthropology

The department specializes in the cultural anthropology of Latin America, with thematic foci on issues of political economy, health, political violence, food politics, and cognitive anthropology. Ongoing projects examine the social basis of violence, identity, mortuary practices, land claims, export agriculture, language, culture, and cognition. The faculty are all engaged in long-term field research, receive funding from foundations and governmental sources, and actively publish their results.

Key Research Themes

  • Medical anthropology
  • Political economy
  • Psychological anthropology
  • Language and culture
  • Cognitive anthropology

Ongoing Projects

  • Interpersonal dimensions of peace in the Xingu basin
  • Broccoli exports and ethnic relations in Guatemala
  • Land claims among the Wari in Brazil
  • Spatial and temporal cognition among the Tzeltal Maya
  • Cultural Contexts of Health, Medical and Cultural Anthropology Project
  • Birth politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon
  • Reproductive health and religion in Tennessee
  • Justice and violence in Bolivian prisons

Cognitive Research

Faculty in the department conduct cognitive research in collaboration with cognitive sciences scholars in psychology departments at Vanderbilt and other universities. Anthropology plays an important role in this research, as it offers perspectives from different cultures as well as a unique methodological and theoretical vantage point. One of the basic questions asked within this domain of anthropological inquiry is how the social environment and the mind interact to create both human cognition and culture. As such, the sub-field of cognitive anthropology is closely tied to ethnology as well as biological anthropology.

Research includes ethnographic approaches with experimental methods, statistical analyses, and computer modeling. Most of the work is carried out in Mexico and Guatemala, but collaborations with other departments and universities also include sites in North America and Indonesia.

Center and Program Partnerships

The Department of Anthropology partners with a wide variety of programs across campus to enhance programming and curricular offerings:

  • Vanderbilt Genetics Institute
  • Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
  • Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies
  • Department of Classical and Mediterranean Studies
  • Data Science Institute