On Becoming An Anthropologist (in 1970)


on becoming an anthropologist (in 1970)

Last month, while doing some deep cleaning in our anthropology lab, I came across a small booklet titled On Becoming and Anthropologist: A Career Pamphlet For Students. Prepared by Walter Goldschmidt at UCLA, it was published by the American Anthropological Association in 1970. Its attractive burnt orange color, retro font, and the unidentified “ethnic symbol” on the cover caught my eye. I set it aside, thinking it might be a nice time capsule—a snapshot of what becoming an anthropologist was like in 1970. After all, in recent years, a career in anthropology has gotten some bad press. In late 2011 Florida governor Rick Scott picked on anthropology as a job choice and a year later Forbes selected anthropology and archaeology as the worst college major. (I can’t make references to these negative portrayals without a reference to Jason Antrosio’s pithy rebuttal, “Anthropology: Worst Major for Corporate Tool, Best Major to Change Your Life.”)

A few days ago, while taking a break from preparing for the upcoming semester, I gave the booklet a quick read. While it did not offer as much detail about being an anthropologist as I had hoped, reading it did give me a bit of a warm feeling of nostalgia for the optimistic and curious anthropology of my high school and undergraduate years. The pamphlet begins with a confident explanation of culture as an object of study, including the kind of comfortable descriptions of anthropology’s four-field, holistic, study that one might find at the beginning of an introduction to anthropology textbook:

“…anthropology is the only discipline that tries to understand man {sic} as a whole—as an animal, as a social being, as a literate being; man from the very beginning of time and all over the world.”

As for careers, the booklet describes how a majority of anthropologists—it gives the figure 80%—teach in universities, while 10% work in museums. The remaining 10% go on to work in other fields.

“Nowadays, not only our government and major business enterprises seek anthropological consultants, but many of the developing countries find it useful to have anthropologists serving on their staffs.”

It wasn’t until page eight that I found what I didn’t know I had been waiting for—the quote that took me back to the earliest moments that I dreamt of becoming an anthropologist—and the one that I still fall back on from time to time in conversations about the current state and future of the discipline as a job:

“…But anthropologists have not entered the profession because they want to get rich. They receive enough salary to live and raise their families, but their real interest lies in the fascination of uncovering facts about human life; in seeing how the world differs, how it has grown to be what it is, and to understand that remarkable creature we call man {sic}.”

While in 2013 it is arguable, given the reliance on adjuncts, that all anthropologists make enough to live and raise families—even after forty years we know it isn’t a “get rich” profession. We choose it because humanity is among the most interesting things to study on the planet.


  1. Pingback: On Becoming An Anthropologist (in 1970) | Adventures in God's Own Country

  2. This is the first post of yours that I’ve read, and I loved it. Thanks for such fun quotations from the little book! I’m currently studying Anthropology at Bethel University – I can completely relate to your quote at the end. That is why I aspire to do anthropology 🙂


  3. Pingback: Back to school post: Walter Goldschmidt on becoming an anthropologist in 1970 – ArcheoThoughts

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