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Anthropology & archaeology collection development policy

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Program information

The Department of Anthropology, located in the Academic Wing of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, houses MA and PhD programs as well as offering an undergraduate major and minor and participating in joint degree programs with other departments and schools. The department includes more than 50 undergraduate majors, more than 70 graduate students, and 17 full-time faculty as well as affiliated faculty, adjunct faculty, and visiting scholars. The University first offered classes in anthropology in 1886, awarded its first PhD in Anthropology in 1909, and formally established an academic department of anthropology in 1912-1913. For many years, degree requirements were designed around the traditional four-fields approach (archaeology, biological and physical anthropology, cultural or social anthropology, and linguistic anthropology), but more recently the department recognized "medical anthropology and global health" as its own curricular track. Currently, the department defines its teaching and research of anthropology as a "global social science" that studies the human condition throughout all regions of the world, from the past to the present.

Selection of print and digital materials for anthropological research and learning is not governed solely by needs within the Department of Anthropology's faculty and students. A number of other academic departments, programs, centers, and graduate groups at the University of Pennsylvania support faculty and students whose research involve anthropology and archaeology as well, in particular, the departments of Africana Studies, Classical Studies, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, History of Art, Linguistics, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, South Asia Studies, the graduate group in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Center for Ancient Studies, Center for East Asian Studies, Center for Urban Ethnography, and Latin American and Latino Studies.

In addition, staff in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, known more commonly as the Penn Museum, are frequently involved with education and research in these fields at the university. Curators and Associate Curators often hold faculty appointments with teaching responsibilities. As a joint endeavor between the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM) offers a range of courses ranging from introductory to advanced for undergraduate and graduate students on the application of scientific techniques to the study of archaeology and biological anthropology. Together with faculty in the Department of Anthropology, the CAAM Faculty Steering Committee and CAAM staff supervise undergraduate students who seek a minor in archaeological sciences and mentor students who are carrying out research-oriented independent studies, honors theses, and graduate work.


Collection description

The Museum Library, located in the Academic Wing of the Penn Museum, serves as a branch library specifically focused on research and teaching in anthropology and archaeology. The facility houses over 145,000 volumes, 2900 journal titles, and 650 videos and DVDs. Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of anthropological research, other libraries on campus hold relevant collections as well, in particular the area studies collections and ethnomusicology collections in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library; the Biomedical, Dental, and Veterinary Libraries; Fisher Fine Arts Library; Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies; and Penn Libraries' off-site repository LIBRA.

Holdings in Penn Libraries support anthropological and archaeological research on all seven continents and islands throughout the world, but materials related to specific geographic areas, for example, Oceania, are collected to a level appropriate to the level of teaching and research interests at the University. Historic strengths of the collections include:

  • Egyptology
  • archaeology of the ancient Near East
  • Native American studies, including cultural and linguistic anthropology
  • Mesoamerican archaeology
  • Mayan studies
  • classical Mediterranean archaeology
  • biological and physical anthropology

Funds designated for Anthropology continue to collect to a research level in these areas of strength, but Penn Libraries also seeks to strengthen its holdings in support of the expanding curricula and research in archaeological sciences and applied anthropology, in particular, medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, and business anthropology.

Guidelines for Collection Development

1. Chronological

The collection deals with hominids and precursors of Homo sapiens and human societies from the Paleolithic to the present, with an emphasis on non-literate societies.

2. Formats

Monographic and serial literature, in print and electronic formats, have been the primary formats in the collection to date. These include research reports and publications released by university departments, government agencies, museums, and professional societies and associations. Streaming video and DVDs of ethnographic films are collected if licensing allows for use in the classroom or circulation to library patrons. Funds also pay for subscriptions to online databases, access to full-text content, and licensed access to streaming video and audio.

3. Geographical

There is no geographical limit to the material collected.


4. Language

There are no language restrictions for the collection, although English and other Western European languages are emphasized. Scholarly publications in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish have traditionally been most significant in anthropology.

5. Publication dates

Currently, the Museum Library is acquiring primarily newly published scholarly literature and film. Retrospective collecting is largely through gifts or the replacement of lost materials. Although the discipline of anthropology has changed significantly in the last century, earlier imprints or works of historiographic significance are considered for acquisition. 

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

The Museum Library attempts to collect at a research level materials pertaining to the curricular and research interests of the anthropologists and archaeologists on the University of Pennsylvania faculty and Penn Museum staff. Most new monographs from domestic academic publishers are received through one of several approval plans, supplemented by individual selections from vendors' lists, publishers' catalogs, and patrons' requests.

Subjects excluded

Ethnographic studies and other relevant scholarship in vernacular languages of the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia are the purview of the appropriate area studies librarian and are excluded from the plans and selections managed by the anthropology bibliographer. Folklore is generally collected in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, except when it presents a primarily anthropological perspective.


Related subject collections