Applied Anthropology

Students working in TanzaniaApplied anthropology and applied anthropologists work toward the amelioration of real world problems, in collaborative, community defined and based projects, drawing from the methods and concepts of the discipline.


The Society for Applied Anthropology defines applied and practicing anthropology as the interdisciplinary “scientific investigation of the principles controlling the relation of human beings to one another…and the wide application of these principles to practical programs.”

Applied anthropology, therefore, directly addresses and serves the needs and interests of communities, organizations, or clients in the US and around the world. Such needs are typically identified by communities themselves with applied practitioners working in interdisciplinary teams and using a variety of perspectives and methods to problem solve and advocate for communities.

Each of the sub-disciplines of anthropology (biological, cultural, archaeological, and linguistic) has applied aspects and practitioners. Applied anthropology is diverse and diverges from academic-oriented anthropology with its focus on the intellectual and theoretical productions aimed at a primarily anthropological audience. Applied and practicing anthropologists typically work outside of academia. The National Park Service, Centers for Disease Control, local public health offices, contract archaeology firms, public school districts, and Native American communities are some of the entities that applied anthropologists work for.


The Department of Anthropology offers a number of courses in applied anthropology, including applied anthropology, medical anthropology, two courses in forensic anthropology, as well as an advanced topics class in applied anthropology.


A variety of opportunities are also available for service learning projects, as close as Durango and as far as Tanzania. For the past several years, students have worked as field researchers and data analysts for the Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Project. The project is an El Pomar funded multi-site, multi-year community-based project that assists communities in rural Southwest Colorado identify intervention priorities and develop interventions based on community need. In the past, psychology, sociology, and anthropology students have participated in this applied project.

The Tanzania Service project began in 2009 as a FLC Innovative Month program. In 2010, the summer project placed students in an orphanage in order to assist non-profit organizations and their clientele. Graduates of this program have gone on to create (and operate) the East Africa Service Project, which raises funds for the Kilimanjaro Children's Joy Foundation. In addition to working in community-based projects, participants in the service project also have had the opportunity to go on wildlife safaris, cultural tours to traditional Maasai or Barabaig villages, and culture tours in southern Ethiopia.