By Leah Jones, Features Editor

A Poster on the history of race at ASA’s Anthropology Day – Courtesy of Leah Jones/The Current

Coined from the Greek prefix “anthropo-,” which means “pertaining to humans,” and the Greek suffix “-logia” which means “a speaking, discourse, treatise, doctrine, theory, or science,” anthropology combines more than just prefixes and suffixes. Anthropologists combine what are traditionally considered to be disparate and diverse fields of study—such as history, language, science, and politics—to study a topic that is relevant and close to everyone: humans themselves.

“People tend to think that things are segregated, disconnected and detached from each other, [but] that’s not the way life is,” said Dr. Michael Cosmopoulos, professor of Greek History and Archaeology, who also serves as a the Hellenic Government-Karakas Foundation Chair of Greek Studies. “Anthropology helps you understand [those] connections. Everything is interconnected.”

The Association of Student Anthropologists (ASA) shared these connections with the University of Missouri–St. Louis community on Wednesday by celebrating Anthropology Day in the Fireside Lounge in the Millennium Student Center. The group celebrated with anthropologically themed games, discussions, t-shirts, flyers, and more. Jennifer Emily, senior, anthropology, and president of the ASA, said “Basically, we are trying to get people who are interested in anthropology to come together. We invited some professors to come and bring handouts, [and] talk to some students. … Today we are selling club t-shirts, having a raffle prize, [handing out] handouts, and we are getting ready to play ‘Cards Against Anthropology.’”

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) hosts Anthropology day every year on February 16 to celebrate the discipline and raise awareness about some of the opportunities available to anthropologists, archaeologists, and students.

Dr. Patti Wright, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the department, explained that anthropology is broken down into four subfields. Archaeology studies human culture through material objects, such as pottery and tools, often requiring archaeologists to go out on excavations to recover these objects. Cultural anthropologists focus more on the cultural side of human behavior and evolution, examining cultural practices such as food, dress, manners, and more. Linguistic anthropologists focus on the language practices, both spoken and written, of different groups of people. Biological anthropologists examine human evolution and how people have physically changed throughout history. Biological anthropologists may study forensics. Like anthropology itself though, these fields are intricately interconnected.

Emily explained some of the exciting opportunities available for students studying anthropology at UMSL. “Classes will have you go to the zoo and study some of the primates because they have a lot of the same behaviors and are similar to us,” she said.

UMSL offers several options for students interested in pursuing a degree or certificate in anthropology. Students can complete a bachelor of arts in anthropology with 37 credit hours, and they can minor in anthropology with 16 credit hours. For students interested in archaeology specifically, UMSL offers an archaeology certificate with 18 credit hours. The department has recently added two new certificates, which Wright says offer some unique benefits to students in different fields.

The certificate in ethnicity, migration, and human diversity is an interdisciplinary certificate which introduces students to diversity and social justice through an anthropological lens. It also allows them to take courses which focus on specific topics such as Asia/Pacific, Africa, gender, Mideast, Central/South America, indigenous populations, and urban populations.

Wright explained the connections that this certificate has for seemingly disparate fields. “[The certificate in ethnicity, migration, and human diversity] can be really useful for people that are going to be in international relations, international business, or if they are majoring in a foreign language,” Wright said. “This gives [them] a little bit more of an emphasis on some of the cultural side and the political, and economic side. It can be a useful certificate … when you are going out and looking for a job, especially if you’re going into any kind of business where you will be dealing with a diverse group of people.”

The global health and social medicine minor is also a new interdisciplinary certificate designed to connect anthropology with the field of health and healthcare. Wright explained that different cultures view health, well-being, and treatment differently. “It would be beneficial in terms of working with people of other cultures,” Wright said. “Sometimes we don’t realize that there is maybe a different thought process going on in terms of the way that [people of other cultures] make their medical decisions and things, so this can be very helpful in terms of explaining some of those things.”

Emily, who said that she is interested in pursuing something in the public health sector as well, explained how she believes that her anthropology degree will help her move forward in the health field. “My anthropology background helps a lot because I have taken lots of classes on human variation [and] cultural anthropology. … [An anthropology degree] helps you study people in a different way so that way you can better communicate with them [and] better understand people [in the public health].”

While anthropology benefits students who study medicine, public health, business, language, international relations, and political science, it also benefits students who are interested in area and cultural studies as well.

From left to right: Dr. Michael Cosmopoulos, Dr. Laura Miller, and Dr. Patti Wright

Dr. Laura Miller is a linguistic anthropologist, the Eiichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed professor of Japanese Studies, and a professor of anthropology at UMSL. As the only professor who teaches linguistic anthropology at UMSL, Miller teaches a general linguistic anthropology course, in which students analyze the structure, phonology, morphology, interrelationships between language, culture, and language family trees. She also teaches Writing Systems of the World, in which students are introduced to different writing systems, the origin of writing, diversification of writing, and the culture of writing.

Miller connects her linguistic interests with cultural studies through her Japanese studies courses. Miller, who lived in Japan for four years, teaches Japanese studies courses, including Ghosts, Goblins, and Godzillas, which explores some of the narratives about the supernatural in Japanese culture; Maiko, Maids, and Masako: Popular Icons of Japan, in which students examine the roles of women in Japanese cultural history and fantasy; Japanese Urban Cultures, which explores the intersections of history, social diversity, identity, gender, politics, and popular media in Japanese culture; and Food and Drink in Japan.

In Food and Drink in Japan, Miller connects the increasing globalization of the past three centuries to a change in Japanese diet and cultural food practices. “When Japan modernized in the 1800s, they had to create a modern navy and army, so they needed military canteen food. Japanese food wasn’t suitable. It’s not high protein enough; it’s not suitable for mass quantities. So, they started to make all of these hybrid Japanese and western foods, like curry and rice and fried pork cutlets, and those foods are now the most popular foods. [It] comes out of the military diet,” she explained.

Like Miller, Cosmopoulos examines the relationship between anthropology, politics, and war. “There [are] a lot of studies that [are] comparing ancient Greek democracy to our democracy and the experience of war in ancient Greece with our veteran’s [experiences of war, as well as] its effects on civilian populations,” he said.

Cosmopoulos explained that in ancient Greece, officials were elected by direct democracy, instead of through representatives as we have in the United States today. “The initial concept of democracy was based on certain principles, some of which we do have, some of which we don’t. For example, there was a clear separation, like a firewall, between the executive and judicial authority. It would have been inconceivable in ancient Greece for judges to be appointed by the president or an executive authority because they are supposed to be able to be a check [for the president]. So that’s a major difference. In our democracy. Many major judges in our democracy are appointed by … the president,” Cosmopoulos explained.

Despite the discipline’s stereotype as a field that orients itself to the past, he pointed out that these important similarities and differences between our cultures have important implications for how we deal with modern-day problems. Since the Greek army was made up of its citizens, Cosmopoulos explained that most every generation of ancient Greeks fought in wars and saw combat.

“This is a major difference with our veterans. Our veterans come back to a society that doesn’t understand what they’ve been through. In ancient Greek society, veterans would be welcomed back to a community of veterans who understood, and this made the transition easier,” he said. “The human experience remains similar, in the way that war and violence changes you. So now the U.S. military is going back and trying to examine the ways in which ancient Greek culture dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder, with unit cohesion.”

Emily also spoke to these present-day applications of anthropology, “[In] forensic anthropology … you can help [victims of murder and their families because] you can identify them so you can give them their identity back. You can help their families find resolution.”

While anthropology helps students connect seemingly disparate fields of study, different cultures, and the past and the present, Wright contends that it also connects people to other life forms, such as plants and animals. “I am interested in ethnobiology, which has to do with people’s relationship to plants and animals and the environment,” she said, citing an interest in cropping systems. Wright said that she hopes to develop a course on food as well.

Cosmoupolos said that all of these connections can help connect students to their future careers as well. “There is a practical advantage. We live in a world where the job market and job environment [is] very demanding in terms of learning new skills. These skills change very quickly with technology. Technology moves so fast, so anthropology helps [students] to just learn how to keep learning,” he said. “It’s not sufficient anymore to just teach humans one set of skills because that set of sills will be outdated in a couple of years. It’s more important to teach them how to adjust and how to keep adjusting to new skills and new requirements.”

To connect to the Association of Student Anthropologists at UMSL, visit their Triton Sync page at,

To connect with Greek culture by studying abroad in Greece in the summer of 2017, visit