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About Anthropology / Departmental History

Departmental History

The Department of Anthropology

The University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and Archaeology was officially established in 1926. At the time, the University of Kentucky was one of the few universities in the United States to have an independent department of anthropology. The early date and title reflect the drive and background of the two men who founded the department - Professors William S. Webb and William D. Funkhouser. Webb was a physicist and Funkhouser was a zoologist, but both were deeply interested in Kentucky's prehistoric native peoples, as well as the artifacts and sites attributable to them.

During the Great Depression, the federal government infused millions of dollars into different work relief programs, some of which drew on archaeology to put out-of-work people back on the payroll. Dozens of important archaeological sites were excavated during the 1930s, generating thousands of artifacts and other cultural materials. The Museum of Anthropology was founded during this era to house the multitude of artifacts and excavation records generated by these projects. Much of what is known about Kentucky's prehistory is a result of Webb and Funkhouser's early efforts.

Shortly after World War II, curricula leading to the BA and MA degrees in anthropology were developed. Despite a continuing increase in students, the Department of Anthropology had only three professors during the mid-1950s. The Ph.D. program in Anthropology was established in the mid-1960s, and within a few years, one or more Ph.D. degrees were awarded annually.

The Department of Anthropology has the oldest graduate program in applied anthropology (established in 1968) in the United States. For students interested in applied work, training draws on both course work and practical experience to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to be effective in academic and nonacademic careers. Students are encouraged to move freely between applied work and basic research. Newsletters (1995 and 1997) of both the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology have highlighted the University of Kentucky as a national leader in the training of applied anthropologists. Up until 2019, the Department of Anthropology was home to the Kentucky Archaeological Survey and the Program for Archaeological Resarch.

The Archaeology Program continues to be an integral part of the department. Today, it consists of three components: the Academic Department, the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, and the Office of State Archaeology. Through their diverse activities, each of these components reflects in different ways the commitment of the Archaeology Program to theoretical and applied research, instruction, public outreach, and service to the Commonwealth.


From "Anthropology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington Campus"

by Frank J. Essen