Our list of influential women in anthropology highlights the diversity of practices and priorities in the broader field. From archeologists to professors to forensic anthropologists, this list is teeming with female professionals who have made lasting impacts and advancements in the study of humanity, its biological origins, and its cultural history.
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Top 10 Women in Anthropology From the Last 10 Years
Those interested in pursuing an anthropology degree will typically have the opportunity to choose from four subfields: archeology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, and cultural anthropology. Each of these specializations offers a unique lens through which to explore the way humans and cultures have evolved over time. Archeology focuses on the physical aspects of human history, like bones, tools, and plants, while linguistic anthropology studies how people communicate and relate to others through language. Biological anthropology explores the ways humans adapt to environments, react to diseases, and engage with wildlife, whereas cultural anthropology focuses more on how humans actually live in those environments, including social organization, attire, art, religion, symbolic expression, and more. No matter the specialization, anthropologists work to gain a better understanding of what it means to be human.
The job outlook for anthropologists is promising as the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 7% rate of growth between now and 2030. Anthropology professionals will work in a wide range of roles from museum curation and historical research to public policy development and even on-site archeological fieldwork.
Women in anthropology can pursue collaboration, networking and support through professional organizations like the Association for Feminist Anthropology. This offshoot of the American Anthropological Association strives to “foster and publish development of feminist analytic perspectives in all dimensions of anthropology.” The members of this organization have been at the forefront of many progressive movements, even within their parent organization, including the support for reproductive rights, breastfeeding, and childcare.
Among the list of female trailblazers in anthropology is Veena Das, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and recipient of multiple international awards, including the Anders Retzius Gold Medal. Additionally, many may be familiar with the works of Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist who inspired the character Temperance Brennan on the hit series Bones. Jane Goodall, another household name, is well-known for her work with chimpanzees and their social interactions. Amber Case advanced the field through her study of the impact that computers have had on human cultures. Along with these notable anthropologists, the following list is composed of women who continue to transform the field today through research, observation, and innovation.
Influential Women in Anthropology From the Last 10 Years
1948 - Present (75 years)
Kathleen Joan Reichs is an American crime writer, forensic anthropologist and academic. She is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is well-known for inspiring the television series Bones.
Mary-Ann Ochota is a British broadcaster and anthropologist specialising in anthropology, archaeology, social history and adventure factual television. Biography Ochota was born and grew up in Wincham, Northwich, Cheshire, to an Indian mother and a Polish father. She studied at the sixth-form college of Sir John Deane’s College.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is an American anthropologist. She is a professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 2018, she was awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a program director and professor for medical anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated from University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in social science and a Ph.D. in anthropology. She also served a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health, Laboratory of Human Development at Harvard University.
Her research has specialized in many areas, including, but not limited to: cultural forensic anthropology, human organ trafficking, invisible genocides, Pope Francis, violence, death squads, and epidemics. She won the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology for her very first book, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Her controversial work, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, was a shocking description of Brazilian mothers having to choose which of their children lives or dies, due to extreme poverty and their life of horrific suffering. Her work in medical anthropology is critical to the field.
Kira Hall is professor of Linguistics and Anthropology, as well as director for the Program in Culture, Language, and Social Practice , at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The majority of Hall’s work focuses on language in India and the United States, with special attention to organizations of gender and sexuality. A special focus of her work has been the linguistic and sociocultural practices of Hindi-speaking Hijras in northern India, a transgender group often discussed in the anthropological literature as a “third sex.”
Dame Jane Morris Goodall , formerly Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall, is an English primatologist and anthropologist. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzeess, after 60 years studying the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees. Goodall first went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania in 1960, where she witnessed human-like behaviours amongst chimpanzees.
Amber Case is an American cyborg anthropologist, user experience designer and public speaker. She studies the interaction between humans and technology. Biography Case was born in about 1986. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Lewis & Clark College in 2008, having written a thesis about cell phones. In 2008, she co-founded CyborgCamp, an unconference on the future of humans and computers.
Mary Doria Russell is an American novelist. Early life and education Russell was born in Elmhurst, Illinois She graduated from Glenbard East High School in Lombard, Illinois, which has registered its chapter of the National English Honor Society.
Areas of Specialization: Social Anthropology Marilyn Strathern was born in 1941 in North Wales. She attended Crofton Lane Primary School and Bromley High School before moving on to study Archaeology and Anthropology at Girton College. She earned her Ph.D. from Girton College in 1968.
Strathern has spent her career working with the people of Papua New Guinea. Her approach to feminist anthropology has yielded important scholarship, including Self-Interest and the Social Good: Some Implications of Hagen Gender Imagery and Dealing with Inequality: Analysing Gender Relations in Melanesia and Beyond. Her work on reproductive technology opened up new lines of inquiry into the female experience and how procreation impacts society.
Aside from her feminist scholarship she has also devoted time to the understanding of kinship bonds and community, in works such as Kinship, law and the unexpected: Relatives are always a surprise, and After nature: English kinship in the late twentieth century.
Enid Gabriella Coleman is an anthropologist, academic and author whose work focuses on cultures of hacking and online activism, particularly Anonymous. She previously held the Wolfe Chair in Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada and is currently a full professor at Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology.
Sonia Harmand is a French archaeologist who studies Early Stone Age archaeology and the evolution of stone tool making. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Paris where she was associated with the “Prehistory and Technology” research unit, which was well known in the field of stone tool analysis. Harmand earned a PhD from Paris Nanterre University, and is a research associate at CNRS, which is the largest French governmental research organization, and Europe’s largest fundamental science agency. She worked as a Research Scientist at CNRS for four years before joining S...
Areas of Specialization: Culture and Technology Genevieve Bell is the Florence Violet McKenzie Chair and Distinguished Professor for the Australian National University College of Engineering and Computer Science, a Senior Fellow at Intel, Director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute (3A Institute) at Australian National University, and the first SRI International Engelbert Distinguished Fellow. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. She went on to earn an additional Master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
She is very well known for her work in technology, and her research into how humans interact with technology has been widely recognized. She was named one of the Top 25 Women in Technology to Watch, one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business and to Elle Magazine’s list of influential women in technology.
Frances Jane Hassler Hill was an American anthropologist and linguist who worked extensively with Native American languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family and anthropological linguistics of North American communities.
Sarah Helen Parcak is an American archaeologist and Egyptologist, who has used satellite imagery to identify potential archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome and elsewhere in the former Roman Empire. She is a professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In partnership with her husband, Greg Mumford, she directs survey and excavation projects in the Faiyum, Sinai, and Egypt’s East Delta.
Saba Mahmood was professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, she was also affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Institute for South Asia Studies, and the Program in Critical Theory. Her scholarly work straddled debates in anthropology and political theory, with a focus on Muslim majority societies of the Middle East and South Asia. Mahmood made major theoretical contributions to rethinking the relationship between ethics and politics, religion and secularism, freedom and submission, and reason and embodiment. Influenced by the work of Tal...
Xanthé Danielle Mallett is a Scottish forensic anthropologist, criminologist and television presenter. She specialises in human craniofacial biometrics and hand identification, and behaviour patterns of paedophiles, particularly online. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.
Laura Nader is an American anthropologist. She has been a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley since 1960. She was the first woman to receive a tenure-track position in the department. She is also the older sister of U.S. activist, consumer advocate, and frequent third-party candidate Ralph Nader, and the younger sister of community advocate Shafeek Nader and social scientist Claire Nader.
Rita Laura Segato is an Argentine-Brazilian academic, who has been called “one of Latin America’s most celebrated feminist anthropologists” and “one of the most lucid feminist thinkers of this era”. She is specially known for her research oriented towards gender in indigenous villages and Latin American communities, violence against women and the relationships between gender, racism and colonialism. One of her specialist areas is the study of gender violence.
Meredith Francesca Small is a Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Cornell University and popular science author. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been widely published in academic journals, and her research is presented in her most popular book: Our Babies, Ourselves. She spent many years studying both people and primate behaviour. Her current area of interest is in the intersection of biology and culture, and how that has influenced parenting.
Alba Maria Zaluar was a Brazilian anthropologist, with emphases in urban anthropology and in anthropology of violence. In 1984, she obtained her PhD in social Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Alison Galloway is a forensic anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is best known for her work in identifying the physical remains of Laci Peterson in the Scott Peterson Trial. She co-edited a book called The Evolving Female: A Life History Perspective with Mary Morbeck and Adrienne Zihlmann. She is also editor of “Broken Bones: Anthropological Analysis of Blunt Force Trauma” and co-editor of the second edition of that volume. She is also co-author of “Practicing Forensic Anthropology: an eResource” with Susan Kuzminsky.
is a Japanese professor specializing in the history and cultural anthropology of Central Asia and Mongolia. Biography Konagaya completed a bachelor’s degree in 1981 and a master’s degree in 1983, both at Kyoto University. From 1987 to 2004 she held research positions, and a professorship, at the National Museum of Ethnology.
Jane Ellen Buikstra, a bioarchaeologist and anthropologist, earned her B.A. in anthropology from DePauw University and her M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Chicago. She is a professor and director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research within the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, president of the Center for American Archaeology and the first editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Palaeopathology.
Her research has reflected her interdisciplinary expertise, in fields as diverse as bioarchaeology, forensic anthropology and paleodemography, among others. She has published more than 100 works, including History of Research in Skeletal Biology and Ethnogenesis and Ethnicity in the Andes. Her field experiences have taken her from Spain to Argentina, and the Canadian Arctic to Turkey.
Recently, Buikstra has been studying the evolution of tuberculosis using recovered ancient DNA from the pathogen. A diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, she has taught at institutions such as University of Chicago, University of New Mexico, and Northwestern University. She was recently honored with the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and has been a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1985.
Sarah Hrdy is an American anthropologist and primatologist who has made major contributions to evolutionary psychology and sociobiology . She is considered “a highly recognized pioneer in modernizing our understanding of the evolutionary basis of female behavior in both nonhuman and human primates”. In 2013, Hrdy received a Lifetime Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.
Françoise Héritier was a French anthropologist, ethnologist, and feminist. She was the successor of Claude Lévi-Strauss at the Collège de France . Her work dealt mainly with the theory of alliances and on the prohibition of incest . In addition to Lévi-Strauss, she was also influenced by Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. She was replaced by Philippe Descola, who is the current holder of the chair of anthropology at the Collège.