Anthropology at Teachers College: A brief history

Teachers College affiliated with Columbia University in 1898, at the same time that the Department of Anthropology was established at Columbia. Immediately, students in both institutions became interested in the relation between anthropology and education. In 1900, Frank Clarence Spencer received his doctorate in Education with a minor in Anthropology. Others list anthropology and education as part of their course of study or their subject, including Elsie Clews Parson, who was to become the first woman president of the American Anthropological Association.

The first courses in anthropology at Teachers College were taught in the 1930s under various auspices and departments. In 1935 visiting professor Lyman Bryson (A.B. Michigan 1910, A.M. 1915) taught a class on "Anthropology and Education." Margaret Mead started a relationship with Teachers College in 1947 that continued into the 1970s. As lecturer and adjunct professor she taught such courses as “Sociology and Anthropology,“ “Anthropology and Educational Mass Media,” “Anthropology and Interpersonal Relations,” and “Culture and Communication.”

Starting in the 1940s, several members of the Department of Anthropology at Columbia, including Margaret Mead, Conrad Arensberg, Solon Kimball and others, along with George Spindler and others at Stanford, were among the prime movers in the development of what became the sub-field of Anthropology and Education and its association, the Council on Anthropology and Education.

The presence of anthropology at Teachers College was formalized when Professor Solon Kimball was first listed (in 1956) as the area advisor for anthropology in what was then the “Division of Social Foundations.” Soon, his classes began to be listed separately as anthropology and education, and the first dissertations were written on anthropological topics. In 1963 the first PhD was offered in "Educational Anthropology." When Professor Lambros Comitas joined the faculty, the Program in Anthropology and Education was formally recognized as a distinct entity. The first PhD from the program was granted in 1968. That same year, the faculty of the program and that of the Department of Anthropology at the Columbia Graduate Faculty created a “Joint Program in Applied Anthropology” to be administered at Teachers College.

During the following decade, anthropology at Teachers College was formally led by the core faculty of the Programs in Anthropology, Professors Lambros Comitas and Charles Harrington, soon joined by Professor George Bond. There were also up to six other faculty with doctorates in anthropology across Teachers College, including Bill Sayres (International Education), Francis Ianni (Educational Administration), Paul Byers, Ray McDermott and Hervé Varenne (Family and Community Education). At the turn of the 21st century, the faculty of the Programs included Professors Bartlett, Comitas, Bond, Harrington and Varenne. In 2013, Professor Varenne received the George and Louise Spindler Award for lifetime achievement from the Council on Anthropology and Education.

Since 1968, the Programs have produced about 150 PhDs. Many of them went on the become leaders in the field. This includes two alumni who received a MacArthur Fellowship: Shirley Brice Heath (PhD 1970) in 1984, and Ruth Lubic (Ed.D. 1979) in 1993. In recent years, the work of two of our alumnaes was recognized by the Council in Anthropology and Education as the “best dissertation” of the year: Jill Koyama (PhD 2008) and Juliette de Wolfe (PhD 2013).

Anthropologists on the faculty of Teachers College
(and their main appointment within the College)

Lesley Bartlett (Ph.D. North Carolina, Chapel Hill 2001) 2001 to 2014 (Programs in International and Comparative Education, then Programs in Anthropology)
George Bond (Ph.D. London School of Economics 1968) 1974 to 2014 (Programs in Anthropology)
Paul Byers (Ph.D. Columbia 1972) 1970 to 1990 (Family and Community Education)
Lambros Comitas (Ph.D. Columbia 1962) 1964 to 2020 (Programs in Anthropology)
William Dalton (Ph.D. Manchester)1967 to 1973 (Programs in Anthropology)
Janet Dolgin (Ph.D. Princeton 1974) 1975 to 1978 (Programs in Anthropology)

Grey Gundaker (Ph.D. Yale 1992) 2021 to present (Senior Lecturer, Programs in Anthropology)
Charles Harrington (Ph.D. Harvard 1968) 1967 to 2013 (Programs in Anthropology)
Francis Ianni (Ph.D. Pennsylvania State 1952) 1965 To 1980 (Educational Administration)
Solon Kimball (Ph.D. Harvard 1936) 1953 to 1966 (Social Foundations, then Anthropology and Education)
Nicholas Limerick (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania 2015) 2015 to present (Programs in Anthropology)
Ray McDermott
 (Ph.D. Stanford 1977) 1979 To 1989 (Family and Community Education)
Margaret Mead (Ph.D. Columbia 1929) 1948 to 1971 (Social Foundations, then Programs in Anthropology)
William Sayres (Ph.D. Harvard 1953) 1963 To 1993 (International Education)

Amina Tawasil (Ph.D. Columbia University 2013) 2017 to present
Hervé Varenne (Ph.D. Chicago 1972) 1972 to present (Family and Community Education, then Programs in Anthropology)

Remembering Professor Lambros Comitas (1927-2020) 

Lambros Comitas

President Tom Bailey's Announcement of the Passing of Professor Comitas

Ithaca on His Mind: The Anthropological Journey of the Late Lambros Comitas

AAA Obituary for late Lambros Comitas

To donate to Professor Comitas' Research Fund, visit here.


Remembering Professor George Bond

TC Announces Newly Renamed George Clement Bond Center for African Education

Field Notes on Bond: Kin, colleagues, and friends provided thick description of a pioneering education anthropologist and caring mentor

Remembrances by the Teachers College Community

Professor George Bond, TC Education Anthropologist, Passes at 77

To donate to Professor Bond's Scholarship, visit here.

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