Program in Ethnographic Studies

Academic Unit

Program Information

The Anthropology Department offers a certificate in ethnographic studies for concentrators in other departments.

What is ethnography? Ethnography is hands-on learning about people in their communities, shaped by the recognition of cultural diversity both at home (wherever that may be) and abroad. Relevant wherever people are relevant, ethnography is a qualitative research method central to knowing the world from the standpoint of its social arrangements. It is also a distinctive method of representing that knowledge effectively in writing. It is as useful for work in the natural sciences and engineering as it is integral to the social sciences and humanities, relating to many forms of academic and personal experience: studying abroad, doing international internships, conducting independent research, or engaging in community service. Students of ethnography learn to recognize, read, and evaluate qualitative evidence; apply their insights to everyday life; and think critically about society across diverse cultural fields at their sites of study, service, and research. 

What can I expect to learn? The certificate program in ethnographic studies (ETH) is intended for undergraduate students in all divisions as a supplement or complement to their department concentration or other certificate studies. Students learn how to apply ethnographic methods and ethics as an additional resource during study abroad, internships, and independent research. Field sites may be international or U.S.-based. As students return to campus from the field, the program helps them integrate their experience "away" with their academic work at Princeton. In this way, ethnographic studies may enrich students' experience within their own fields of study, or just deepen their personal appreciation of the human dimensions of globalization and other aspects of the modern world.

What does the certificate program offer? A pair of core courses on key concepts and ethnographic research methods and ethics, elective courses on methods and cultural analysis, and advising support for an ethnographic component in students' independent research in fulfillment of the program's writing requirement — either as part of the senior thesis or as a separate paper.

Admission to the Program

Students may register for the program at any time after their first enrollment at Princeton. There are no prerequisites. Courses taken prior to program registration may be counted. Students curious about the ethnographic studies certificate are encouraged to meet with a program staff member by requesting an appointment using the online enrollment form.

Program Requirements

1. Five courses comprising a core sequence of two ANT courses plus three electives chosen from two lists. Program courses must be completed with a minimum grade. Since the certificate is intended to supplement or complement the program of study in the student's department of concentration, no more than one course taken in fulfillment of that concentration may be counted toward the certificate. Likewise, no more than a total of two courses that are counted toward other certificate(s) may be counted toward fulfillment of ETH requirements, no matter how many other certificates the student pursues.

2. Ethnographic research, normally conducted over at least four weeks.

3. A senior thesis that addresses the student's ethnographic research in some explicit way (throughout the thesis or as a discrete chapter, as appropriate), or a separate paper if the student's ethnographic study is unrelated to the thesis topic. Students should plan their writing component carefully in consultation with their major adviser and the certificate adviser.

The ethnographic studies certificate program provides advising on an ongoing basis. This advising is supplemental to, and does not replace, senior thesis advising in the student's department of concentration.

Core courses:

ANT 300A "Ethnography, Evidence and Experience": A theory course that explores the relationship between foundational ethnographic concepts and field experience, and between experience and evidence — designed to support students' integration of ethnographic studies into their independent work. (Fall semester course; may be taken anytime up to and including fall of senior year.)

ANT 301A "The Ethnographer's Craft": A methods course that introduces students to the practical aspects of ethnographic research, including research ethics — designed to support students' development of a research proposal for ethnographic research to be undertaken during the summer before senior year. (Spring semester course; may be taken anytime but no later than spring of junior year.)

Descriptions of the core courses can be found under the course listings of the Department of Anthropology. In Ethnographic Studies, ANT 301A is designed for second-semester juniors and ANT 300A is designed for first-semester seniors, but either or both courses may be taken earlier, assuming adequate preparation. (See "Study Abroad" section below for more details.)

Elective courses:

In addition to the core courses, certificate students are required to take three additional courses, including at least one course listed under Ethnographic Methods and Research Ethics (to help students integrate ethnographic inquiry with research methods that they learn during their broader course of study) and at least one course listed under Ethnographic and Cultural Contexts (to give students opportunity to apply cultural analysis in local, regional, or institutional contexts involving diverse subjects, settings, and/or media). The three electives for each student must be chosen from courses offered by at least two different departments.

There are many ways for ETH students to fulfill course requirements.  Exemplary trajectories through the program can be found on the ethnographic studies program website. Also shown are sample elective courses, which are subject to annual review by the executive committee and may be edited to reflect changes in course offerings.

Ethnographic fieldwork:

Students are required to undertake ethnographic research, drawing on the diverse methods introduced in ANT 301A and the "methods and ethics" electives. Fieldwork should be the student's main activity over the course of at least four weeks (normally continuous), and may be undertaken in conjunction with study abroad, international or community-based internships, or other positions. Prior to beginning their fieldwork, students will demonstrate proficiency in the relevant field or contact language (see Language Requirements, below) and acquire Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for research projects involving human subjects, if applicable.

While the program does not provide funding for research, funding opportunities are available through offerings by departments, centers, other programs, and the Office of the Dean of the College. Advising is available for ethnographic studies certificate students who apply for research funding.

Language Requirements

Language instruction and assessment of proficiency are available through regular Princeton courses. Students whose fieldwork requires a language not taught at Princeton should consult the program.

Independent Work

Certificate students are required to develop a thesis topic or dedicated chapter that addresses their ethnographic research in some explicit way. In circumstances where a departmental thesis is not required, or where dedicated thesis material is not appropriate, a separate paper of approximately 20-30 pages is required.

Study Abroad

Students are encouraged (but not required) to study abroad. Students who anticipate studying abroad for one semester in the spring of their junior year should take ANT 301A early. Otherwise, with the approval of the program, students may substitute an equivalent course taken abroad. Please note that ANT 301A or any equivalent course taken abroad must be taken by the end of the junior year. One elective taken abroad, equivalent to Princeton offerings, may also be counted toward the certificate. The final approval of a course taken abroad is contingent upon review of the student's study abroad transcript and grade earned at the relevant institution. Students who plan to study abroad during any semester, or for a full year, should consult the program well in advance, to coordinate their course schedules.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who complete the program requirements will be awarded a certificate in ethnographic studies upon graduation.