Culture: Research

Field Museum anthropologists study and preserve the irreplaceable cultural heritage of humankind.  We conduct targeted research at field sites throughout the world and investigate and conserve cultural collections and sites for posterity.  We have active field projects on six continents and our research encompasses the biological, cultural, and archaeological expressions of human society.  Our collections and research responsibilities are organized geographically, but our research is unified by four general themes: Human-Environment Interaction, Economic Anthropology, Urban Culture, and State-making.

Learn more about our expeditions.

Research on Human-Environment interaction

The role humans play in environmental degradation and climate change.  How have human actions altered climate in the past?  What human social patterns create vulnerability to environmental change?  How do environmental changes affect humanity biologically and culturally?  Can we conceptualize sustainable versus unsustainable environmental practices and what can we learn from human history in this regard?

Our research demonstrates how humans impact their environments, for the better and for the worse.

  • The development of agriculture in the Andes
  • The long-term interactions of human settlements and landscapes in Mexico and China
  • Human biological evolution in environmental context

Research in Economic Anthropology

The origins and shifts in economic systems.  What are the basic human tenets that underlie all forms of economic interaction and exchange? What are the causes of economic crises?  How do different cultures view basic economic concepts such as value, productivity, and exchange?  How do interactions between different cultural systems affect economic interpretations?  Can economic system collapse be prevented?

Our research enlightens the understanding of how human economic systems work, vary, and change.

Research in Urban Culture

For the first time in earth’s history, more than half the human population now lives in cities (2007); urban populations are expected to double by 2050.  How did life in cities emerge?  What challenges does urban life present to humanity?  How has humanity resolved the problems of urban conflict, waste disposal, urban security, and provisioning in various urban contexts across the world over the past 5000 years?

Our research informs how life in cities emerged and how urban life influences our existence today.

Research on State Making

The emergence and changes in political hierarchy.  What are the reasons certain political systems emerge?  What strategies do leaders or social groups use to gain power in society?  How do social movements reinforce or destabilize power structures?  What are the root social causes of political collapse?  What pathways can result from the aftermath of radical political change?

Our research creates knowledge to explain the rise and fall of civilizations, including our own.