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The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is the world's largest professional organization of scholars and practitioners in the field of anthropology. With 11,000 members, the Arlington, Virginiamarker based association includes archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, biological anthropologists, linguists and applied anthropologists in universities and colleges, research institutions, government agencies, museums, corporations and non-profits throughout the world. The AAA conducts the largest annual meeting of anthropologists and publishes over 20 peer-reviewed scholarly journals, available in print and online through AnthroSource. The AAA was founded in 1902.


According to its articles of incorporation, the AAA was formed to:
...promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology.
At its incorporation, the association assumed responsibility for the journalAmerican Anthropologist, created in 1888 by the Anthropological Society of Washington (ASW). By 1905, the journal also served the American Ethnological Society, in addition to the AAA and ASW.

From an initial membership of 175, the AAA grew slowly during the first half of the 20th century. Annual meetings were held primarily in the Northeast and accommodated all attendees in a single room. Since 1950, the AAA’s membership has increased dramatically, now averaging around 11,000. Annual meetings frequently draw over 5,000 individuals, who attend over 500 sessions organized into a five-day program.

The AAA has been a democratic organization since its beginning. Although Franz Boas initially fought to restrict membership to an exclusive group of 40 "professional anthropologists," the AAA's first president, W. J. McGee, argued for a more inclusive membership embracing all those who expressed an interest in the discipline. McGee's vision still guides the association today. Business affairs are now conducted by a 41-member Section Assembly representing each of the association's constituent sections, and a 15-member Executive Board. This increase in representation reflects the growing diversity of the discipline, which is viewed by many as a source of strength for the association and for American anthropology as a whole. In Richard B. Woodbury's words, ". . .the AAA has remained the central society for the discipline, addressing with considerable success its increasingly varied interests and speaking for anthropology to other fields, the federal and state governments, and the public."


The AAA is composed of 38 sections, which are groups organized around identity affiliations or intellectual interests within the discipline of anthropology. Sections each have an elected president or chair and many publish journals and host meetings.[32845]


The AAA today publishes over 20 section publications including, among others, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Anthropology & Education Quarterly and Medical Anthropology Quarterly.[32846] The AAA’s official newspaper, Anthropology News, is published monthly September through May. It has a monthly circulation of 11,000-12,000, including members and individual and institutional subscribers. Since 1962 the association has published the AAA Guide, which lists anthropology departments, with staff and program information. It gradually expanded to include section and association membership directories, information on industry and research firms, government and non-profit agencies and museums, academic statistics and PhDs granted in the discipline. AAA publications are available in print and online through AnthroSource.


Since 1902, the AAA’s meetings have been important venues for the exchange of anthropological knowledge, conducting business and conversing with colleagues from all areas of anthropology. As the AAA has grown, its meetings have expanded. The 2007 annual meeting had an attendance of 5,500 people with 534 sessions. The ability to connect with colleagues remains a major reason for attending the annual meeting, whether those colleagues are other AAA members, members of related societies, publishers, policymakers, employers or media. In recent years, the AAA annual meeting location has alternated between Washington, DC and other U.S. cities. The 2008 annual meeting was held in San Francisco, Calif.

Public issues involvement

From its earliest years, the AAA has given serious attention to public issues involving anthropology. For example, the AAA supported the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906, protested the discontinuance of anthropological research in the Philippines (1915), urged the teaching of anthropology in high schools (1927), spoke out for the preservation of archaeological materials when dams were built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (1935), passed a pre-WWII resolution against racism (1938), and expressed the need to “guard against the dangers, and utilize the promise, inherent in the use of atomic energy” (1945).

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the association examined the issues of government-sponsored classified research, use of anthropologists by the military in Vietnam, secret research in Thailand, and the general problem of a code of ethics for anthropological research, particularly for the protection of the rights of those studied. Other issues addressed from the 1970s through the 1980s include illegal antiquities trade, the insertion of religious beliefs into social science texts, the preservation of endangered nonhuman primates, and the religious significance of peyote to Native Americans. In the 1990s, in response to continued public confusion about the meaning of “race,” particularly public misconceptions about race and intelligence, the AAA Executive Board commissioned a position paper on race as a constructed social mechanism.

In 2004, in response to President George W. Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the AAA issued a statement on marriage and the family. It states:
The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.
The AAA also has adopted resolutions against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, against the use of anthropological knowledge as an element for physical or psychological torture, and against any covert or overt U.S. military action against Iranmarker.

RACE: Are We So Different?

To help promote more complex and nuanced understandings of race and human variation, the AAA developed and currently manages a public education program titled “RACE Are We So Different?” The program includes a traveling museum exhibit, an interactive website [32847], and educational materials. “RACE Are We So Different?” looks at race in the United States through history, science and lived experience. The program explains how human variation differs from race, when and why the idea of race was invented, and how race and racism affect everyday life.


A number of ideologically polarized debates within the discipline of anthropology have prompted the AAA to conduct investigations. These include the dispute between Derek Freeman and defenders of Margaret Mead and also the controversy over the book Darkness in El Dorado.

Engaging with the Military

Vietnam War

In March 1967, during the Vietnam War, the Council of the AAA adopted a "Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics" that stated: "Except in the event of a declaration of war by Congress, academic institutions should not undertake activities or accept contracts in anthropology that are not related to their normal functions of teaching, research, and public service. They should not lend themselves to clandestine activities. . . . The international reputation of anthropology has been damaged by the activities of unqualified individuals who have falsely claimed to be anthropologists, or who have pretended to be engaged in anthropological research while in fact pursuing other ends. There is also good reason to believe that some anthropologists have used their professional standing and the names of their academic institutions as cloaks for the collection of intelligence information and for intelligence operations. Academic institutions and individual members of the academic community, including students, should scrupulously avoid both involvement in clandestine intelligence activities and the use of the name of anthropology, or the title of anthropologist, as a cover for intelligence activities." The US has not declared war since 1942, when it did so on Romania.

A statement on "Principles of Professional Responsibility" adopted by the same Council in May 1971 stated: "In relation with their own government and with host governments, research anthropologists should be honest and candid. They should demand assurance that they will not be required to compromise their professional responsibilities and ethics as a condition of their permission to pursue research. Specifically, no secret research, no secret reports or debriefings of any kind should be agreed to or given.

Human Terrain System

Through 2007 and 2008, debates surrounding anthropologists and the military have resurfaced in response to the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System (HTS) project.

Following a number of national news articles on HTS, anthropologists began to debate the project and related ethical issues. Proponents of the HTS program argued that anthropologists were providing much-needed cultural knowledge about local populations and helping to decrease violence in their areas of operation. Critics, however, argued that HTS anthropologists could not receive informed consent from their research subjects in a war zone and that information provided by anthropologists might put populations in danger.

To address these issues, the AAA’s Executive Board released a statement on the HTS project on 31 October 2007. The statement cites, “sufficiently troubling and urgent ethical issues” raised by the HTS project, including the difficulties for HTS anthropologists to receive informed consent without coercion from their research subjects and to uphold their ethical mandate to “do no harm” to those they study . The AAA urges members to adhere to its code of ethics, which outlines principles and guidelines for ethical behavior. However, the association does not adjudicate cases involving charges of unethical behavior or bar members from participating in the HTS program.

In addition, the AAA’s Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) issued a final report in November 2007, based on over a year of work on this subject. The report neither endorsed nor condemned anthropological work with military, intelligence and security organizations, but instead outlined the opportunities and challenges of working in these sectors.[32848]. The report was released during the AAA's 2007 annual meeting and its contents were debated during several panel events.

Opposition to military cooperation was evident during the 2007 AAA annual meeting in Washington, DCmarker. Some critics of the HTS program have suggested that scholars who perform classified work with the military be expelled from the organization. During an event organized by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, a graduate student who had recently been expelled from the HTS program spoke out about her experiences with the program. She argued that the program was poorly run but was doing positive work in helping military officers with "nation-building" activities. She began crying when some scholars shouted criticisms about her finance for his continued participation in the HTS program. Another scholar came to her defense and urged the crowd to show her respect for sharing her views before a critical audience.


AnthroSource is the online repository of the journals of the American Anthropological Association. Launched in 2004, AnthroSource contains current issues for fifteen of the AAA's peer-reviewed publications, as well as an archive of the journals, newsletters, and bulletins published by the American Anthropological Association and its member sections. Members of the AAA are given access to AnthroSource as a benefit of membership, and institutions may receive access via paid subscription.

Until August 2007, AnthroSource was a collaboration between the University of California Press and the American Anthropological Association. It, along with all AAA journals, has since been pulled from the University of California Press by the AAA Board and given to Wiley-Blackwell, the new publisher created when John Wiley & Sons purchased Blackwell Publishing in February 2007. Commencing 2008, AnthroSource is to be hosted and managed by Wiley-Blackwell as part of the five-year publishing contract awarded.

Primary peer-reviewed journals

  • American Anthropologist
  • American Ethnologist
  • Anthropology & Education Quarterly
  • Anthropology & Humanism
  • Anthropology of Consciousness
  • Anthropology of Work Review
  • Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association
  • Central Issues in Anthropology
  • City & Society
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Culture & Agriculture
  • El Mensajero
  • Ethos
  • Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
  • Journal of Linguistic Anthropology
  • Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe
  • Medical Anthropology Quarterly
  • Museum Anthropology
  • North American Dialogue
  • Nutritional Anthropology
  • PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review
  • Transforming Anthropology
  • Visual Anthropology Review
  • Voices

Past AAA Presidents


  1. AAA Articles of Incorporation
  2. Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, 1994.
  3. Formerly known as Anthropology Newsletter.
  4. “History of the American Anthropological Association.” In American Anthropological Association Leadership Manual
  5. AAA Executive Board Statement on HTS[1]
  6. Questions, Anger and Dissent on Ethics Study Inside Higher Ed
  7. Academics Turn On "Human Terrain" Whistleblower Noah Shachtman,


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