Anthropology has been taught at the University of Pennsylvania since 1886, with an academic department formally created in 1913. Currently, the academic department defines its teaching and research as a "global social science" that studies the human condition throughout all regions of the world, from the past to the present. In addition to the traditional four sub-disciplines of anthropology (archaeology, biological and physical anthropology, cultural or social anthropology, and linguistic anthropology), Penn faculty and students are deeply engaged in applied anthropology, in particular in medical and public health anthropology, business anthropology, and environmental anthropology. The interdisciplinary breadth and international scope of anthropology as taught and practiced at Penn is reflected in Penn Libraries' collections.
The Museum Library, located in the Academic Wing of the Penn Museum, houses over 100,000 volumes and serves as the anthropology and archaeology library for the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation's few university branch libraries with anthropology as its focus. Like the objects held by the Penn Museum itself, the Museum Library holdings represent anthropological and archaeological research on all seven continents and islands throughout the world. Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of anthropological research, other libraries on campus hold relevant collections as well, most notably the area studies seminar rooms and ethnomusicological collections in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library and the deep collections of resources managed by the Biomedical and Veterinary libraries.
Notable strengths in the Museum Library's collections include:
- biological and physical anthropology
- history, method, and theory of cultural and social anthropology
- linguistics in the Americas
- Native American studies
- Mayan studies
- archaeology of prehistoric Americas, Egypt, and Near East.
Penn Libraries collects to the post-graduate research level in these areas. Currently, other areas of strong collecting in support of curricula and research at Penn include archaeology of Asia and the Mediterranean, ethnographies in rural and urban communities around the world, linguistics, ethnographic art, folklore, ethnomusicology, dance, medical and public health anthropology, business anthropology, cultural heritage studies, and scientific and technological applications to anthropology, archaeology, and museum practices.
The Museum Library's special collections include books and pamphlets from the Daniel Garrison Brinton Collection. First a professor of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Academy of Natural Sciences, then later Penn’s first Professor of Archaeology and Linguistics, Brinton (1837-1899) is considered one of the fathers of American anthropology. He built a substantial personal library of over 4000 items, mainly focused on the languages and culture of indigenous peoples of North and Central America; it included several early-modern manuscripts, modern transcriptions, and early printed books from the estate of ethnologist and linguistic scholar, Carl Hermann Berendt (1817-1878), and from the Mayanist, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814-1874). After his death, Brinton’s library passed to the Penn Museum for the creation of the Museum Library in 1900. The early manuscripts and transcriptions by Berendt and others have since been relocated to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, where they are housed as the Berendt-Brinton Linguistic Collection,1500-1890. The Penn Museum Archives holds the notes, drawings, press clippings, scrapbooks, and various ephemera from the Daniel Garrison Brinton Collection.