Contact Information

Britt Rhodes
Professor of Social Work
Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Department Head

Koren 318
700 College Drive
Decorah, Iowa  52101

Phone: 563-387-1623

Anthropology Program

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures across space and time. Luther’s anthropology program draws upon a four-field approach that includes:

  • cultural anthropology
  • archaeology
  • biological anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

Anthropology strives to understand cultural and biological diversity in a holistic way, inspired by the humanities and the social and natural sciences. This anthropological approach is enriched by Luther’s liberal arts education with its emphasis on interdisciplinarity, commitment to community, and ample opportunities for study and research abroad.

The four-field emphasis of Luther’s anthropology program provides the opportunity to examine central questions concerning the human condition today and in the past. These include a range of contemporary issues, such as:

  • The impacts of extractive industries on the sustainability of the natural environment and local communities
  • Language death
  • Linguistic diversity
  • Self-determination of indigenous peoples
  • Gender ideologies
  • Cultural influences on health and illness around the globe

Archaeological and biological perspectives provide insights into the dynamic nature of ethnic and cultural identity and technological change in prehistoric North America and the ways that our evolutionary heritage has shaped our modern physiology.

When studying anthropology, you’ll:

  • Learn about the subfields of anthropology, and an understanding of the connections among them
  • Obtain a critical understanding of the origins and historical development of the discipline
  • Gain an understanding of the major theoretical paradigms, past and present
  • Discover how anthropology is interconnected with other disciplines
  • Understand the history of anthropological ethics, the current standards for ethical  practice, and the range of ethical dilemmas encountered in anthropological research and practice
  • Gain an appreciation for cultural diversity, both locally and globally
  • Learn how to collect and analyze anthropological data
  • Examine critically your own culture from an anthropological perspective
  • Apply anthropological knowledge and methods to contemporary social issues

Student Research

Anthropology students have the opportunity to undertake field and lab research under the supervision of or in collaboration with anthropology faculty and staff. Student projects may be conducted on campus, at off-campus sites in the US, or in locations abroad.

Research Opportunities

“Defining Home: The Decorah Refugee Heritage Project”

Destiny Crider initiated this project as the summer 2018 Faculty/Student Collaborative Research Project titled “We’re Thinking About You: ‘Decorah Hmong Refugee’ Reflection on their Past, Present, and Future,” with the goal to identify and interview members of the Hmong refugee community that participated in the Resettlement Program.

The project continues most summers with the purpose  to gather, process, preserve, and present information regarding the Refugee Resettlement program in Northeast Iowa that emerged in response to the displacement of Southeast Asian refugees from the Vietnam War. The Luther College Anthropology Lab currently holds an extensive archive which includes news articles, correspondence, photographs, sponsor records, documents, and audio/visual interviews of both migrants and Decorah community members that participated in this program in the 1970s-1990s. Students will have an opportunity to reach out to immigrants and Decorah community members to gather new stories of the immigrant and Decorah community experiences.

“Geophysical Survey of Prehistoric Earthwork Sites in Northeast Iowa”

This is an ongoing effort to apply geophysical remote sensing technology to the many prehistoric earthworks, including mounds, found in northeast Iowa.

Colin Betts and Luther College students employ several instruments to gather data to test a variety of research questions associated with these earthworks. The field work in 2016 focused on identifying the geophysical signature of a linear mound. The most recent efforts sought to provide information on both the size and shape of the ditch and embankment that once existed at the Lane Enclosure site as well as to relocate previous excavations. Additional work was designed to provide information on the construction and current conservation status of two falcon effigy mounds located along the Mississippi River south of Lansing, Iowa.

“Invisible Battles of “Ordinary” Mothers: Stories of Disability Advocacy in Iowa.”

In the summer of 2021, Anita Carrasco attended the Iowa Family Leadership Training Institute sponsored by Iowa Child Care Specialty Clinics. Carrasco recruited 12 mothers to share their journeys with her. These mothers came from diverse cultural backgrounds and had children with a wide variety of diagnoses.

In the summer of 2023, in collaboration with anthropology student Grace McIlrath, Carrasco documented the experiences of mothers who had a child with a disability, their coping mechanisms, and their messages of hope for other mothers in similar situations. They conducted in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews with the participants covering a range of themes, including pregnancy and the discovery of the disability, doctors, schools, the child, speaking about the disability, parenting, and leadership. They co-presented the results of the research at the Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting in Santa Fe (March 2024), and are excited to continue this collaboration this summer (2024) to complete the first draft of the book Invisible Battles of “Ordinary” Mothers. Drawing on the experiences of these courageous women, the goal of the book is to provide hope for future family leaders.

“Latin American & Hispanic Student Experiences at Luther College”

During 2021-2023, Anita Carrasco was awarded the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement (CEPE) Faculty Research Fellowship. She directed a group of three Latin American student research assistants––Evelyn Montoya (Chicago), Salome Valdivieso (Ecuador)­, and Anghy Aragon (Nicaragua)–– who conducted a total of 47 interviews collecting stories from other students about what it meant to be a minority of Latin American background, at a predominantly white institution like Luther College.

Some of the themes covered in the interviews were (1) what experiences of hospitality gave students positive memories at Luther? (2) what experiences of hostility gave them negative memories? (3) what does unconditional hospitality look like from their perspectives? and Lastly, (4) what can Luther College do to be a place where students can experience unconditional hospitality. The results of the research were presented at Luther College and at the Latin American Studies Association Meeting in Vancouver, Canada in 2023. A final report was shared with Luther College’s administration to support their work for the improvement of a sense of belonging in the context of institutional efforts in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

“Health and Wellness Imaginaries of Ukrainian Youth”

Maryna Nading has an ongoing research agenda in Ukraine. Her current research investigates volunteer initiatives and civic engagement that support the Ukrainian Army. Previously, she collaborated with a Luther student who traveled with her to Ukraine and facilitated focus groups and interviews with close to 120 young people. This research was supported by the Nena Amundson Professorship award. The project focused on the ways in which young people imagined good health for themselves, their partners, and their households, and the routes they took to secure good health, as well as the sources of knowledge that informed their behaviors. It was co-presented at the Society for the Applied Anthropology meeting and published in Lithuanian Ethnology: Studies in Social Anthropology and Ethnology under the title “’I would like to have a surprise… something unplanned.’ Imaginaries of Hope among Young People in Ukraine.”

What is geophysical remote sensing?

Archaeological remote sensing is defined as any technique that allows archaeologists to remotely study the remains of past cultures without physically contacting them–this can include aerial photography, satellite imagery, and a range of geophysical techniques. Geophysical survey uses aspects of the earth’s physical properties to investigate archaeological features located at or near the ground surface. Human activities such as the movement of soil and rock, building houses, the excavation of pits, and building fires can all alter the local physical properties of the soil in significant ways. Remote sensing instruments use the associated variations in magnetic fields, the ability of soil to conduct electricity, or the ease with which an electromagnetic wave can pass through the soil to detect the traces of these human activities.

The advantage of geophysical survey is that it can examine larger areas more quickly and with greater resolution than is possible with traditional archaeological field methods. Further, geophysical methods have the advantage of being nondestructive, a capacity particularly relevant for sites where it is neither permissible nor desirable to disturb them. These characteristics, along with advances in the instrumentation and interpretation of geophysical data have caused them to become increasingly important in archaeological research.

What type of remote sensing is conducted at Luther?

Jay Puffer '18 using the Bartington Grad 601-2 gradiometer during the archaeology field school.

Jay Puffer ’18 using the Bartington Grad 601-2 gradiometer during the archaeology field school.

Geophysical remote sensing at Luther College currently uses three of the most prevalent instruments used for archaeological geophysical research: a Bartington Grad 601-2 fluxgate gradiometer, a Geoscan RM-85 soil resistivity meter, and GSSI SIR-4000 ground penetrating radar (GPR) system.

The Bartington gradiometer measures local variations in the earth’s magnetic field using pairs of vertically oriented sensors located 1.0 meter apart. The Bartington instrument uses two sensor tubes to record two simultaneous lines of data, increasing the rate of data collection.  Data is collected by walking the instrument along regular traverses and readings are taken automatically at predetermined intervals. The sensors record small variations in the earth’s magnetic field (or gradient).

The Geoscan RM85 resistance meter uses arrays of probes to inject an electrical current into the soil and measure the degree of resistance of that current passing through. The probe array is repeatedly picked up and placed at regular intervals, and readings are automatically recorded at each location to create a larger number of regular data points across an area. The probes record the differences in resistance at these locations.

The final instrument is a GSSI SIR 4000 portable GPR system with a 400mhz antenna. The instrument mounts the antenna and data collector on a three-wheel cart that is pushed along the traverse ropes at preselected intervals while a calibrated survey wheel records the distance along the traverse line. The 400 mhz antenna transmits an electromagnetic wave into the ground and measures variations in the way that wave is reflected back to the ground surface.

In addition to these instruments the Luther College Anthropology Lab also has additional instruments and software that are integral to conducting remote sensing. This includes a survey grade Trimble GNSS survey system with R10 and R2 GNSS receivers and TSC3 data collectors.  We also have a range of analytical software packages including Geoplot, Terrasurveyor, RADAN, Surfer, ArcMap, and Photoscan. These instruments and software represent an ideal suite of tools for investigating many of the aspects of the archaeological record in northeast Iowa including prehistoric mounds, earthworks, and village sites.

What opportunities are there for students to participate in remote sensing?

There are a range of opportunities for Luther College students to get direct, hands-on experience with archaeological remote sensing in both the classroom and research settings.  Luther College is one of only a few colleges and universities in the United States that offers remote sensing opportunities specifically oriented for undergraduates. All students in the introductory archaeology course learn about the basics of these techniques and get the opportunity to try them out as part of the course. The Anth 305 Remote Sensing in Archaeology class provides an in-depth overview of both the theory and methods of geophysical remote sensing.

Beyond the classroom, remote sensing represents an ideal means for students to develop and implement their own research projects. Students interested in archaeology are encouraged to develop research projects that use these techniques to explore questions associated with the archaeology of the local area. The Luther College Dean’s Office provides funding for collaborative summer research experiences for students to work directly with faculty members on research projects in the local area.

Learn more about student research opportunities


Luther’s anthropology program teaches students to think critically and to use broad-based anthropological knowledge to address real-world problems.

Regardless of whether or not they define their life’s work as anthropology, many graduates continue to think of themselves as anthropologists and to use their training both to understand and change the world around them—as graduate students, teachers, church youth directors, personnel administrators, urban planners, museum curators, contract archaeologists, international businesspeople, and more.

The American Anthropological Association’s “Careers in Anthropology” webpage notes that “Today’s anthropologists do not just work in exotic locations. Anthropologists can be found in a surprising array of fields and careers…” This broad array includes “corporations, all levels of government, educational institutions and non-profit associations.”

Luther anthropology majors reflect this diversity of post-graduate experiences. Our recent graduates have found success in the following fields and associated institutions:

  • Cultural Resource Management (Bear Creek Archeology)
  • Museums (Smithsonian Institute; Chicago History Museum; Science Museum of Minnesota; Rochester Art Center; National Museum of the American Indian)
  • Education sector (various school districts; University of Missouri; University of Notre Dame; Augustana College; Capella University; Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey; Universal American School, Kuwait)
  • Government sector (U.S. Forest Service; Bureau of Land Management; Iowa State Historic Preservation Office; National Park Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
  • Nonprofits (Umoja Student Development Corporation; Admissions Possible; Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association)
  • Libraries (Hennepin County Library; San Diego County Library)
  • Health Sector (Centers for Disease Control; Veterans Administration Rural Health Resource Center; University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine)

For more information about jobs relating to anthropology, visit the Career Center.

Contact Information

Britt Rhodes
Professor of Social Work
Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Department Head

Koren 318
700 College Drive
Decorah, Iowa  52101

Phone: 563-387-1623