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Anthropology has a long history in St Andrews. Andrew Lang, a central member of the group of Scottish anthropologists including John McLennan, J.G. Frazer and William Robertson Smith who came to the fore in the later Nineteenth Century, began his academic and literary career at the University in the 1860s. Based at St Andrews, Lang continued to write and publish on anthropology for many years until his death in 1912. The University holds a significant collection of his and other anthropological works of the period. A commemorative Andrew Lang Lecture has been held annually by the University since the 1920s.

(drawing by Aboriginal artist ‘Tommy MacRae’, 1886: Lang Collection)

An academic department of Social Anthropology was founded at the University in 1979 as part of an initiative to develop the field of social studies, with International Relations and Economic and Social History founded around the same time. Since then, the department has championed innovative ethnographic and historical scholarship. That year Ladislav Holy was invited to St Andrews and appointed Reader in Social Anthropology. The following year he was joined by David Riches and was later elevated to a Professorship in 1987. Since 1992, Social Anthropology has been incorporated as a department within the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies. The School now comprises three academic departments:  Film Studies, Philosophy and Social Anthropology.

Regular research seminars, organised by the Department and its research centres, include invited speakers of international standing. These seminars, along with distinguished visiting professors who are appointed from time to time, enrich the exciting research environment of the Department.

A crucial element in fostering our international reputation is also an ongoing series of conferences, workshops and other events that consider important established or emerging theoretical issues within the discipline. The Ladislav Holy Memorial Trust, set up after his death in 1997, plays an important supportive role for some of these events. By means of small grants, the Trust also promotes student anthropological research and initiative, enabling students to organise conferences, conduct fieldwork and carry out archival research.