Prof. Nancy Chen

Nancy Chen is a professor of anthropology and the current department chair.

What is the best/most rewarding part about anthropology? Why should people pursue anthropology?
“I consider Anthropology undergrads to be enlightened beings as they choose a major that asks important questions. I did not get to experience anthropology until my senior year [as an undergraduate].  By then I asked myself ‘Why didn’t I take anthropology before?’ The seminar inspired me to go on and get a graduate degree in anthropology.

"I consider Anthropology undergrads to be enlightened beings as they choose a major that asks important questions."
-Prof. Nancy Chen

I love the major because it is one of the most flexible majors that you can finish in two years.  Moreover, it allows you to go on to do many things - not just graduate school in anthropology, but many different professions. Whether one is pre-med, interested in legal studies, or wanting to start their own business, every field really sees the value of anthropology as it allows you to think creatively and critically.  Anthropology teaches people how to read and write in ways that sets them apart from other majors. Anthropology teaches you not only how to look closely at culture, the way culture shapes how people interact with each other, how we eat, and how we sleep, but it also shapes the ways we can think about the past, present, and future as well.”
How did you become involved with the field of anthropology? When did you discover you had a passion and love for it?
“When I was an undergrad I was a human biology major and also a humanities honors student. I was writing a thesis about traditional Chinese medicine and I happened to see this seminar that was being taught by a professor of medical anthropology. As I had never taken an anthropology course before, I asked if it would be possible to sit in on the seminar.  Thankfully, he said ‘Yes of course!’ That completely opened my eyes not just towards anthropology, but also medical anthropology. I fell in love with the discipline through the pathway of medical anthropology.”

Where to Find Professor Chen... 

  • ANTH 134, Intro to Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 110K, Culture Through Food
  • ANTH 194M, Advanced Topics in Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 136, The Biology of Everyday Life
How did you know that you wanted to pursue research relating to medical anthropology, food and culture, healing practices, etc. in China?
“After college I considered either public health or medical anthropology. In the meanwhile, I lived and worked for two years in China as a volunteer for this nonprofit organization called Volunteers in Asia.  After living and working there, I learned which was more appealing to me, and it was medical anthropology.”
I know you also study food and culture, healing practices, etc. along with medical anthropology. How did you get involved with that?
“In some ways the study of food in the process of healing enabled me to return to my first love, which was the history of medicine. If you look at the three classical systems of medicine, whether Chinese, Ayurvedic, or Greco-Islamic, all three of these systems incorporate food as the frontline of medicine. If you examine historical documents about medicinal practice, most of these focused on food and how disease was not just tied to wind, but also to what one consumed. I decided that the intersection of food and medicine would be fun to pursue research.”
What plans do you have for the future? Are there any upcoming courses that you are excited to teach in the upcoming academic years, or any research/projects you are going to pursue?

“I’m excited to teach ANTH 136 (The Biology of Everyday Life) during the winter 2018 quarter. I love teaching anthropology majors because they push me to think. My teaching helps to inform my writing. I’m working on a book manuscript called China’s Double Helix which addresses the ways in which food and medicine have changed over the past 3 decades. I would also love to conduct research back in Louisiana where I grew up as I still have another book in my head but it’s going to be a while before that one comes out.

By Sarah Dairiki.  Sarah is a peer adviser with the Department of Anthropology.

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