The Catholic University of America

Anita G. Cook, Ph.D.

Ordinary Professor of Anthropology


I was born in New York City where my parents had met as WWII refugees from Nazi occupied Austria and The Netherlands.  I grew up in Westchester, New York moved to Europe when I was 8 and returned to the US for high school in Connecticut and Minnesota. As a first generation American I also had the privilege of spending my formative years in Geneva, Switzerland and Milan, Italy.  From this varied background I settled in New York City after college.  Several years were spent working with sociologists on a pilot research project focused on the development of the “release on your own recognizance” program that has since gone national in the criminal justice system. The down side to that experience was disenchantment with the legal profession and my goals to become a lawyer dissipated. As a child I had developed an interest and eventually a passion for ancient history, art history and archaeology hence my double major in Classics and Art History as an undergraduate.  I left my research position in New York  City and traveled to western South America for a few months. This trip proved to be a turning point. When I returned to the US I went to graduate school in Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology reviving my childhood passion.


I am interested in the role of art and material culture in the establishment and maintenance of unlettered pre-Columbian empires where writing did not develop as it had in other parts of the world. I have worked in the Andes since the 1970’s on early empires with a special focus on the relationship between religion and politics as revealed through the visual arts.  I have published numerous articles and two books; one co-authored with Betty Benson on Ritual Sacrifice in the Andes, the other on the first millennium sister cities (Wari in Peru and Tiwanaku in Bolivia) that shaped the later Inca Empire. These urban power centers shared a similar core iconography but differed in most other aspects giving rise to more questions than answers. I started archaeology studying the Etruscans and attending  a field school outside of Siena in Italy. The rest of my career has focused on projects in the Andes.  I have directed several major archaeological survey and excavation projects both in the Andean highland Ayacucho Valley, the heartland of the Wari Empire, and on the establishment of migrant communities and the colonization of coastal polities in the Ica Valley on the south coast of Peru.
I have also had the pleasure of receiving fellowships at several prestigious institutions such as Dumbarton Oaks, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Grants for museum and field research have also been numerous including support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, several Fulbright Research Grants, and two field grants from Dumbarton Oaks.  I have been a consultant to various museums in the United States (e.g., Museum of Natural History in New York, the Denver Museum of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian, Cleveland Museum of Art). Since 1999, I have become increasingly more involved in cultural heritage preservation, and management as well as work with the State Department Office of Cultural Properties in their efforts to create and renew the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Peru to protect the illegal trafficking of pre-Columbian and Colonial art.


PhD. State University of New York, Binghamton (Anthropology)            1985
M.A. State University of New York, Binghamton (Anthropology).          1979
B.A. Bard College, Ancient History and Art History.Cum Laude.            1973


Ancient States and Empires
History of the Visual Arts in the Andes
Iconography and Inscriptions in complex societies without writing               
Material Culture and the Constitution of Meaning through object analysis
Political Economy of Early Empires (ancient food-ways, the culinary arts and imperial feasting practices)
Exhibiting Cultures
Andean Archaeology and Ethnohistory


Language and Writing skills:  I was raised at home in a trilingual family (English, Dutch and some German), lived and attended school in French speaking Switzerland, and an Italian middle school.  Writing a lot and writing well is a requirement in academia and this presented a series of obstacles I had to confront and overcome.

 As I reached adulthood I realized that most women, who chose to pursue a career, also chose an uphill battle in male dominated fields such as archaeology.  Not only was sexism rampant in the 1970’s but the “women’s skills” were purportedly best suited for laboratory work as opposed to fieldwork.  In the past thirty years female e archaeologists have pursued their dreams often at great cost to our personal lives. Very few women were married to individuals outside of the discipline, if they were married at all; even fewer had children and successful careers.  The discipline has slowly changed, in part, because more female archaeologists practice today but also because the scope of archaeology has broadened and become more inclusive. Needless to say, many of the issues that my generation had to deal with are still present in more subtle ways today.


My mentors in academia were often and not surprisingly women who worked in my field or closely related disciplines.  Margaret Conkey, now at UC Berkeley had a major impact on my graduate training and outlook on life and encouraged my work in the gendered symbolic and ritual dimensions of art and material culture. Her role was particularly important because during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the field of archaeology  was not friendly to research topics involving ideology, religion and art all subjects that had drawn me to the discipline.  The art historian, Irene Winter, was a very  important intellectual mentor. I did not meet her until many years later but we did correspond during the years I was a graduate student.  Outside of academia, my exposure to quotidian life in the Andes, the hospitality, generosity and cross generational inclusiveness that this culture offers,  stood in stark contrast to the pace and quality of life in the United States. It is to the women in the market place and the families who allowed me into their lives in  Ayacucho in the late 1970’s that I owe the strength that allowed me to boldly walk forward in my career path and become a mother.


Yoga, skiing, hiking, cycling, travel, growing orchids and becoming a grandmother!