Kirk French

Kirk French

Assistant Professor of Anthropology
321 Carpenter Building University Park, PA 16802
KFrench - Headshot_2022

Curriculum Vitae


2009 Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University (Anthropology)
2002 M.A., University of Cincinnati (Anthropology)
1998 B.A., Texas State University (Anthropology)

Professional Bio

Professional Bio

Research Interests:

Kirk French is an award-winning professor of anthropology and Emmy-nominated filmmaker at Penn State University. As an anthropological archaeologist his earlier research focused on ancient water management technologies and landuse practices in Mesoamerica. Over the past five years French began to increasingly focus on visual anthropology, specifically documentary film.

His film projects focus on telling the stories of the cultural and environmental changes humans are experiencing in our rapidly changing world. Relying on a method of co-production with local residents, French aims to deliver a story that prioritizes the voices and perspectives of the people, to facilitate a documentary that remains in the authentic voice of the community. He recently finished his first feature-length documentary, Land and Water Revisited, which was nominated for an Emmy, took home several awards from international film festivals, and is currently available for streaming on PBS. He is currently working on his second film, A Century After Nanook.

For French, the rewarding nature (both personally and academically) of his film projects led him to create the Community-Oriented Research in Visual Anthropology (CORVA). The CORVA lab at Penn State produces both feature-length documentaries and short videos. In addition to being a video production lab, CORVA serves as a training facility for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Lastly, French developed ANTH140 - Anthropology of Alcohol (aka Booze and Culture), now the largest anthropology class in the United States with over 700 students enrolled each semester. The success of the course and the impact it has had on the more than 7000 students who have successfully completed it led to French being honored with the George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2020.

Fieldwork:                                                                                                                                                                                                    Canadian Arctic, Mongolia, Scotland, Mexico (Chiapas and the Basin of Mexico), Guatemala, Belize, Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania

Courses Taught:

  • Anthropology of Alcohol (ANTH 140)
  • Ancient Brews (ANTH 430)
  • Ethnographic Film (ANTH445W)



2022 French K.D. Indigenous Knowledge, Water Management, and Learning from Our Collective Past. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 40th Anniversary Edition.

2020 Sulas, F., French, K.D., and Scarborough V. Water and Ancient Cities: Urban Supply Systems. WIREs Water, 7(4): DOI:10.1002/wat2.1441.

2019 French, K.D., Straight, K.D., and Hermitt, E.J. Building the Environment at Palenque: The Sacred Pools of the Picota Group. Ancient Mesoamerica, DOI: 10.1017/S0956536119000130.

2019 French, K.D. A Round for All My Friends: Understanding the Economic Impact of Moonshine Production. In Shadow Capitalists? Historical Archaeologies of Intimate Economies, edited by James A. Nyman, Kevin R. Fogel, and Mary Beaudry. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

2016 Gonlin, N. and French, K.D. (editors), Human Adaptation in Ancient Mesoamerica. Published by University of Colorado Press, Boulder, Colorado.

2016 French, K.D. and Gonlin, N. Empirical Archaeology and Human Adaptation in Mesoamerica. In Human Adaptation in Ancient Mesoamerica, edited by Nan Gonlin and Kirk D. French. Published by University of Colorado Press, Boulder, Colorado.

2014 French, K.D., and Duffy, C. Understanding Ancient Maya Water Resources and the Implications for a More Sustainable Future. Invited article - WIREs Water, 1(3):305-313.

2013 French, K.D., Duffy, C., Bhatt, G. Urban Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering at the Classic Maya Site of Palenque. Water History Journal, 5(1):43-69.

2012 French, K.D., Duffy, C., and Bhatt, G. The Hydroarchaeological Method: A Case Study at the Maya Site of Palenque. Latin American Antiquity, 23(1):29-50.

2010 French, K.D. and Duffy, C. Prehispanic Water Pressure: A New World First. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(5):1027-1032.

2010 Milner, G.R., Hammerstedt, S.H., and French, K.D. Chert Hoes as Digging Tools. Antiquity, 84(323):103-113.