Michael Eugene Harkin is one of the leading anthropologists in the United States specializing in the ethnohistory of indigenous people of the western U.S. and Canada. He is currently professor and former chair of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, having previously taught at Emory University and Montana State University. In 2011 he was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Cultural Studies at the Karl-Franzens University in Graz, Austria, and in 2007 he was a visiting professor at Shanghai University.
From 1985 to 1987 he conducted fieldwork in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, British Columbia. More recently he has worked with the Nuu-chah-nulth (formerly referred to as "Nootka") people of Vancouver Island, and several groups of the northern Great Plains.
He received his Ph.D. in 1988 from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Raymond D. Fogelson, Nancy Munn, and Marshall Sahlins.
His early monograph on the Heiltsuks employed a dialogic perspective to understand issues of power and representation of both self and other. This was influenced by Lévi-Straussian structuralism and the historical structuralism of Sahlins. In more recent works, he has pursued a range of interests, primarily in the analysis of indigenous culture in a historical context. His work on revitalization movements revisits one of the classic ethnohistorical theories. He has also contributed to the literature on ethnoecology, arguing that traditional Northwest Coast ecological models expressed via ritual and myth non-linear system dynamics.
He was co-editor of the journal Ethnohistory in 2007-2013, and is now editor-in-chief of the journal Reviews in Anthropology. He is theme editor for cultural anthropology of UNESCO's Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, and he writes a column titled The World is Curved for the journal Anthropology News. He was president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology in 2006-2008, and in 2013 was elected president of the American Society for Ethnohistory (for 2014-2015).
He has edited several important books on Native Americans and the environment, revitalization movements, and Northwest Coast ethnology. He has published extensively on anthropological history and theory, especially the Boasian tradition, and the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss. He was a visiting fellow in Lévi-Strauss' laboratory in 1997.
He is currently working on a project on the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, in which he argues that the visual and textual record of the coastal Algonquians represents the origin of a modern anthropological consciousness.