Joyce L. Ogburn
Nature of the Discipline
Anthropology holds a fascination for many people, and with good reason. It explores the entire spectrum of human experience: its past and present physical and cultural makeup, its history and evolution. As the study of humans, it encompasses the social, cultural, historical, and physical aspects of human life. This broad scope allows anthropologists to investigate the human experience from the perspective of the humanist, the social/behavioral scientist, and the natural scientist.
The field is usually considered a social science because of its unifying concern for human culture and life, and the dominance of cultural anthropology in the history of the discipline. Anthropologists conduct their studies as they relate to culture, for culture does not function separately from biology, behavior, language, social structure, and history. Anthropologists employ the comparative method, which allows them to study behavior and biology across a wide array of traits and conditions. Anthropologists consider all peoples and cultures valuable to study and do not pass judgment on what they find. Anthropology is a holistic discipline, governed by the idea that all human groups are of one species, have a common history, and have culture and language. To obtain a full understanding of the human species, anthropologists study humans from all perspectives, often utilizing a cross-disciplinary approach.
As a social science, anthropology shares methodology and theory primarily with sociology, psychology, history, and geography. These disciplines emphasize fieldwork, surveys, behavior, and the social life of humans. But anthropology also has strong ties to the natural sciences, such as medicine, biology, and geology. These disciplines focus on fieldwork, laboratory studies, and measurement of natural phenomena. In addition, anthropologists who are interested in the arts, and the literary and oral traditions of societies study the humanistic discipline.
From its very beginnings anthropology has been associated with museums, academia, institutes, scientific associations, and governmental bodies. Many museums, such as the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Harvard University), the American Museum of Natural History (New York), and the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago), have departments of anthropology. A few libraries have significant collections of anthropological literature, with the Tozzer Library at Harvard University housing the premier anthropological collection since the nineteenth century in such institutions as the Smithsonian, the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are institutions and organizations devoted solely to anthropology (the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Archaeological Institute of America) and laboratories for anthropology (the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University). All major American academic institutions have a department of anthropology, some founded as early as the late nineteenth century. Anthropologists enjoy membership in large scientific associations (section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) and have had their own association since Anthropology’s inception (the American Ethnological Society, the American Anthropological Association, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists). Anthropologists are also eligible for membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
Anthropology in the United States traditionally has comprised four subdisciplines: sociocultural anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Each has its own distinct theory and methodology, but they overlap in many areas of study, such as mortuary studies (physical conditions of the remains of the dead and funereal rituals and artifacts), medical anthropology (the place of medicine within a culture and biological aspects of health, disease, and nutrition), sociobiology and ethology (the convergence of studies of behavior and biology), and culture change (how and why cultures, societies, material remains, and peoples have changed in historic and prehistoric times).
The emphasis on four subdisciplines in anthropology has a very long history. In recent years, however, a great amount of tension has arisen between the subdisciplines, leading to an extended discussion among anthropologists as to whether there are still four subfields. The perceived rift is primarily between sociocultural and physical anthropology. Some anthropologists argue that there are no longer any common elements in theory, method, or study between the two disciplines. Moreover, it has been suggested that since an increasing number of physical anthropologists are now working within biological or medical organizations and departments, they may indeed have more in common with natural scientists than with other anthropologists. Many anthropologists, however, still prefer to think of anthropology as a unified field and argue that the discipline is strengthened by its diversity.
The subdisciplines have developed their own literatures, based on their own specific data and research needs.
This subdiscipline maintains the closest relationship to other social sciences. Sociocultural anthropologists study social relationships, the structure of society, and the function of individuals and cultural variables within a society. Sociocultural anthropologists are concerned with such things as social organization, culture change, and acculturation.
The major methodologies of sociocultural anthropologists are ethnography, survey, and oral history. Key concepts and components of sociocultural anthropology include kinship studies, ethnology, ethnography, folklore, ethnomusicology, ethnohistory, comparative religion, area studies, ethnic studies, economic anthropology, cultural ethnology, and educational anthropology.
Archaeologists investigate the history and development of an entire culture or groups of peoples over time and space. Archaeology can be perceived as a bridge between physical anthropology and sociocultural anthropology, as a link between physical characteristics, human behaviour, and culture. Archaeologists seek an understanding of cultures based on their material and physical remains. To achieve this end, archaeologists describe and classify artifacts, study the relationships among sites, and build cultural chronologies. Archaeologists reconstruct the history of cultures, how they lived, and how or why they changed.
Archaeology relies primarily on the methods of excavation, survey, sampling, collection, and relative and chronometric dating. The field encompasses aspects such as historical archaeology, classical archaeology, ethnoarcheology, archaeoastronomy, archaeozoology, prehistory, salvage archaeology, conservation and resource management, underwater archaeology, biblical archaeology, and amateur archaeology.
Physical anthropology (sometimes called bioanthropology or biological anthropology) has the closest ties to the natural sciences, especially to primatology, human biology, and branches of medicine. Physical anthropology investigates the relationship of the human physical condition to human culture over time and space. Physical anthropologists analyze skeletal material collected from archaeological sites for age at death, cause of death, general health and nutrition, ethnic affiliation, and sex. Physical anthropologists also study other primates, the genetic relationships of human groups, health of historic and prehistoric populations, and change in human anatomy and behavior over time. Many physical anthropologists serve as advisors in forensic matters by determining the identification of human remains. They generally work most closely with archaeologists; indeed, often anthropologists specialize in both archaeology and physical anthropology.
Physical anthropologists use such methodologies as laboratory work, anthropometry, biochemical analysis, comparative anatomy, trace analysis, and taxonomy. Biological anthropology, medical anthropology, skeletal biology, paleopathology, forensic anthropology, dental anthropology, primatology, human variation, human adaptation, human evolution, and human ecology are fields of speciality within physical anthropology.
This may be considered the more humanistic of the branches of anthropology. Linguistic anthropologists study the origins, evolutions, and nature of language; relationships among human languages; and the history, development, and structure of languages. As it relates to anthropology, linguistics functions as a social science: the function of language within a society, culture as revealed through language, and the relationship of cultures through language. Fairly recent applications of linguistics involve the investigation of the capacity for language in other animals, particularly nonhuman primates.
The standard methodologies of linguistics are phonetics, phonemics, structural analysis, semantics, morphology, syntactics. Linguistic anthropology includes philology, psycholingustics, sociolingustics, lexicography, paralingustics, cognitive anthropology, semiotics, symbolism, dialectology, and bilingualism.
Structure and the use of literature
Anthropology has a body of literature that includes scholarly and popular material. Scholarly literature includes all branches of anthropology, while most of the popular literature is written about archaeology, human evolution, and human cultures. In addition, anthropologists communicate their research through government reports, applied literature, and more recently, advocacy literature. Advocacy literature embraces the concept of working for the survival of cultures or nonhuman primates, not merely studying them.
The greatest sources of raw data for anthropologists are field notes and material collections. For cultural anthropologists, field notes include ethnographic observations, films, photographs, and drawings. Physical anthropologists rely on skeletal material, medical records, genetic data, and fossils. Linguists employ field notes, tape recordings, written historical records, and sound spectrograms and synthesis. Increasingly, anthropological data are being encoded in electronic format and databases for analysis and synthesis. Some of these databases have been made available to other researchers.
Dissertations are primary sources of data that often do not get published elsewhere. Anthropological collections, usually housed in museums and laboratories, constitute a valuable resource for research. Descriptions or catalogs of some of these collections are accessible over the Internet, for example the Collections at the Peabody Museum of the Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History (http://peabody.yale.edu/collections).
The secondary literature, or the results of anthropological investigation, exists in several published forms. Although dissertations include valuable raw and synthesized data, the primary reporting of research results occurs in journal articles and reports issued by laboratories, museums, and departments of anthropology. Monographs are major vehicles for publishing syntheses of anthropological research and concepts; however the journal literature is increasing dominating the dissemination of anthropology research.
Some of the major journals for communicating research results are American Anthropologist, Current Anthropology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Man, Anthropological Lingustics, American Antiquity, American Journal of Archaeology, American Ethnologist, and Anthropos. Many more specialized journals exist. To understand current developments in their fields, anthropologists can turn to several sources, including newsletters such as Anthropology Newsletter, Science News, History of Anthropology Newsletter, Physical Anthropology News, and also major journals such as Current Anthropology, Science and Nature. One online source, Anthropology in the News, follows news stories about anthropology and stays current (http://anthropology.tamu.edu/html/in-the-news.html)
Anthropologists tend to rely on both current and older literature. Sometimes older literature offers the only source of data on cultures, collections, languages, and sites that have disappeared or changed over time. Early, seminal works still have much to offer researchers in terms of data, synthesis, and theoretical approach.
More anthropology resources are appearing online, some freely available and some for fee only. The discipline has not made as many significant and innovative advances in the use of the Internet in delivering resources as it might. This said, the reference resources listed below demonstrate that a lot has happened in the past five years in terms of converting, duplicating, or presenting new information in electronic formats. Online full text of the journal literature lags behind other disciplines, but fortunately some key journals are available in various aggregator packages and in JSTOR (E-60). Some seminal monographic works are being reproduced online, but the growth in this area is slow. Online, digital exhibits are increasing in number, and intellectual access to special collections is growing through the conversion of finding aids to digital format.
The reference environment
Although the body of reference literature for anthropology has grown far richer in recent years, the eclectic nature of anthropology compels anthropologists to use the literature and reference sources from many other fields. Cultural and general anthropology has the greatest number of resources, however, relevant literature for the other subdisciplines of anthropology has improved and is also supported by reference sources for other disciplines. For example, physical anthropologists can use the medical and biological literatures, which have extremely good reference bases. Numerous bibliographies exist, primarily covering particular geographic areas; however, they are less useful in the general reference environment than other reference works. Because of the international scope of anthropology, researchers use published literature from all over the world. Finding or accessing this literature can be challenging because indexing of that material may not exist, may not be widely available, or may not be current.
Depending on the focus of an anthropologist’s study, reference service must be prepared to cover the full spectrum of reference literature. Several indexes and abstracts are devoted to anthropology, but other subject literature should be consulted to cover all the relevant sources. Although Anthropology Literature … and Anthropological Index … are now available online, researchers may still need to consult other non-anthropology databases to be thorough. The reference librarian who serves anthropologists must be familiar with a wide range of reference tools.
The classification of anthropology in the Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress schedules presents access challenges. In Dewey, anthropological material can be classed in the 300s (sociocultural anthropology), the 500s (physical anthropology), the 600s (medical anthropology, paleopathology), the 800s (linguistic anthropology), or the 900s (archaeology). The Library of Congress classification presents equal difficulty. Although primarily assigned to the GN classification, a great number of anthropological materials are also classed in CC (archaeology), D (cultures as part of world history), E/F (history of the Americas, Native Americans), GR (folklore), P (linguistic anthropology), Q (human evolution and biology, primatology), and R (medical anthropology, paleopathology). Clearly this great spread of anthropology among so many classifications demonstrates both the breadth of anthropology and problems of access, reference, and bibliography.
The subject of anthropology bibliography and reference tools dominated the library literature in the late 1970s and 1980s, and reference publishing increased markedly in the 1990s. The anthropology bibliography literature addresses problems of information and access as well as the value of specific printed and online sources to some of the subdisciplines of anthropology. A review of these articles reveals that access to anthropological literature has improved in the last several decades. Several groups are trying to address the problems of anthropology bibliography and reference. Anthropologists and librarians concerned with the state of anthropology bibliography and reference sources founded the Library-Anthropology Resource Group in Chicago in 1971 and has published several important reference works. The Anthropology and Sociology Section (ANSS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries has a Bibliography Committee that works on problems of bibliography and gathers information on sources and developments in subject bibliography. ANSS (G-5) publishes a newsletter called ANSS Currents, manages an informational Web site called ANSSWeb (http://anssacrl.wordpress.com/), and sponsors a list service called ANSS-L (http://anssacrl.wordpress.com/publications/anss-l/) that supports the exchange of information among its members and other interested parties. The Internet now supports numerous anthropology-related list services and a growing number of sophisticated World Wide Web sites that point to a variety of information sources.
Sources included in this chapter represent the best reference literature available in anthropology. The list is slanted toward more recent titles, and in general bibliographies have been included only when they present the lone or main access to a body of literature. Electronic and CD-ROM databases are included among the titles. Older resources that have been superseded or are terribly dated have been excluded.
As mentioned previously, the reference literature for anthropology is not nearly as extensive as that for the other social sciences, although the reference base has improved tremendously since this chapter was first published in 1989. Several new and comprehensive encyclopaedias have been published, and more guides, dictionaries, and biographical sources have appeared. The conversion of Anthropological Literature (G-46, G-47, G-48), Anthropological Index (G-45), and the Human Relations Area Files (see G-97n) to electronic formats signaled a major step forward in providing electronic access to anthropological research. Despite these advances, anthropologists will still want to consult the reference publications available in allied subjects.