Monday, October 21, 2013


What is anthropology?

“Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.”
- Alfred L. Kroeber
Study of Human Kind

“The word anthropology itself tells the basic story from the Greek anthropos (“human”) and logia (“study”)—it is the study of humankind, from its beginning millions of years ago to the present day.”

- American Anthropological Association

“the science of human beings; especially : the study of human beings in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed.

Anthropology is the study of humankind. Anthropologists study human physical evolution and the history of culture, as well as provide in-depth studies of specific societies.

Anthropology has four main parts:
  • Physical or biological anthropology
    • Physical anthropology (aka biological anthropology) is human biological diversity and evolution
    • Examines evolution of human anatomy and physiology
    • Includes
      • Medical anthropology (diseases)
      • Paleoanthropology (including some paleontology) 
      • Human genetics and evolution
      • Primatology (studying apes)
    • May be seen as a bridge between the social and biological sciences
  • Archaeology
    • The study of human prehistory and cultural evolution
    • Archaeologists study ancient society and culture through material remains
      • Like human remains and artifacts – bones, money, jewellery
    • Bioarchaeology = study of ancient human remains
      • Paleopathology = study of ancient disease through material remains
  • Cultural (social) anthropology
    • Largest branch in North America
    • Cultural anthropologists study modern, existing human cultures
    • Comparative and holistic
    • Ethnology is the study of particular cultures
    • Ethnography is writing about a culture
    • Social anthropology (which is part of cultural anthropology) focuses more on social structure
    • Closely related to sociology, history, religious studies, art
  • Linguistics
    • Look for patterns and similarities
    • Scientific study of human language
    • Language is the basis of culture
    • Includes historic linguistics, sociolinguistics, morphology, syntax, etc.
  • Very Broad field
    • Runs the gamut from medicine and genetics (pure or hard sciences) to art, religion, drama, and poetry (humanities)
Closely related fields
  • Social sciences
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Political Science
  • Sciences
    • Medicine
    • Genetics
    • Human Biology
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
  • Humanities
    • Arts
    • Literature
    • Ethnomusiciology
    • Religion
    • Ritual
  • Shares methodology and theory with other social sciences e.g. Sociology, psychology, history, geography
  • Ties to natural sciences, e.g. Medicine, biology, geology
  • Emphasizes fieldwork
    • Participative observation the unique anthropological method (borrowed by other social sciences, especially sociology)
  • Focus on non-Western or tribal people until after WWII
    • WWII engaged most of the world; places were placed in contact with others, became aware of most societies
  • Emerged as separate discipline in 19th century
    • Colonization, exploration, navigation
    • Evolution
      • Bones, stone tools
      • Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859)
  • Associated with museums, academia, institutes, scientific associations, governments
    • Anthropologists more likely to use foreign language material than most other social scientists
    • For published material French and German most important
Anthropological literature
  • Scholarly
    • Reliance on both current and older literature
    • Pictorial material important
  • Popular
    • Especially archaeology, human evolution, human culture interest
      • Aboriginal peoples; ancient mysteries; Biblical archaeology; buried treasure; underwater archaeology
    • Problems of reliability
  • Problem of literature scatter
    • Dewey
      • 300’s (social anthropology)
      • 500’s (physical)
      • 600’s (medical)
      • 800’s (linguistics)
      • 900’s (archaeology)
    • LC
      • LC GN (main classification area)
      • CC (archaeology)
      • D (history)
      • E/F (history of the Americas, Aboriginal peoples)
      • GR (folklore)
      • P (linguistics)
      • Q (human evolution)
      • R (medical)
User study
Hartmann, Jonathan. “Information Needs of Anthropologists.” Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian. Vol. 13 (2) 1995. 13-34.
  • Use their own field data, and use pictorial sources, maps, and interlibrary loan more than other social scientists
  • Prefer having their bibliographical information arranged by geographic area and like more foreign language coverage
  • Reporting may first appear in literature in working papers, association papers, conference proceedings; next theses dissertations, journal articles, and finally in monographs
  • Publications of professional associations and societies, university departments, student organizations, and museums are very valuable
  • Resources of atlases, federal foreign and international government publications, special library catalogs, bibliography handbooks and maps are more important than in the other social science disciplines
  •  Museum literature is also important

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