What Is Anthropology?

Humans have always been interested in the past and figuring out what happened before the birth of writing and historical records. It’s the reason why, in the 18th and 19th centuries, historians began to create the field of anthropology as a way of being able to scientifically prove or disprove historical theories and stories. Since its inception, the field has gone through some major changes in order to better understand how to comparatively study different cultures around the world; namely, the changes were meant for the colonial anthropologists so that they could better study cultures other than their own with as little racism and judgement as possible.

While there are several different subfields in anthropology – namely biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology – the field has several overarching methods in place to help better understand history and humans. One of the more important aspects of anthropology is to be objectively comparative – instead of using one’s own cultural values and worldview when trying to learn about a different culture, the anthropologist should completely immerse themselves in the other culture and learn as much about that culture’s values and worldview to better understand how that culture functions and interacts with the larger global society. This method is meant to lower the rates of racism and viewing different cultures – especially ones that might not be as technologically advanced – as “less than” and “savage, backwards” cultures (which, for obvious reasons, is not always the best way of viewing other cultures).

I say that because the anthropology field because it grew out of the intersection between European colonialism, discovery, and science. Much of the early research in the field came from missionaries and colonial officials and travelers. However, later anthropologists began to do their own field research and called it ethnography, which is “the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.”

While anthropology is a large, complex field, the main points of study are society, culture, economy, religion, sexuality, identity, feminism, and several other aspects of human history and society. Much of what anthropology entails includes interviews, observations, and using the comparative method to describe each society’s values and worldview. The comparative method used in anthropology “attempts to explain similarities and differences among people holistically, in the context of humanity as a whole” (David Givens, Boston University).

Although there is a lot more to the field of anthropology, the basics of the field are included in this post. If you’re interested in learning more, there are tons of resources online and classes available at most colleges and universities. If I’ve missed anything or need to clarify something, please let me know! I’d be more than happy to change or add something.



Briana Maddox View All →

As an recent college graduate who studied media studies and anthropology in college, Briana Maddox enjoys learning about different cultures, traditions, holidays, historical figures, experiences, and opinions. With a vested interest in sharing such learning experiences, Briana created Life & Anthropology in the hopes of helping other people gain a better understanding and working knowledge of such topics.

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