Jessica's Blog

You Say You’re Majoring in Anthropology?

I imagine that it is a common problem having to define anthropology to anyone majoring in the field.  Either there are misconceptions in what anthropologists do or people just honestly have no idea what it is an anthropologist does.  Oftentimes, I hear that anthropologists are the people who dig for dinosaur bones. The other response is usually the ideal that anthropologists are the people who study culture.  While the former is totally wrong, the latter happens to be the best general answer possible.  There are four broad fields of Anthropology which basically cover all aspects of humanity: Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology, and Archeology.  Out of these four subfields, only one of them is even recognizable to the majority of the public, Archeology.    However, this field isn’t nearly as exciting as Indiana Jones makes it out to be; thank you George Lucas for forever mislabeling archeologists as people who go about raiding ancient sights and taking artifacts out their historical context without the correct documentation.   Archeologists also have absolutely—100% nothing—to do with dinosaur bones, they deal with humanity and the remnants of humanity, such as trash and domesticated, or consumed, animals a group of people may have left behind.  Another pretty famous example applicable to anthropology would be Jane Goodall, famous for her study on Chimpanzees by living among them.  She can be considered a cultural anthropologist because, in studying the life-habits of chimps, she was able to note their use of tools and even characteristics of primitive cultural life (Previous to her study it was believed that humans alone had these abilities.).  Furthermore, many believe her study has allowed for comparison to the ways of life of early hominid ancestors.  I believe Jane Goodall even recorded the vocal patterns of chimps to try and identify if they had a language (if it wasn’t her I still believe this study has been conducted).  Either way, this is an example of Linguistic Anthropology; which deals with documenting the origin of a language and the impacts of language.  I feel it important to note that the subfields of anthropology generally overlap and become holistic; oftentimes, a particular study will relay on more than one subfield at one time with some anthropologists performing tasks that overlap the different subfields and other fields of study.  Anthropology isn’t all academic work either; the best examples I can think are all relatable to popular TV shows like the forensics in CSI (Biological Anthropology), the statistical analysis and profiling done in Criminal Minds (Cultural Anthropology), and other shows of this type.  Then there are such fields as marketing and advertising and even the military that use the skills of the anthropologist.  You can even see anthropology in such popular movies as Avatar.


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  1. The Avatar: Relating Anthropology to the General Public « Jessica's Blog pingbacked on 8 years, 3 months ago


  1. Imagin that you give a lecture for a hour about what anthropology is and students still get it wrong. Do history or biology professor talk about what is history or biology for a hour? Have fun studying anthropology. By the way, I have a friend in the anthropology gradutate program there, in South Florida.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago

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