What the Heck is Anthropology?

Anthropology. What the heck is that? It is not a subject that is often taught to students in high school, so unless people have searched on their own, or were forced to take a course in college, they don’t know what it is. It is unfortunate, but considering the circumstances, it is understandable.

If you Google ‘what is anthropology?’ “the study of human societies and cultures and their development” is what pops up. Which is a short answer for such a diverse field. Anthropology is broken down into four main branches being cultural, biologically, linguistic and archaeology. Each sub field is asking their own sets of questions in order to explain what culture is for different societies throughout time. Anthropology uses observation and interviews to understand the culture of different groups of people. Using observation, participant observation, and ethnography human culture throughout time is being studied.

Here is an interesting YouTube video that has a more visual explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5aglbgTEig

A cultural anthropologist, which is what I am most interested in, does their research in a different way than other types of researchers may do theirs. An anthropologist does their research through interviews and ethnography, which is because they really want to get their information first hand from the people in the society that they are studying. Interviews are given to many different people to see how strong a certain aspect of culture is for a certain society. An example of this is asking how certain holidays are celebrated. If an anthropologist were to do some work in the United States and were to ask what happens on Halloween, most people would likely have a similar response. “People might decorate their front lawns or offices with scary themed decoration on the days and weeks before. Then on the day of, people dress up in any kind of costume imaginable. Children walk around town knocking on doors asking for candy, and adults throw costume parties.” Although some people may give slightly different answers, a majority of people would say something similar to what was written above.

Dom Mazzetti and Ronda Rousey on Bourbon Street on Halloween.

If an Anthropologist were to ask an American what happens on the 4th of July, they might get less consistent answers. Some people might say that they have a cookout with their family and friends, or go camping, go on a vacation, see fireworks, spend the day by a lake or pool.

Additionally, ethnography is when anthropologists participate in the the cultural events firsthand so that they can get a very in depth understanding of what is happening. Ethnography is when anthropologists participate in the culture that they are studying and log their experiences in a detailed journal.

Here at Plymouth State, our anthropology department has a variety of courses. Some of the professors background is largely in archaeology, so there are many archaeology courses offered. The courses teach the history, as well as the processes and strategies that archaeologists use on their digs.

I have chosen to study this field because it is fascinating. People are fascinating. This subject has allowed me to have a much clearer understanding of the world we live in.

If you are interested in learning some more specifics in the field of anthropology, then you can read below about a few sources and specific examples of the field.

Journals: http://www.americananthro.org/StayInformed/OAArchive.aspx?&navItemNumber=713 This is a journal that is published by the American Anthropologist Association.

Scholars: Kim Fortun is an example of a current anthropologist,

Historical Figures: http://harrisjonesanthropology.com/2014/05/10-famous-cultural-anthropologists/ These are some of the most well know anthropologists throughout history.

Organizations: http://www.americananthro.org/ This is one of the more well know and reputable organizations for anthropology.

Majors: Anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology.

Transdisciplinary organizations: The archaeological digs that Plymouth State students do at Canterbury Shaker Village are considered transdisciplinary because it is a subject area that is worked on outside of the classroom.


2 thoughts on “What the Heck is Anthropology?”

  1. I love this post because I think a lot of undergrads actually have no idea what the heck anthropology is. I wonder how many students would be interested in checking out a class if they read this post. You do a nice job incorporating the new elements from class yesterday into an already-solid post, and all of that is enveloped by your warm and personal blogging style, which I always enjoy.

  2. Hello Lyndsey!
    I really liked your post, I literally didn’t even know what Anthropology really was until I read your post. I enjoy learning new things and I feel like your post was written in such a personal manner that I found it easy to understand. I think it would be really cool to be a cultural anthropologist because you would learn about different cultures first hand by interviewing native people. I liked your examples, especially the one about United States holidays, I thought they added greatly to your post!

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