Anthropology as a science is a fairly recent discipline in the scheme of world history, but ever since mankind has formed societies and cultures, there have been people observing and commenting upon their societies as well as those of their neighbors.
Explorers, crusaders, and others who were boldly going where no one had gone before were regularly finding strange new worlds and new civilizations in their travels. From the ancient seafaring peoples to Marco Polo to Christopher Columbus and those that followed him to the New World, any explorer who made observations and wrote about their travels was an anthropologist of sorts.
Anthropology can be broken down into the study of three main areas: society, culture, and evolution. A roving pack of baboons can be called a society, but the social intercourse among the denizens of New York City would be called a culture. There is much commonality in both groups.
Anthropology can be broken down into the study of three main areas: society, culture, and evolution.
Charles Darwin is the most famous proponent of the theory of evolution. His book,
Anthropologists often study our primate cousins (man is a primate, and our hairy brethren include apes and monkeys) to get a glimpse into what very early man may have been like. Certain similarities can be found, and the differences chart the many ways in which mankind branched off from the rest of the primates to evolve into what we are today.
This flaw in past anthropological studies is called
Ethnocentrism was the prevailing anthropological view for many years and it justified an inflated sense of European pre-eminence and rationalized a multitude of sins.
An influential anthropologist who sought to make anthropology more respectable was Franz Boas. He believed in fieldwork, living among the civilization you were studying for an extended period of time. He also rejected the ethnocentric and racist views of many of his predecessors. He trained a whole generation of anthropologists, and his work was the basis for the practice of
The contemporary anthropologist, now keenly aware of the analytic flaws and prejudices of previous anthropologists, strives not to judge the foreign civilizations they study. What works in Des Moines may not work in the Amazon, but that does not make one inferior to the other. Celebrating diversity is the watchword of modern anthropology. Comparisons can certainly be made, but judgments are to be avoided.