History and Literature in Anthropology

Frank A Salamone. 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: H James Birx. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2010.

This is a review of the works that have influenced and reflected anthropological thought from its earliest day to the present—and perhaps into the future. Of course, any substantial review of anthropological literature will include coverage of basic trends in the field, as well as references to major social and cultural currents in society. Anthropology did not develop in a vacuum. For better or worse, it is always a product of its times, reflecting those times as well as entering into dialogue and debate with them. In addition, anthropology is not a monolithic entity. It is better viewed as a many-headed hydra. Moreover, its development has not been in a straight line. It has not only gone in many directions but also often circles back to earlier ideas, rediscovering almost forgotten or neglected concepts and scholars. Nevertheless, there have been some basic concepts that help unify the field. This review attempts to express the unity in diversity, which marks the field and makes it among the most exciting intellectual fields in academic life.

Early Literature in Anthropology

Some scholars trace anthropology back to the ancient writings of Herodotus, Aristotle, and others. Certainly, the Greeks and Romans influenced anthropology as they did other later fields of study. There can be no doubt that the 19th-century founders of anthropology drew inspiration from classic authors. Nor can there be any doubt that they were at least equally influenced by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Jefferson, among others. Moreover, the spread of the European Empire and exploration to the far reaches of the world, leading to contact with peoples whose appearance, customs, and traditions differed so greatly from European ways, sparked attempts to understand them in a systematic way.

People in the United States regularly encountered what people now term “the other.” American Indians were there to greet Europeans when they landed on the continent and began to establish what became the “American way of life.” Relations between them ranged from intermarriage to bitter hostility. Whatever a particular settlement’s current relationship was with Native Americans, the fact of Native American existence and otherness was never far from the American consciousness. Even those who had little to do with American Indians in the 19th century encountered Indians, in popular cultural representations and historic stories. Indeed, their presence inspired early American anthropologists like Lewis Henry Morgan. Morgan and others who were interested in understanding and chronicling earlier societies and their cultures found themselves adapting a framework from biology, namely, Darwinian evolution.

Although he was a biologist, Charles Darwin’s influence went well beyond that he had on biology. He was not the first person to posit a theory of evolution. The ancients had people who advocated the idea, including Democritus and St. Augustine among them. Indeed, as Darwin noted in his On the Origin of Species (1859), his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin had put forth a theory of evolution as had many other scholars. Darwin even mentioned others who had anticipated his own contribution, natural selection, and notes the role of Russel Wallace in coming up with the idea of natural selection, or “descent with modification.”

Darwin was a shy individual who resisted controversy. Thus, he allowed others to carry on the struggle to establish acceptance for his ideas. Therefore, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) became “Darwin’s bulldog.” Huxley loved to argue and took on clergy who believed that Darwin’s ideas were antithetical to religion and the creation story in Genesis. In the social sciences, the concept of social or cultural evolution had made progress before Darwin published his works. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), for example, had put forth his theory of “survival of the fittest” for societies, justifying colonialism and imperialism. He, and others, ranked societies on various ladders, with Victorian England always being on the highest rung. Not every social or cultural evolutionist regarded the evolutionary system as being a value judgment. Indeed, there was often more than a hint of the “noble savage” nostalgia in their writings, in which they felt something had been lost in the movement toward technological complexity. That something was always something moral, something natural. The artificiality of modern life left much behind in human social life that was precious and natural. This dichotomy between the “rational” and “romantic” is still very much a part of American anthropology.

This dichotomous characteristic is part and parcel of the manner in which modern anthropology developed and of its origins in the colonial context mentioned above. Field anthropologists found themselves in the midst of the colonial world of the imperialist powers. At one and the same time, they were able to conduct their work because of imperialism, but they tended to side with those people subjected to colonial rule. Stanley Diamond (1974) commented that anthropology was “the study of people in crisis by people in crisis” (p. 1). There has been a steady reflection on this dilemma in the discipline, a process that has accelerated in recent years, reflected in the studies of Kathleen Gough (1968a, 1968b), Dell Hymes (1969), Talal Asad (1973), and Stanley Diamond (1969, 1974) among others who recognized that there was a strong connection between repression in the United States and abroad, the spread of trade, and the development of anthropology.

Early Writings in Physical Anthropology

Certainly, Darwin had an enormous influence on physical anthropology as well as in cultural anthropology. The primary theoretical orientation for physical anthropology, in particular, is Darwinian evolution through natural selection, just as it is for biological science in general. Of course, there were antecedents to Darwinian evolution, as Darwin noted in On the Origin of Species (1859). Indeed, the antecedents go back to the eras of classical learning, early Christian and Islamic periods, the Renaissance, and the Age of Reason.

Although the institution of slavery and Greek condescension toward manual labor hindered the advance of empirical science, there were exceptions to the generally abstract nature of Socratic and Platonic thought, which reached its peak in the fifth century BCE. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) combined the talents of a theorist with the curiosity of an empirical observer. He conceptualized a ladder of nature, on which all living things were related to one another but also differed in degree from each other. The degrees were miniscule from one step to the next and yet were significant. Some scholars argue that Aristotle’s belief in a divine final cause hindered the full development of his evolutionary ideas. Other Greek scholars advanced his work, and it spread during the period of the Roman Empire. With the fall of Rome, the general task of preserving and building on Greek ideas fell to Islamic scholars.

The major advances in scientific thought, even though antievolutionary in nature, helped build the foundation upon which Darwin built. Thus, the work of the Reverend John Ray (1628-1705) in taxonomy led to the classificatory system of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1777). Ray’s system was built upon his interpretation of the biblical account of creation, holding that all current living things are fixed after the sixth day of creation. He further stated that species are fixed forever and that all individuals belong to the same species if they descend from the same parents. In sum, species are indivisible. His work became the primary source on taxonomy.

Linnaeus built on it. His system used binomial nomenclature, designating both genus and species. He discussed his system in The System of Nature (1735); its 10th edition (1758) is the standard for scientific naming based on anatomical characteristics. Linnaeus moved from the idea of the fixity of species to the development of new ones through observing the effects of hybridization and the viability of the offspring of hybrids to reproduce. However, so firmly established was the concept of the fixity of species that even his posthumous 13th edition, in which he embraces the idea of the fluidity of species, could not change scientific opinion. Indeed, the 18th-century notion of the great chain of being coming down from God through man to woman and all other lesser forms of being seemed to establish the fixity of creation for all time.

The field of geology offered material to challenge the notion of the fixity of the great chain of being and species. So troubling were the data of geology that the clergyman John Ray had to take them into account in his work. He had to try to find an explanation for fossils, for example, that fit with his notion of creation. He termed this catastrophism, using the Bible to map the catastrophes that led to the creation of fossils buried deep in the earth.

However, legitimate scientists began to offer other explanations. The French botanist Jean-Etienne Guettard (1713-1786) was interested in the distribution of plants and discovered that certain plants were always found with particular minerals and rocks. This interest led him to map out the distribution, and he concluded that rocks were always found in bands, and these bands followed an orderly and predictable pattern from one area to another. His 1751 map of the distribution of rocks in France and England is taken as the beginning of scientific geology.

James Hutton (1726-1797) took the next few steps in the development of geology. Hutton not only promoted the idea of uniformitarianism, the notion that past geological processes have the same agencies as contemporary ones, but also held that the world is more than just a few thousand years old. He argued that geological time is vast and that the rocks prove it.

William Smith (1769-1839), a surveyor, developed the technique of stratigraphy. Stratigraphy identifies the layers of earth according to their fossil contents. Others adopted the technique, which became essential to the development of geology as well as archaeology. This principal of superposition provided a dating technique with the assumption that fossils in any particular stratum are older than those above them and younger than those beneath them.

During the same period, George Louis Buffon (1707-1788) produced a 44-volume work, Natural History, the first amalgamation of European biological information. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church was very influential in France and saw to it that Buffon’s work was heavily censored. At times, his work and innate humor got him into trouble. Nevertheless, Buffon made significant use of Linnaean taxonomy.

Buffon also provided material pointing to the age of the earth. He indicated that some sort of major cataclysm, perhaps a collision of a comet and the sun, led to the formation of the earth. He also concluded that other planets resulted from this collision. Buffon conducted a number of experiments, seeking to provide proof of his ideas. These strengthened his support of uniformitarianism. His attacks on the various biblical flood theories led to strong opposition from the theological faculty at the University of Paris. These attacks forced him to offer a public recantation.

Not the least of Buffon’s contributions was his support of the work of Jean-Baptiste Pierre de Monet Lamarck (1744-1829). Buffon hired this ex-soldier to teach his son. Lamarck impressed Buffon with his system for naming botanical specimens. Lamarck used a system of giving each specimen a genus and species name. Buffon sponsored Lamarck’s admission to the French Academy and subsequent position as a professor in Paris. Lamarck made significant changes in the Linnaean classificatory system.

Alas, all of the major scientists affiliated with Buffon except Lamarck died during the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century. Lamarck, however, carried on their work, arguing openly for evolution. He argued for the antiquity of the earth while proposing animal evolution. He arranged a ladder of animal evolution in steps from the simplest to the most complex. His major works were Philosophie Zoologique (1809) and Natural History of the Invertebrates (1815). Although Lamarck’s various laws are no longer held to be true, they did provide an impetus for other biologists, including Darwin, to develop a more comprehensive system of evolution.

One of Lamarck’s protégés, Georges Leopold Cuvier (1769-1832), became the most brilliant comparative anatomist of his day. Unfortunately, he reverted to the older notion of the fixity of species and opposed evolutionary thought. His work in comparative anatomy, nonetheless, proved essential to the development of evolutionary thought.

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was a geologist who had a major impact on Darwin. Lyell’s work on the effect of water, waves, and wind on the landscape led him to oppose the notion of catastrophism and embrace the notion of a long geological time period. Moreover, he applied the law of uniformitarianism to support his stand. His major work was The Principles of Geology or the Modern Changes of the Earth and Its Inhabitants (1831-1833), which overturned the previous accepted wisdom and provided the foundation for Darwinian evolution through establishing the millions of years needed for the slow process of organic change.

Edward Lartet (1901-1871), a French lawyer, disputed the notion that humans and apes developed in the present epoch. The discovery of mastodon teeth in his village led to an interest in fossils. Soon he became a collector of fossils. In 1837, he discovered a fossil ape from the tertiary period resembling a modern gibbon. He named it Pliopithecus. Later, in 1856, he found another fossil ape, which he named Dryopithecus. These discoveries were but a few of the challenges to the theory of catastrophism, and they paved the way to modern evolutionary theory.

In the same year that Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859), Paul Broca founded the Anthropological Society of Paris, the first anthropological society in the world. Broca was quite interested in physical anthropology, attempting to make it a scientific discipline. Toward that end, he set up an anthropological laboratory in 1858. This became a training center for anthropologists. Broca was a pioneer in craniology, using the measurement of heads for the purpose of racial classification. The use of anthropometry, the measurement of human physical characteristics, spread rapidly and added to the debate between those who felt there were many origins for human races (polygenicists) and those who saw a single origin (monogenicists).

The connection between primates and humans became a matter for serious concern. Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), for example, wrote an encyclopedia of primate anatomy. He drew for it the first scientific tree demonstrating the connection between primates and humans. The continuing debate over the origin of races and their connection pervaded the late-19th- and early-20th-century development of physical anthropology. Not surprisingly, the debate traveled to America, where Frank Russell (1868-1903) became the first American to receive a PhD in physical anthropology. He was honored with the degree in 1898 from Harvard. His dissertation was predictably on a measurement of Eskimo crania.

A Bohemian medical student, Ales Hrdlicka (1860-1943), became a major American physical anthropologist. New York State hired him to work in anthropology and pathology. In 1903, the U.S. National Museum hired him, and he remained there. In 1918 he founded the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Hrdlicka was a key figure in establishing that American Indians had migrated across the Bering Strait. He was also a major opponent of the idea of racial superiority. In 1930, he founded the American Association of Physical Anthropology.

In addition to his work on primates, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) contributed a number of other essential ideas to physical anthropology. He coined the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” Moreover, he popularized Darwin in Germany and drew a genealogical chart connecting all known life forms. Haeckel was a noted artist who produced many illustrations of animals for his Artforms of Nature. His Freedom in Science and Teaching was written to defend the teaching of evolution.

Thus, by the end of the 19th century, physical anthropology was established as a discipline. It was mainly concerned with anthropometric measurements, the issue of race, and the relationship of human to nonhuman primates. There were many arguments over racial superiority of the “white race” over other races, but there were many who opposed that view and argued for the unity of humankind.

Early Writings in Archaeology and Linguistics

It is probably true that all people have some interest in the past. Archaeology grew out of such an interest, an interest that has roots in both the sacred and secular. Both religion and looting have contributed to what has become known as archaeology. Egypt, for example, looked for roots of its religion in the past, and the government of ancient Egypt may have sponsored the first excavations of the past. Search for biblical roots and areas mentioned in the Bible still inspire archaeological digs today. The hunt for treasure needs little comment, since popular culture is filled with such tales.

Most archaeologists agree that the beginnings of scientific archaeology are found in the 18th century with the second excavations at Herculaneum. These digs went beyond previous treasure hunts. Unlike the first hunts, which destroyed intact remains, these excavations were rigorously conducted. However, things changed when Charles of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies, decided to hire Marcello Venuti to supervise the process. Venuti reopened the former shafts and was able to translate the inscriptions, certifying the authenticity of the site. With this careful process, archaeology became a science.

Or it was at least on its way toward becoming a science. Although the 18th century was termed the Enlightenment, the next truly archaeological excavation was not until 1784, when Thomas Jefferson made excavations in Virginia. However, the interest in abstract theory in the period did provide interest in cultural evolution, the progress from one stage of development to another. Some scholars and amateurs became interested in finding proof for this idea.

The idea of cultural evolution, unfortunately, quickly moved away from the notion of equality toward one of European triumphalism. Moreover it provided a rationale for imperialism and colonialism in which the “civilized” Europeans had an obligation to bring their superior culture to undeveloped “primitives.” Scientists developed various systems ranking societies on their development and progress toward the level of civilized European society. These systems not only aided the production of a great deal of information on individual societies but also were used to shore up the notion of the natural superiority of European civilization.

Some gifted amateurs have aided the progress of archaeology. Jacques Boucher de Perthes, for example, was a French customs officer. De Perthes had an interest in artifacts. Over a period of time, from the 1830s to the 1850s, he discovered a good deal of fossil material along with hand axes and other artifacts at Abbeville. In 1847, de Perthes argued that this Ice Age site proved that humans had been on earth for more than the 6,000 years many religious scholars stated. However, it was not until 1859, when two British archaeologists examined the site and supported de Perthes, that other archaeologists took notice.

The romance of archaeology, reflected in recent times in the “Indiana Jones” saga in cinema, was carried on at the end of the 19th century in the work of Heinrich Schliemann, Paul Emile Botta, and Austen Henry Layard, among others. Schliemann went looking for ancient Troy and found it but did not know he had found it. Botta thought he had found Nineveh of Biblical fame, but he had not. Layard, however, did find the site of the biblical Nineveh. These expeditions kept up popular interest in archaeology and were the inspiration for many popular works of fiction.

More scientifically, Christian J. Thomsen and Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, both of whom were curators at the National Museum of Denmark, found evidence for the three-age system of tools—Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. They discarded the mistaken notion that the poor used iron and the wealthy used bronze in prehistoric times.

This early period in archaeology left a number of issues with which archaeologists must still deal. The question of the equality of humans was one that the Enlightenment embraced and many early archaeologists abandoned in their search for stages of human social and cultural development. The idea that European culture was the crown of cultural evolution may appear ludicrous today, but there are still people who believe this to be true. Moreover, archaeology still has to cope with religious and nationalistic leaders who hold fast to their beliefs and fight any evidence that puts these beliefs into question. There is also the issue of the return of all those artifacts taken from ancient sites to the countries from which they were so blithely taken.

Linguistics underwent similar developments in its history. It, too, had deep roots in ancient civilizations but did not become a science until the 19th century. There have been many in the field who believe that the best hope for linguistic advance lies in attention to the evidence, and therefore leads, that archaeology offers. There have been many examples demonstrating this proposal. The advance of linguistics in delineating American Indian languages has been aided through the evidence provided by both archaeology and physical anthropology on the northeastern origins of Native Americans. The search for the “origins” of the Bantu language family, now seen to be part of the Niger-Congo family, profited from the work of archaeologists as did earlier work on the Indo-European language group.

There were 18th-century developments in linguistic studies that aided its movement toward becoming a scientific field, for example, the work of James Burnett and Lord Momboddo in discerning logical elements in the evolution of human language. Sir William Jones’s The Sanscrit Language (1786) argues that there is a connection between Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, Gothic, and Celtic languages, taking a step toward developing the notion of the Indo-European language family and the fields of comparative and historical linguistics.

There is such a natural connection between language and culture that a deep relationship between archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistics appears integral. Indeed, both Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski deemed it a natural one. Both men were committed to fieldwork, and the learning of the language of the people among whom one works is important to successful fieldwork. Moreover, the language a person speaks offers significant clues about the culture of that person.

By the end of the 19th century, anthropological linguistics had developed into a modern science and, in the eyes of Boas, an equal part of the overall anthropological picture. It had developed its basic scientific concepts, demonstrated the rule-bound nature of language, made significant advances in comparative and historical linguistics, and was moving toward other major areas of the field, such as structural and descriptive linguistics.

One of Boas’s students, Edward Sapir (1884-1939), advanced the field of linguistic anthropology greatly, mapping out many areas later developed in its history. In addition to his work in linguistics, Sapir also worked in other areas of anthropology. His work included studies of personality and cultural behavioralism. Sapir held that language shapes the way in which we perceive the world. Different languages condition people to see the world differently. Sapir viewed language as a symbol system and a royal road to understanding culture and personality. Sapir was a brilliant theorist and looked for the connections among language, culture, and personality. In fact, a number of his students compiled a book of his writings in his honor; it was titled Language, Culture, and Personality (Sapir, 1949).

Sapir anticipated many of the later developments in the field. His concept of language drift focused on the changing nature of language, but Sapir also emphasized the fact that important elements of language are slow to change. Moreover, he noted the role of body language in communication as well as its unconscious nature.

Certainly, the most famous aspect of his work was the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) was a successful businessman working as an inspector for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He pursued studies in linguistics and ethnology as a hobby. His work as an inspector brought many instances to his attention of the manner in which language influenced behavior. He noticed that people were careless around containers and trucks labeled “inflammable,” believing that such containers were not able to break into flames. People would throw lighted cigarette butts into empty containers of fuel, not realizing that empty containers are the most dangerous because of residual fumes. Whorf contributed a number of ideas to linguistic anthropology. He developed the concept of linguistic relativity, helped further the area of sociolinguistics, and made substantial contributions to the study of American Indian languages.

Early-20th-Century Anthropology, 1900-1930

By the end of the 19th century, anthropology had become a professional field. Not only were there professional associations, but the discipline began to be offered in universities. By the beginning and early years of the 20th century, anthropology had become more of a professional or academic discipline, and power moved from the federal government (the Bureau of Ethnology and the National Museum) to major centers of learning—universities such as Columbia, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley. Franz Boas was a major force in this shift of power.

Boas and his students struggled against those who offered eugenic explanations of cultural differences. American anthropology became strongly empirically and culturally oriented, moving away from those racist stands that supported discrimination and colonialism. Many anthropologists were members of one minority group or another—Jews, women, American Indians, or others. They were hardly liable to support the dominance of a White Anglo-Saxon male establishment. That does not mean that Boas and his students were able to eliminate bias in the profession or won easy victories. Many of these battles are still being waged today. Nevertheless, the influence of the antiracist, antibiological determinism position has remained strong in the profession.

Adding to the drive for cultural understanding was the move to ethnography. The detailed study of a given society or group requires a long period, ideally a year or two, of living with the group and intensive study of the group. This participant-observation provides more than an intellectual understanding of the group. It is sometimes referred to as learning through the skin. Most anthropologists view this fieldwork experience as a necessary rite of passage, and anyone who has undergone it finds it difficult to forget. It provides a means for deeper understanding of the meaning of otherwise “foreign” behavior and thinking.

Malinowski is generally given credit for developing the method in his Trobriand Island fieldwork, and he passed the method on to his students in England. Boas endorsed the technique as well and passed it to his students, along with his idea of culture and cultural relativism—understanding a culture on its own terms and in its own setting. Boas focused on symbols and values in his work on culture rather than on institutions and groups, which were the emphasis of British social anthropology. Fieldwork helped clarify many problems that had been inherited from 19th-century arguments in anthropology.

Ethnographers, for example, reached a general agreement that both diffusion, the spread of cultural traits from one group to another, and independent invention, the development of an idea or tool without outside influence, occur in cultures at the same time. However, they also emphasized the fact the even borrowed traits may have vastly different meanings in different cultural situations. The focus was on understanding each culture on its own terms, rather than comparing them cross-culturally in whole or in part. This view, termed cultural relativism, was a strong factor in American anthropology. This emphasis on meaning led to a great deal of interest in expressive forms—art and myth, for example. There was a great concern with meaning and self-definition as well.

The presence of so many American Indian nations in the United States aided the practice of ethnographic field-work. Although a number of Boas’s students conducted fieldwork outside the United States, as did Margaret Mead and Melville Herskovits, for example, most did at least some work among American Indians. The ready availability of American Indians encouraged repeated trips and long-term fieldwork over time. It also enabled American anthropologists to build on a body of earlier work, dating to the 19th century.

Boas was involved in political issues and skeptical of government-sponsored research, as well as that supported financially by the wealthy. Moreover, Boas demanded rigorous empirical work from himself and his students. He shied away from putting forth universal laws and overgeneralizations. He emphasized nature over nurture and directed research demonstrating that fact with immigrant children. In addition, Boas took a strong stand in favor of equality and against all types of discrimination, leading the FBI to keep a file, mainly inaccurate, of his activities. Boas stressed that the uniqueness of cultures did not evolve. Each culture had to be studied in itself.

Boas also underscored the need for the four-field approach in anthropology: physical (biological) anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. Boas noted that these interrelated areas aided one in understanding culture. Boas emphasized his approach through his work at Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History. Boas’s students included Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Ruth Benedict, and Edward Sapir, as well as Margaret Mead. Their work attacked the idea of a general line of cultural evolutionary development and emphasized what came to be termed a cultural history method.

Although they were opposed to overgeneralization, anthropologists who followed Boas did feel that there was some sort of need to go beyond mere statements of specifics. Kroeber wrote a textbook, Anthropology, outlining the general ideas of the field. “Culture and personality” studies were in conformity with many of Boas’s ideas. Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) and Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946) highlighted this trend. Mead chose to stay away from a permanent anthropological appointment, noting the bias, despite Boas’s efforts, against women in the profession. Boas wanted Benedict to succeed him as chair of the anthropology department at Columbia, but Ralph Linton worked against her appointment, proving the wisdom of the always astute Mead’s stand on the issue.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) studied with Boas at Columbia and received her PhD in 1923. She joined the faculty in the same year. Two of her outstanding students were Marvin Opler and Margaret Mead. Benedict held that each culture chooses from the vast possibilities but a small number of traits. These traits form a gestalt that shapes personalities within the culture. Her Patterns of Culture (1934) remains influential, though criticized as too general, and it is still remarkably readable and interesting. Benedict was among the few who applied anthropology to complex cultures in its early days. Like Boas, she was strongly drawn to social causes, and she opposed racism and the bigotry of some so-called religious people, using anthropological data to combat these biases.

Following in the footsteps of Benedict and Boas, Mead became a major public figure who combated bias and ignorance in her work. More than either, however, she became the voice of anthropology to the public. From the publication of Coming of Age in Samoa to her death, she represented anthropology in the public forum. Her books sold well, and her column in Redbook had numerous readers. Mead wrote about situations in the United States and was among the first, with her third husband, Gregory Bateson, to use photography and filming in fieldwork. She was as much at home in New York as in Bali. Time magazine named her Mother of the World in the mid-1960s.

The Turn to Modern Anthropology

One of the all-around anthropologists, a master of the four fields, was Ashley Montagu, whose birth name was Israel Ehrenberg (1905-1999). Montagu changed his name in an attempt to avoid the vicious anti-Semitism of his day. Although he was born in England, he migrated to the United States as a young man and became an American citizen. He was a brilliant anatomist, and this skill aided in his attacks on race and gender bias and discrimination. Montagu studied with a number of distinguished scholars in England, none more important than Malinowski at the London School of Economics. Shortly after, he attended Columbia University and studied with both Boas and Benedict, writing his dissertation under their direction; it was titled Coming Into Being Among the Australian Aborigines: A Study of the Procreative Beliefs of the Native Tribes of Australia (1938). Before becoming a professor of anthropology at Rutgers, he taught anatomy in a number of universities. After leaving Rutgers, Montagu became an independent scholar and a great popularizer of anthropology, explaining its importance to the general public on many television programs.

Although always opposed to racism, he became a great proponent in the 1950s for eliminating the concept of race from biology. He wrote a number of works; the most famous of his writings on race are the UNESCO Statement on Race and Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (1942). Montagu was deeply opposed to the work of the anthropologist Carleton S. Coon.

Coon was interested in the manner in which infants bonded to their mothers. He was among the first scholars to emphasize the significance of touch and the effects of a lack of affection for infants on later adult criminal behavior. His work influenced a number of experiments with monkeys in isolation. It was but a small step to opposing genital mutilation of children.

Montagu’s attacks on the concept of race, dating at least from the 1930s, challenged the beliefs of most anthropologists. We would say that Montagu argued that race was but a social construct with no foundation in biological reality. Instead, he looked to gene-frequency analysis to unravel the mysteries of human evolution. Montagu put his ideas in an article coauthored with Theodosius Dobzhansky (1947). They argued that early humans everywhere were hunters and gatherers, facing similar problems. These early humans adapted in similar ways to similar changes. The conclusion, going back to the law of uniformitarianism, is that there are no mental differences between populations. The overwhelming majority of anthropologists accept this fact.

It was about this time that modern primatology (ethology) began to develop. The study of animals in their natural settings, like so much else in anthropology, has a long history. However, modern scientific observation dates from the early 1950s and the publication of Niko Tinbergen’s The Study of Instinct (1951) and Konrad Lorenz’s King Solomon’s Ring (1952) and On Aggression (1966). Many primatologists began extensive studies in the wild, the most famous being Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.

These studies led to the gathering of significant data leading to better understanding of human evolution. In addition to fruitful models of possible human evolution, there was the inevitable sensational popularizing of this work in volumes such as Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative (1966) and The Hunting Hypothesis (1970) as well as Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape (1967). Interestingly, most of the material to disprove and discredit these works came from further field studies in primatology. Among the leaders in this area was Jane Goodall, a protégée of Louis S. B. Leakey, a famous paleoanthropologist. He encouraged Goodall to study chimpanzees, hypothesizing that these studies held hope of offering material enabling us to understand better our ideas of human nature.

These studies did add to our understanding of evolution and human nature. When Goodall, for example, found that chimps at the Gombe Reserve made tools as well as used them (Goodall, 1983), many preconceived notions of Man the Toolmaker were discredited. Since the 1960s and 1970s, further work has shown more similarities between the great apes and humans. There has been work on human sexuality, aggression, politics, and almost any other topic one can imagine, including language acquisition, stemming from ethological studies.

The discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) has also led to amazing strides in many areas, including anthropology. DNA contains basic genetic instruction for the development of living organisms; it is the code of life. It stores information in coded form. In 1951, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin were working on the problem of the structure of DNA. Linus Pauling was also involved in the search for the structure of DNA. Others were also involved in the search. The full story is murky at best and a mystery in itself. However, there is no mystery about the significance of the discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule and its coding.

The discovery of the DNA molecule and its structure fed into the growing importance of genetics in understanding human evolution. Just as Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) provided support for the process of evolution with his discovery and experiments on genetic processes, so, too, did an understanding of DNA provide a better understanding of genes. Mendel provided a statistical overview of genetics. He noted the stability of his genetic ratios; thus, the results were not chance ones. He then distinguished between genetic factors (genotype) and appearance (phenotype). What you see is not always what you get. This factor led Mendel to conclude that there were two genes (alleles) for each characteristic, leading to an understanding of the existence of dominant and recessive traits. DNA allows us to understand how genes work and how mutations occur; they are best understood as changes in the code or message of the DNA.

Other developments aiding the study of evolution came in absolute dating. The Carbon-14 method was among the first. It permits the direct dating of any material containing organic material. There is a known rate at which Carbon-14 disintegrates. Larger samples are better than small ones. Obviously, great care must be taken to avoid contamination of the sample. Moreover, recent samples are difficult to date, as are those over 50,000 years old. Finally, the ratio of 14C to12C is not constant in time or place for various reasons. It is best to obtain more than one sample for dating and to cross-check samples using other dating techniques.

Finally, these various advances have strengthened the movement, supported by anthropology, known as antiracism. Anthropologists such as Boas, Benedict, Mead, and Montagu argued for worldwide equality and attacked the so-called scientific basis for inequality. Anthropology provided theoretical and empirical support for the antiracist movement. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (1954) drew heavily on the works of anthropologists in its decision. Robert Redfield, a lawyer as well as an anthropologist, filed an amicus curiae brief opposed to segregation. Modern anthropology, by and large, has attacked the alleged biological foundations for the concept of race itself.

The Emergence of Applied Anthropology

Some anthropologists add applied anthropology—the application of anthropological theories, concepts, or approaches to the solution of practical problems—as a fifth field of anthropology. Any of the other four areas or a combination of them may be termed “applied anthropology.” The first use of the term was in 1906 at Oxford University for a diploma program. An even earlier term for essentially the same ideas was used in the 1860s, when James Hunt used it. Hunt was the founder of the Anthropological Society of London.

The British early considered anthropology useful for their colonial administration. E. B. Tylor called anthropology a “policy science,” and he urged its use to solve problems of human life. Northcote Thomas used anthropology in 1908 to implement indirect rule in Nigeria, the policy of Frederick Lord Lugard. It took some time for the U.S. government to begin to use anthropology in its administrative services. In 1934, the Bureau of Indian Affairs used anthropologists to implement the Indian Reorganization Act. John Collier, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, used anthropologists in a number of capacities. They were able to “translate” between the American Indian groups and the bureau, study the culture and society of tribal groups, aid in writing charters and constitutions for tribes, and in many other ways aid the implementation of programs of benefit to Native Americans. Archaeology also proved its usefulness to public policy during the 1920s, when archaeologists aided the establishment and execution of public works programs.

The U.S. government found many uses for anthropologists during World War II. Anthropologists worked for the War Relocation Authority, for example, working with resettled Japanese Americans. There were also other government projects, such as the Study of Culture at a Distance program that was used to help the United States understand its enemies. In 1941, a number of anthropologists founded the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA).

Applied anthropology continued to grow in the postwar world to help international aid and foreign policy programs. Archaeologists continued to work in cultural resource management programs after the passage of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. This came at a time when many cultural anthropologists refused government employment because of the Vietnam War. As a result of that war, students demanded more involvement of anthropologists to aid in meeting human needs. As academic jobs decreased, private and government sectors recruited more anthropologists.

There have been a number of famous examples of applied anthropology projects over the years. Some were successful, other not. Some had mixed results. A case often cited as a successful example of intervention is a project among the Fox Indians in Iowa, headed by Sol Tax and conducted by his students. Students initially went to the Meskwaki (Fox) settlement for a summer of fieldwork in 1948, and 35 students went to the area over the decade of summers that followed. Over that period, students wanted to do more than simply collect traditional anthropological data. They wanted to help the Meskwaki solve their problems. They desired to provide an answer to a frequently heard question: What did the Meskwaki get out of the project?

With Tax’s blessing, the students attempted to help the Meskwaki. Tax was the students’ director. Tax held that an anthropologist had an obligation to the people themselves, not to governments. This “action anthropology” challenged some basic ideas of anthropology as a pure science, suggesting that research is only justifiable if it aids the people being studied.

Eventually, students went from basic help, such as driving people to appointments, to more profound intervention. Fred Gearing, author of The Face of the Fox (1970), aided in the establishment of cooperative farming. Others worked for different improvements. Some of the projects were more successful than others. Gearing’s book provides more detailed discussion of the project and an evaluation of its overall impact.

Another long-term project was the Cornell University Vicos project. Vicos was part of the Cornell-Peru project. The project discovered that the 2,250 Vicosinos were starving and were afflicted with gastrointestinal problems. Moreover, they were obligated to work for the patrons of a hacienda; these patrons controlled the best land. Cornell had a lease on the hacienda that expired in 1957. The project made a recommendation to the Peruvian government, which the government followed. Basically, it called for control of the land to be taken from the elite patrons and given to the Vicosinos. A long struggle ensued contesting that decision. Cornell eventually became the new patron. Evaluation of its role has provoked much controversy in anthropology.

The infamous Project Camelot, a 1964 U.S. Army project, is often cited as a model of what anthropologists should avoid. The basic goal was to find ways to help established governments fight insurgents. Chile was the primary test case. Social scientists, whom Norwegian Johann Galtung alerted, forced the cancellation of the project. This position was a step away from the position of anthropologists during World War II. However, many have pointed out that World War II presented a very different situation from meddling in local governments or in Vietnam.

At Michigan State University (MSU), an advisory group existed from 1955 to 1962 that was a front for the CIA to promote covert action in Vietnam. MSU faculty and staff aided the Ngo Din Diem regime in South Vietnam. The advisory group helped write the constitution of South Vietnam and entered into training programs for Vietnamese personnel. The United States ended the program as CIA involvement became better known. This and other actions of the FBI and CIA led many, if not most, anthropologists to be wary of government programs, aside from programs like the Peace Corps.

The recent Human Terrain project in Afghanistan echoes the program in Vietnam and has stirred up controversy once again. The deaths of at least three of the anthropologists employed in advising the American military on the customs and traditions of Afghanis have added greater heat to the controversy. The poor employment opportunities for anthropologists may have added to the temptation to engage in the controversial activities. However, the range of opportunities for working in applied anthropology is great, including medical anthropology, public anthropology, salvage archaeology, employment by indigenous peoples, and a whole range of programs, including studying and documenting endangered cultures.

Forensic and Medical Anthropology

Forensic anthropology is an applied area of anthropology in which physical anthropology is used in a legal endeavor. Frequently, osteology is combined with physical anthropology when criminal cases involve skeletons that have become difficult to identify. Forensic anthropologists use their skills to help solve criminal cases, judging age, sex, size, background, and cause of death. As with so many other areas of physical anthropology, forensic anthropologists are often part of a team working toward a goal, in this case solving a crime. In addition, forensic anthropologists may be found using archaeological tools, identifying footprints, reproducing faces of victims, and using a whole host of other skills, A forensic anthropologist also works on identifying the “race” and gender of a crime victim, the manner of death, the weapon that may have been used, and other facts of the crime.

In common with forensic anthropology, medical anthropology spans a number of other areas of the field, including social, cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology. It employs a holistic approach to examine all possible influences on health and disease in a human population. The factors include, but are not limited to, environment, beliefs about illness stemming from culture and social class, political systems, and other biological, cultural, and social factors. It seeks to understand how people experience illness, its epidemiological distribution, how disease may be prevented, social and cultural factors of the health system, and the existence of folk practices and practitioners in the health system.

Medical anthropologists are acutely aware of popular beliefs and practices related to medicine and of broader social and cultural factors of the health system. They seek to account for human and nonhuman interrelationships in the environment and their influence on health issues. The impact of globalization on local health systems is of increasing importance to an understanding of health. A complete list of globalization’s ramifications would include a range of factors such as those on the list below, found on the official Web site of the Society for Medical Anthropology (2009):

  • Health ramifications of ecological “adaptation and maladaptation”
  • Popular health culture and domestic health care practices
  • Local interpretations of bodily processes
  • Changing body projects and valued bodily attributes
  • Perceptions of risk, vulnerability and responsibility for illness and health care
  • Risk and protective dimensions of human behavior, cultural norms and social institutions
  • Preventative health and harm reduction practices
  • The experience of illness and the social relations of sickness
  • The range of factors driving health, nutrition and health care transitions
  • Ethnomedicine, pluralistic healing modalities, and healing processes
  • The social organization of clinical interactions
  • The cultural and historical conditions shaping medical practices and policies
  • Medical practices in the context of modernity, colonial, and postcolonial social formations
  • The use and interpretation of pharmaceuticals and forms of biotechnology
  • The commercialization and commodification of health and medicine
  • Disease distribution and health disparity
  • Differential use and availability of government and private health care resources
  • The political economy of health care provision
  • The political ecology of infectious and vector borne diseases, chronic diseases and states of malnutrition, and violence
  • The possibilities for a critically engaged yet clinically relevant application of anthropology

This list provides an excellent overview of the field while demonstrating its need for a number of anthropological specialties.

Present Developments

There are a number of developments under the heading of current anthropology, depending on where one draws the line. The major areas have been in symbolic anthropology, all the “post-” movements (poststructuralism, postmodernism, etc.), humanistic anthropology, and various areas of biological determinism, such as sociobiology. Each of these areas is far from monolithic, and there are internal arguments within them at times more bitter than between the various schools of thought.

Symbolic anthropology is interested in examining and understanding how people in a given sociocultural system make sense of their surroundings and the speech and behavior of other people. More simply put, symbolic anthropology interprets symbols and the way in which people assign meaning to these symbols. Because people share in a common cultural system of meaning, symbolic anthropologists, like Clifford Geertz (1963), believe these symbols address basic issues of human sociocultural life. These symbols, according to Victor Turner (1967, 1980), can initiate social action.

Symbolic anthropologists see culture, then, as a system of meaning. The interpretation of its symbols and rituals provides a key to the meaning and purpose of that system. In its attempts to make sense of sometimes unintelligible beliefs and practices, symbolic anthropologists have turned to interpretive devices to examine ideal as well as material cultural dimensions. In a sense, symbolic anthropology is part of the “post” world. It is a reaction to rigid structuralism, such as that Lévi-Strauss (1955/1973) promoted. Geertz’s The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Lévi-Strauss(1973) is an example of this position. On the other hand, symbolic anthropology is anti-Marxist and against materialism of all types. It refuses to reduce culture to simply visible behavioral patterns with culture as an epiphenomenon.

Postmodernism and its related fields are opposed to positivism, the reduction of science to that which is known by the senses. On a more affirmative note, it is in favor of using personal experience as a guide. There is great skepticism about knowing anything for certain. A method that postmodernists employ is deconstruction, in which the text—and almost anything can be a text—is broken down to find what it hides and assumes so that inconsistencies can be revealed.

The postmodernists are also committed to interpretation. However, it is a type of intuitive interpretation based on an individual’s own understating. It results in a narrative rather than an observation. Indeed, Michel Foucault (1972) holds that there is never a final meaning for any symbol or anything else. All is interpretation.

The postmodernists have inspired a turn to reflexivity and an investigation of and sensitivity toward ethnography. This investigation has led anthropologists to examine hidden premises in their own and past work, examining power relationships and deeper meanings. The process is termed demystification. However, a number of anthropologists have argued that postmodernism results in purely subjective criteria, or standards. Roy D’Andrade’s Moral Models in Anthropology (1995), for example, argued that these purely subjective models defeat any attempt to discover how the world works.

Humanistic anthropology is concerned with what it means to be human. During the first half of the 20th century, most anthropologists were humanists and unselfconsciously so. However, with the growth of other areas of anthropology, it became necessary to stress a humanistic approach to the study of being human, taking a holistic approach that looks at the entire human experience. Humanistic anthropology in common with symbolic anthropology focuses on the importance of symbols and interpretive approaches. In common with postmodernism, it rejects positivism.

There is a strong emphasis on viewing the self as something that changes and that the individual negotiates and reinvents. There remains a belief that knowledge is the goal of anthropology. Thus, truth can be discovered. Moreover, there is a belief in the importance of writing well and clearly. In addition, storytelling, including fiction, is promoted in relating ethnographies and field experiences. The importance of symbolic anthropologists such as Geertz and Turner are clearly evidenced here. A fine summary of the position is found in Writing Culture (1986), edited by George Marcus and James Clifford and including chapters by Renato Rosaldo, Stephen A. Tyler, and Vincent Crapanzano. There are many other influences on humanistic anthropology. Pierre Bourdieu, for example is certainly a major influence

In contrast with these approaches is the field of socio-biology. E. O. Wilson introduced the term in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975). He viewed it as a Darwinian or evolutionary approach to society. A good deal of effort was expended by sociobiologists to explain human altruistic behavior in which people put the needs, even the lives and survival of others, before their own. Their explanation was that such behavior aided in evolution through ensuring the survival of one’s genes into the next generation. Similarly, they looked for genes promoting survival in warfare through ferocity. Much of the dispute over Napoleon Chagnon’s study of the Yanomamo was a result of his use of sociobiology to study these “fierce” people. Many anthropologists resist sociobiology as a means for bringing biological determinism back into anthropology.

Future Directions

It is difficult to predict the future direction of anthropology, and any predictions will prove wrong to some extent. However, at this moment there are some areas that have come to the fore. There is what can be termed neoclassical anthropology for want of a better term. It is a return to some previous areas of the field and to the history of anthropology. Thus, there is a return to the roots of the field. There is an interest, for example, in the meaning of cultural relativity, of the origins of anthropology, its influence, and its and overall history. There is not so much iconoclasm in the field as in the past; now there is a search for continuity between more recent and earlier trends.

There is also a greater attention to the problems and conditions of globalization. Tied in with this trend is the importance of power and human agency. There is general agreement that the only constant is change. Anthropologists from the beginning have studied cultures in change and societies affected by world events. This fact must be recognized and addressed in one’s research. Eric Wolf (1982), for example, led the way in calling for explicit concern with how current societies, which anthropologists study, got to be the way they are. Historical factors, in other words, need to be taken into account.

Wolf took an explicitly Marxist stance in his work. He called for an investigation of economic, political, and social power relationships. These included multinational corporations, labor policies, and information control. He called for attention to the position of people in society and their perspectives on events.

Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci (1971) added a local perspective to the picture. They looked more closely at symbols in interpreting meaning for individuals. In sum, they wished to discern the relationship between power and ideas. They noted that there is no single truth. There is a truth for capitalists, for instance, and a truth for laboring people. There are peasant truths and the truths of landlords.

Bourdieu (1977) carried the argument even further. Bourdieu speaks of different types of habitus, a concept roughly equivalent to the collective conscience of Émile Durkheim (1933). Others have adapted it to speak of various scapes or scenes, positions in society that have unconscious shared perspectives with others who also occupy them. In addition to economic capital, Bourdieu speaks of cultural, political, social, and other forms of capital, including symbolic capital. People strive to make the most of their lives through manipulating this capital through various scapes or positions.

Globalization theory, like so much emerging in anthropology, is a synthesis of a number of approaches. It is a merger of neo-Marxism, neofunctionalism, symbolic anthropology, and humanism. It is an attempt to put a number of approaches, including postmodernism, together to address the problems of the 21st century.

The Anthropologist in Popular Culture

Anthropologists pop up in popular culture from time to time. Indeed, there are some anthropologists who write about anthropologists, such as Stanley Elkins (2000) and Kathy Reichs (2009). The movie Krippendorf’s Tribe resonates with a number of anthropologists in its depiction of fieldwork and its problems. One could write a long paper on the topics.

Perhaps most people get their views of forensic anthropologists through television and the movies. CSI and similar programs often bring in forensic anthropologists, usually women, to help the forensic team. Bones, featuring an earlier incarnation of Reichs’s heroine, Temperance Brennan, a thinly disguised Smithsonian Institution anthropologist, focuses on the female forensic anthropologist and places her in improbable but exciting situations with her FBI colleague. Indeed, the anthropologist as hero had a life before Susan Sontag’s (1966/2001) famous essay on Claude Lévi-Strauss. Mr. Spock of Star Trek was an anthropologist, and some of Jules Verne’s characters were anthropologists as well.

There is a long tradition of anthropologists writing fiction about their fieldwork. Laura Bohannan’s Return to Laughter is the most famous, but there have been others. Issues of Humanistic Anthropology offer poetry and fiction celebrating the fieldwork experience. Of course, Indiana Jones in his four movies and TV program is the embodiment of the anthropologist as hero. Indy not only teaches at what appears to be Columbia University but also is a man of action into his 70s. Archaeology can be fun as well as enlightening.