Anthropology is not what you think

Last updated: 04/09/14 3:56pm


Not that many disciplines can say their very name creates the kind of quizzical looks that anthropology does. As a major in the subject, that of the history and variety of Homo sapiens, there is nothing more awkward than family reunions and Christmas parties where the subject inevitably comes to, “So what exactly are you studying?” I always try to think fast, but summing up such a wide area of study in a few short sentences before my booze-laced aunt loses patience is hard to do.

Anthropology is the study of man via four distinct sub-disciplines: archaeology, linguistics, cultural, and physical. These four roughly equate to material goods, language, culture, and bodily remains. Some schools, mainly overseas, allow students to pick a sub-discipline as a focus.

America generally creates the undergraduate program as a mix of them all, though students have some freedom when picking courses. This degree can be hard to translate into the job market without graduate school training, though employers are sure to find the open-mindedness that it fosters refreshing with such an America-centric general populace.

The subject as we know it began in Britain with greats like Edward Tylor, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Branislow Malinowski. It quickly made its way to America with Franz Boas leading the way. These prolific men, building on hundreds of thousands of years of loose speculation, built up an academic discipline which aimed to be more akin to science than just a collection of folklore and ancient pots. Branching its tendrils into every possible facet of the human experience across the globe and throughout time, it is now the behemoth that it is today.

Core courses for Eastern’s major and minor in Anthropology are Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (135), Introduction to Physical Anthropology (140), Introduction to Archaeology (150), and History of Anthropological Theory (210). Electives include Culture of Japan (385), Social and Cultural Change (336), Medical Anthropology (329), Language and Culture (340), and the Archaeology Field School (261, 361, or 461).

With such a wide selection to choose from, I have had no problem choosing courses, which fit my individual interests and enhance my enthusiasm for holistic knowledge. Whether it’s art, history, language, politics, forensics, or any other interest, anthropology could no-doubt add valuable insight to the topics you’re enthusiastic about.

The rewards of understanding the world from such a broad perspective are myriad.
The False Face society of the Iroquois create and don masks to ritualize helping those in the community make it through times of illness; Hatsune Miku is a face for the changing dynamics in technology and human interaction; Obsidian surgical tools are much more precise than stainless steel ones. This is just a representative sample of the knowledge I have gained in just two years of anthropological study here at Eastern.

All of the hard work and study I have put in go way beyond the fancy degree and a salary. Being aware of the vast expanse of humanity is humbling, and also reminds me to think twice before I place my way of doing things at the center of the universe. This knowledge will also be an integral part of the way in which I live my life and interact with others, weather I choose to attend graduate school or not. I am a better person because I study anthropology.

Published Apr 9, 2014 in Opinions

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