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About Anthropology

students working on a dig

The discipline of anthropology studies humans in all the cultures of the world, both past and present. This includes humanity's evolution, physical development, and the wide diversity of lifestyles people have created.

Anthropology has three main goals: first, providing a deep understanding of humans, both past and present; second, analyzing and organizing the knowledge gained and making it accessible; and third, engaging in the practical application of anthropology to various areas of contemporary human behavior.

Anthropology is a distinct discipline that sits at the intersection of social sciences and life sciences. It shares techniques and methods with other behavioral sciences and also draws upon biological sciences.

Anthropology is unique among the social and behavioral sciences. Anthropologists obtain data primarily from field research and comparative cross-cultural studies in time and space. Thus, anthropology provides theoretical and empirical bases for development of hypotheses about human behavior, and for testing the breadth and application of such hypotheses.

Subdisciplines of Anthropology

The anthropology department provides training in each of the main subdisciplines of anthropology.

Cultural anthropology seeks to understand and describe each culture in its own perspective. Cultural anthropologists gather data through first-hand field study in other cultures and do cross-cultural comparative studies which provide crucial insights and understanding of the modes and patterns of human life.

Archaeology uses scientific field work and laboratory techniques to investigate past human societies and the processes and effects of cultural evolution through the study of material remains.

Biological anthropology is a subdiscipline of anthropology that draws from the more traditional binaries of biology as a life science and anthropology as a social science. It aims to orient human biology within a larger framework of the human experience. Biological anthropology focuses on anatomical, physiological and genetic differences in past and contemporary human and non-human primate populations, and is a critical area of study for any student interested in biology, and particularly the health sciences.

Linguistic Anthropology explores human language with a particular focus on language ideologies (attitudes and values about language), language as a human practice ("languaging")=, language as a key aspect of being human (including the role of language in human evolution as well as language contact and change over time), and the ways that language as practice intersects with other aspects of human being-in-the-world such as culture, identity, and community. Linguistic anthropology explores both the potentially universal human aspects of human language and the importance of ethnographic context for understanding how humans communicate with one another.

Medical and Genetic Anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that draws upon social, cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology to better understand those factors which influence health and wellbeing, the experience and distribution of illness, the prevention and treatment of sickness, healing processes, the social relations of therapy management, and the cultural importance and utilization of pluralistic medical systems.

Utilizing ethnographic, ethnological and ethnohistorical tools, as well as information supplied by these subdisciplines, the anthropologist comparatively studies cultures and the processes of human development. These findings have many practical uses.