Sometimes, when answering people about what my major is, I get truly puzzled looks when I tell them it’s anthropology.
What is anthropology?
Fair question. From the Greek root, ánthrōpos, meaning human, it’s the study of humanity.
More specifically, it’s the scientific study of humans, human behavior and societies in the past and present. It’s a broad field combining several scientific and humanitarian subjects together in a comprehensive way. Some say it’s the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.
Social anthropology studies patterns of behavior and cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. Linguistic anthropology studies what language is and how language influences social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans. Archaeology is the study of material culture left behind by past people. Primatology is the study of our closest relatives and is decisively included in the bunch as it relates to our past, and arguably our present and future.
Anthropology as a whole is the field that binds it all together.
What has anthropology done for us?
We as a society have benefited from more than you might think. They have pieced together our modern understanding of language, human diversity, evolution and the timeline of the human past. Forensic anthropologists handle and the unidentified victims of crime. And when something mysterious turns up, anthropologists work to fit it into our ever-growing understanding of the human story. For instance, If not for anthropologists, we may not even have known what a neanderthal was. Prior to the advent of paleoanthropology, experts thought the neanderthal skull found in Germany belonged to a deformed Napoleonic soldier. New cutting edge science has recently revealed that our 40,000 year old Neanderthal cousins still partially live on in us – a result of our very human tendency to get friendly and mix.
A common phrase you will hear in anthropology is “anthropology makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
A byproduct of the studies of culture and all that it’s comprised of, is that it illuminates the circumstances and innate human mechanisms that cause culture, and how all human societies are fundamentally the same, and closely related.
When I took professor Marcy Williams’ cultural anthropology class at Delta, it opened my eyes to the huge number of cultures on earth. There’s endless variation, and as cultural relativism contends: they’re all reasonable adaptations to living in this world.
Minoring in anthropology has great benefits. Knowledge of cultural anthropology looks great on a resume if you’re pursuing advertising or social science. It gives a deeper understanding of human behavior and set you apart from the rest in your field. Anthropological training builds a vast array of skills and aids careers in both business and policy making.
If you are wanting a memorable experience that helps shape your understanding of your human self and your place within the world, take an anthropology class.