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What is Anthropology ?

The word anthropology dates back to the end of the 16th century, but it was not until the 19th century that it was applied to the academic discipline that now bears its name. In the United States, this field of study is generally divided into four distinct branches: physical (or biological) anthropology, archaeology, cultural (or social) anthropology, and linguistic anthropology.

Anthropology comes from the new Latin word anthropologia (“the study of humanity”) and shares its fundamental root in Greek, anthrōpos (“human being”), with several other words in English, such as anthropomorphize, philanthropy and misanthrope.

Eric Wolf says: “Anthropology is more a link between subjects, than a single subject. It is partly history, partly literature; it has a great deal of natural science and social science; it studies man in depth from his inner self and also from his outer characteristics.

According to James William Lett: “Anthropology has traditionally attempted to establish a position of commitment to this central theme by considering itself to be the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences.

That commitment has always seemed peculiar to those outside anthropology, but today it seems increasingly precarious to those within the discipline. According to the University of Florida: “Anthropology is the study of humanity. Anthropology explores the entire panorama of human experience from its origins to the contemporary forms of its culture and social life”.

Anthropology studies what makes us human. Anthropologists have a broad approach that allows them to understand the different aspects of human experience, that which is defined as holism. They look at the past, through archaeology, to see how human groups lived hundreds or thousands of years ago and what was important to them. They consider what constitutes our biological and genetic bodies, as well as our bones, diet and health.

Anthropologists often compare human behavior with that of other animals such as monkeys and chimpanzees to know what exists in common with them and what makes human beings unique. Although almost all humans need the same things to survive, such as food, water, and companionship, the ways in which people meet these needs can be very different.

For example, everyone needs to eat, but people eat different foods and get food in different ways. Anthropologists study how different groups of people get their food, how they prepare it, and how they share it. Anthropologists usually focus on their own societies by looking at the economy, health, education, laws, and policies (to name just a few issues). In trying to understand these complex problems, they take into account what they know about biology, culture, types of communication, and how humans lived in the past.

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