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Understanding the Four Academic Branches of Anthropology
What Is Anthropology?
Anthropology is a social science dedicated to the study of the human race. Literally translated, it means the study of (-ology) humanity (anthropos). Anthropology is a very broad field of academia that studies everything from a culture’s food gathering methods, waste disposal, social structures, and religious beliefs.
Many people are under the false impression that anthropologists simply study old bones and relate them to the theory of evolution. However, this is only one subfield of anthropology called Physical anthropology. Three other subfields of anthropology include Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, and Linguistic Anthropology.
Physical anthropology specializes in the study of genetics and human evolution over time. However, the work of physical anthropologists go beyond digging up bones in remote locations around the globe. Physical anthropologists can “read” human remains to determine the deceased person’s diet, societal factors that may have caused bodily injury, and average length of lifespan. While most physical anthropologists find jobs in research and academia, some go on to become forensic anthropologists in the criminal justice system.
Cultural anthropology takes a very close look at various aspects of world cultures including clothing, oral hygiene, food gathering, waste disposal, religious rituals, family interaction, and indigenous land rights. Cultural anthropologists often specialize even further into various sub-subfields of anthropology such as ethnolinguists (study of a culture’s language) and ethnomusicologists (study of a culture's musical traditions). Cultural anthropologists find jobs in research, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations.
Highlighted by the captivating adventures of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) of film lore, archaeology studies great societies and cultures of the past. Archaeologists in the field excavate and sift through dirt in order to find buried historical treasures from long ago. Using these artifacts, they construct a picture of ancient cultures and their daily lives, what they ate, how they dressed, what they believed, and how they prepared their food. Archaeologists find jobs in academia as professors and in government agencies such as the National Park Service.
Linguistic anthropology takes a close look at language production, expressive folklore and cultural studies, and specific cultural languages including Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Mayan. Linguistic anthropologists study the nuances of how cultures communicate through language including written and spoken communication. They typically find jobs in research and academia.
Other Anthropology Studies
Depending on the educational institution, many colleges and universities offer additional anthropology degrees including applied anthropology, culture and folklore, forensic anthropology, and activist anthropology.
Anthropology is a broad-spectrum social science that offers various opportunities to study past and present cultures around the world.
- UT College of Liberal Arts
University of Texas Department of Anthropology
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