Anthropology (from the Greek word ἄνθρωπος, "human" or "person") consists of the study of humanity (see genus Homo). The discipline is a holistic study, concerned with all humans, at all times, in all humanity's dimensions. Anthropology is traditionally distinguished from other disciplines by its emphasis on cultural relativity, in-depth examination of context, and cross-cultural comparisons. Anthropology is methodologically diverse, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, such as firsthand case studies of living cultures, careful excavations of material remains, and interpretations of both living and extinct linguistic practices. In North America and other Western cultures, anthropology is traditionally broken down into four main divisions: physical anthropology, archaeology, cultural anthropology (also known as social anthropology), and linguistic anthropology. Each sub-discipline uses different techniques, taking different approaches to study human beings at all points in time. Through bringing together the results of all these endeavors humans can hope to better understand themselves, and learn to live in harmony, fulfilling their potential as individuals and societies, taking care of each other and the earth that is their home.
[pic]Historical and institutional context
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The anthropologist Eric Wolf once described anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences." The anthropologist Eric Wolf once described anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences." Anthropology can best be understood as an outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment, a period when Europeans attempted to study human behavior systematically. The traditions of jurisprudence, history, philology, and sociology then evolved into something more closely resembling the modern views of these disciplines and informed the development of the social sciences, of which anthropology was a part. At the same time, the romantic reaction to the Enlightenment produced thinkers, such as Johann Gottfried Herder and later Wilhelm Dilthey, whose work formed the basis for the "culture concept," which is central to the discipline. [pic]
Table of natural history, 1728 Cyclopaedia
Institutionally, anthropology emerged from the development of natural history (expounded by authors such as Buffon) that occurred during the European colonization of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Programs of ethnographic study have their origins in this era as the study of the "human primitives" overseen by colonial administrations. There was a tendency in late eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought to understand human society as natural phenomena that behaved in accordance with certain principles and that could be observed empirically. In some ways, studying the language, culture, physiology, and artifacts of European colonies was not unlike studying the flora and fauna of those places. Drawing on the methods of the natural sciences and developing new techniques involving not only structured interviews, but unstructured "participant observation," and drawing on the new theory of evolution through natural selection, the branches of anthropology proposed the scientific study of a new object: humankind, conceived of as a whole. Crucial to this study is the concept of "culture," which anthropologists defined both as a universal capacity and a propensity for social learning, thinking, and acting (which they saw as a product of human evolution and something that distinguishes Homo sapiens—and perhaps all species of genus Homo—from other species), and as a particular adaptation to local conditions, which takes the form of highly variable beliefs and practices. Thus, culture not only transcends the opposition between nature and nurture, but absorbs the peculiarly European distinction among politics, religion, kinship, and...
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