Development of Anthropology

Development of Anthropology

Development of Anthropology had its beginning in the 5th century BC. Greek philosopher Heredotus coined the term anthropology and was the first one to formulate some of the persistent problems of anthropology.

Another early scholars to carry out comparative ethnographic-type studies in person was the medieval Persian scholar Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī in the eleventh century, who wrote about the peoples, customs, and religions of the Indian subcontinent. According to Akbar S. Ahmed, like modern anthropologists, he engaged in extensive participant observation with a given group of people, learnt their language and studied their primary texts, and presented his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.

However Development of Anthropology was systematically started in the 19th century after the theory of Darwin’s origin of species by natural selection (biological evolution). Scholars (like Herbert Spencer, E B Taylor) with anthropological interest, used Darwinism and studied culture and social evolution. As a result R.R Marret has said that anthropology is the child of Darwinism.

At the same time there was industrial revolution in Europe. Consequently the necessity of raw materials and finding market for industrial European society was crying need. These two pressing needs forced European to locate places around the world for raw material and market in Africa and Asia. As a result of this, missionary’s travelers and administrators collected lots of information about the social cultural features of these colonies. This information flooded Britain and other European countries. Various scholars studied it for the theoretical interpretation. On the basis of these inputs scholars of anthropology in Britain and America came out with the theory of evolution of culture and society leading to the systemic beginning of anthropology in the world. Thus Institutionally, anthropology emerged from the development of natural history occurred during the European colonization of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Programs of ethnographic study originated in this era as the study of the “human primitives” overseen by colonial administrations.

            Darwin himself said that he was inspired by the concept of evolution which existed in some social science and not in biological science. He was also inspired by economist like Malthus and some other writers implying that seeds of anthropology were there even before the time of Darwin. However like all other branch of knowledge, even anthropology was heavily influenced by Darwinism. Thus we can conclude that anthropology was the child of colonialism but it was definitely influenced by Darwinism.

            In the middle of the 20th century, the Development of Anthropology as a distinct fields of research that separated anthropologists into specialties were

(1) Physical Anthropology, emphasizing the biological process and endowment that distinguishes Homo sapiens from other species,

(2) archaeology, based on the physical remnants of past cultures and former conditions of contemporary cultures, usually found buried in the earth,

(3) linguistic anthropology, emphasizing the unique human capacity to communicate through articulate speech and the diverse languages of humankind, and

(4) social and/or cultural anthropology, emphasizing the cultural systems that distinguish human societies from one another and the patterns of social organization associated with these systems. By the middle of the 20th century, many American universities also included

(5) psychological anthropology, emphasizing the relationships among culture, social structure, and the human being as a person.

            Beginning in the 1930s, and especially in the post-World War II period, anthropology was established in a number of countries outside western Europe and North America. Very influential work in anthropology originated in Japan, India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, South Africa, Nigeria, and several other Asian, Latin American, and African countries. The world scope of anthropology, together with the dramatic expansion of social and cultural phenomena that transcend national and cultural boundaries, has led to a shift in anthropological work in North America and Europe. Research by Western anthropologists is increasingly focused on their own societies, and there have been some studies of Western societies by non-Western anthropologists. By the end of the 20th century, anthropology was beginning to be transformed from a Western—and, some have said, “colonial”—scholarly enterprise into one in which Western perspectives are regularly challenged by non-Western ones.

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