Understanding Human Life & Possibility

Introduction to Anthropology

Anthropology studies human life, at the intersection of the sciences and the humanities. An introduction to anthropology encompasses human biology and evolution, archaeology, culture, and language. See also What is Anthropology, the list of current Anthropology Blogs, and the 2017 Anthropology Conference, Anthropology Matters.

The Anthropology pages of Living Anthropologically use anthropological studies to comment on contemporary issues and ideas. The chapters cross-reference current blog posts and other resources. They are best used as a complement to traditional anthropology courses and textbooks. My preferred four-field textbook is Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human?

For a glimpse into a 2018 Introduction to Anthropology course, see Anthropology 2018.

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Part 1: Biological Anthropology: Human Nature, Race, Evolution

Explores biological anthropology, emphasizing biology and evolution as dynamic processes and anthropological documentation of human possibility. These sections are also available on Amazon as a Kindle eBook, Anthropology I: Human Nature, Race, Evolution in Biological Anthropology. (I have been unable to update the Kindle edition since 2012-2013. I am currently working on updates to the webpages, which I’ll then reassemble in book form.)

These pages on Biological Anthropology begin with an overview about the place of anthropology in the Western idea of human nature. Ideas about human nature became increasingly entwined with ideas of evolution and race. These sections attempt to retell the story of evolution from an anthropological perspective, questioning previous notions of biological race. There are also short summaries of insights from primatology, from the recent discoveries of interbreeding with archaic Homo species, and the emergence of anatomically modern humans. The concluding section is a call to adopt a biocultural perspective on human nature and human evolution.

Part 2: Archaeology: Domesticaton, Agriculture, and Civilization

These pages explore Archaeology from the domestication of plants and animals through the rise of states and empires. Several of these sections concentrate on countering the perspective of Jared Diamond, who has become a ubiquitous pseudo-archaeologist and supplanted real accounts of archaeology and history. Instead, anthropology demonstrates the complexity of hunting and gathering as well as the complex processes known as domestication. This allows us to provide an accurate account of the past, useful for truly understanding the rise of powerful societies and eventual European colonialism.

The archaeology sections begin at the point when Homo sapiens populated all the habitable continents. Although there are periods of separation, especially between Eurasia and the Americas, archaeology always reveals human connection, trade, and migration. These sections therefore include the creation of a global economy in the 15th century as well as the industrial globalization of the 19th century. These processes are crucial to understand the emergence of academic anthropology and the idea of culture. (For more on a perspective of interconnection and teaching Introduction to Anthropology, see The Discovery of Sidney Mintz: Anthropology’s Unfinished Revolution.)

Part 3: Cultural Anthropology: Culture, Cultures, and Cultural Relativism

These sections explore the anthropological idea of culture. Academic anthropology began within a world already shaped by the colonial encounter. Anthropologists launched the idea of culture as a way to counter the racist and determinist justifications for that social order. These sections also trace how the concept of Culture was turned into the idea of plural cultures. We must now bid “Adieu Culture” (Trouillot, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World).

For a preview see my Cultural Anthropology 2016 course.

Part 4: The Possibilities of Introduction to Anthropology

An Introduction to Anthropology documents human life through Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, and Cultural Anthropology. However, an Introduction to Anthropology is also about understanding the ways in which we can use anthropology to think about future possibilities.

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These pages as an “Introduction to Anthropology” were the original launch for the blog and website. Please also see:

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2012. “Introduction to Anthropology: Understanding Human Life and Possibility.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/introduction-to-anthropology/. First posted 2 July 2012. Revised 4 January 2018.

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  • Muriel Sackey

    How does an anthropologist, trained specifically in the cultural sub-field, learn to teach a general anthropology course that encompasses the other three sub-fields? I trained as a cultural anthropologist and recently received my doctorate. I’m now applying to teach at community colleges and have no idea how to encompass the three sub-fields. I’ve never even taken courses in those sub-fields. Advice?

    • Hi Muriel, thank you for the comment and question! This was exactly what happened to me, although I was eased into it by starting off with cultural anthropology courses and later doing a four-fields introduction to anthropology. My first suggestion is simple–be confident, you can teach your way into it! I would simply choose a four-fields textbook and four-fields reader (my suggestions are in the Four Fields Introduction to Anthropology post, and also the overview at Best Introduction to Anthropology Syllabus – Four Fields Anthropology, and then take it from there. Truth is, most people who teach four fields introductory courses are specialists in one; there are very few who have broad four-field training before they teach. You will pick it up quickly. I’ll try to write a more extensive post about it soon, but for now would urge confidence that you will be able to pick up on some common themes across the sub-fields and learn a lot as well.

  • Aquaria

    I’ve been thinking about majoring in anthropology, with a double major in political science, since my uni doesn’t have political anthropology, per se, which is what I really want to do. I’m making do with the idea of a double major to compensate. Does this make sense?

    I worry about the anthropology side of the equation though, because I can’t do archaeology. I have MS, and just can’t do the physical work of it. Should I just stick with political science?

    • Hi Aquaria, thanks! Really difficult to say without more specifics, and even then would not want to do any advising. It sounds like you have a great combination here and the double major may give you some options that a single-major might not. But life has too many twists and turns to know for sure.

    • Kelly Moran

      I would not worry about not being able to physically participate in an archaeological dig – it’s very unlikely that a dig would even been required. More likely your required archaeology course would be a classroom study of methods and famous findings. My four-field school offered digs as optional field schools only (unless the student wanted their declared emphasis to be in archaeology). Please go forth and study anthropology!

  • James

    Wow! I could not expect so much knowledge and information! Thank you for that. I’m not a professional or student of anthropology, but the topic started to get my attention. As a total “dumb” in the field, what would you recommend me to start with? I have interst in “religion”, “mythology” field, but I would love to learn more about Anthropology more globally first. Which is the good start point? Thank you.

  • alex

    Anthropology is really an interesting topic

  • Liana Daren

    Interested in anthropology but I couldn’t find any useful materials except couple coursework from write my coursework do you have any other advice for me?

  • Haini

    Hi. I’m Haini and a student. yet, I have no deeper idea, really, about what really is anthropology. why is it very difficult to conduct an anthropological studies /research?

  • Haini Sang

    Hi. I’m Haini and a student. yet, I have no deeper idea, about what really is anthropology. why is it very difficult to conduct an anthropological studies /research? Are there qualities of research that are unique to anthropological studies/research?

  • kevin ateka

    hi kevin from kenya help me understand culture and society

    • Hi Kevin, thank you for checking in from Kenya. The question of how to understand culture and society is a huge issue in anthropology and other academic disciplines. Perhaps my post from September 2015 on Culture, Culture, Everywhere can provide some starting points and references.

  • Madeline Poore

    Hello! I’ve been in love with this subject since I was twelve and never was afforded the opportunity to go to college, I’m especially interested in PALEO anthropology ,and I’m always looking for books that are up to date and full of new but generally accepted ideas. Are there any books you could recommend to me?
    And what are your thoughts on the book Sex at Dawn

  • Alexa P.

    Hello, I was wondering if there are any blog posts or articles on this lovely site that discuss and/or critque the four fields approach to modern anthropology?

  • Benjamin sanga

    How can I use ideas from anthropological thinking to show how culture manifest itself either in its information practise and dressing human needs