Introduction to Anthropology

Human Life & Possibility

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.

I currently use Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González as my preferred textbook. For many years I taught from the Lavenda and Schultz textbook series, Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human? For a course structured around Through the Lens of Anthropology see Intro to Anthro 2020. My final course using Lavenda and Schultz is Intro to Anthro 2018.

For additional resources see the Purpose of Living Anthropologically and the list of current Anthropology Blogs.

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The Anthropology pages of Living Anthropologically use anthropological studies to comment on contemporary issues and ideas. The chapters cross-reference blog posts and other resources. They are best used as a complement to traditional anthropology courses and textbooks.

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 still struggling with how to keep the blog updated while also putting out the work in something more like an eBook.)

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, 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, 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 influence 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.)

An important part of understanding archaeology is also how the field is taught and presented. See the August 2019 article Building a Diverse and Inclusive Archaeology by Laura Heath-Stout for a challenge to “build a discipline that is as diverse as the past peoples that we study.”

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

The Cultural Anthropology category of blog-posts explores 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 posts also trace how the concept of Culture was turned into the idea of plural cultures. We must now bid “Adieu Culture” (Trouillot, Global Transformations).

For my current Cultural Anthropology course approach see Cultural Anthropology 2020. See also Cultural Anthropology 2016 for a course which specifically used Trouillot as a text.

Part 4: The Possibilities of Introduction to Anthropology

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

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Introduction to Anthropology: Course Outlines

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, First posted 2 July 2012. Revised 7 August 2020.

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