On Anthropology

What is Anthropology? This question is often asked, and is not a simple one to answer. When faced with this question, some answer with “Anthropology is the study of humanity.” But this not the whole story, and the reason lies with the object of study, humanity. Anthropology as as discipline is divided into numerous sub-fields, that cover aspects of humanity in the past and the present. The American school (different from the European School) of Anthropology is traditionally divided into four fields, going back to Franz Boas, in many ways the father of American Anthropology. This is often referred to as the “four field” approach to anthropology. The four fields are archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology and physical anthropology. To complicate things further, sometimes medical anthropology and applied anthropology are added, and each sub-field is further subdivided into categories like zoo-archaeology (specializes in culturally associated animal remains) ethno-archaeology, and just about every geographic focus you can imagine.

But the complexity of the Anthropology largely comes from humanity itself. With all the languages, cultures and religions of people throughout the world, a field that studies the complex human mosaic must, in some ways, be as diverse as the peoples the field focuses on. This is both the blessing and the curse of Anthropology. Unlike the hard sciences (such as biology or physics), there is no one method that works across all fields. Archaeology and Physical Anthropology have a definite scientific bend, whereas Linguistic and Sociocultural Anthropology are often much more humanistic. Clifford Geertz once said that Anthropology “…is the most scientific of the humanities, and most humanistic of the sciences…” Anthropology is  in between two worlds, somewhere between a science and humanities.

Where do I fit into all of this? I have interests in archaeology and sociocultural anthropology for sure, and have dabbled a little in the linguistic field. I also have interests in cultural heritage, which, according to the Missouri State University webiste, is a field of applied anthropology . To quote the website “Cultural Heritage refers to the cultural legacy inherited from previous generations, a legacy which we often want to identify and preserve because it reinforces our cultural identity or sense of who we are as a people.  Cultural Heritage is typically associated with a particular people or group.  It includes, for example, the French, German, Scotch-Irish, Amish-Mennonite, African American, Hispanic, and Native American heritages of Missouri.

Cultural heritage may be tangible and include archaeological sites, artifacts, buildings, historic sites, monuments, graves, and culturally significant landscapes such as sacred places.  It may also be intangible, as in language, oral histories, beliefs, practices, rituals, ceremonies, customs, traditions, music, dance, crafts, and other arts ”


As mentioned, cultural heritage is usually associated with a cultural group. It could be said that my primary research interests are Scandinavia archaeology/Cultural heritage, on both sides of the Atlantic. I am interested in this area because it is my own cultural heritage, well at least many generations ago on my father’s side. My ancestors were Scandinavian, in addition to the fact that Scandinavian archaeology and cultural heritage is an exciting field. So, going forward with this blog, expect to see a lot more focused writings. I look forward to diving into issues of more interest to me, and less general, broad posts such as this one.


About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

2 responses to “On Anthropology

  • Victoria C.

    As an recent Anthro grad myself, this is very interesting, and I feel you’ve given a great, easy to read over-view of our lovely field.

    I’m Swedish too! Write more about it! So fascinating.

    • Nicholas R. Haney

      It is always good to know others are reading my work and appreciate it. Thank you for your comment. I will be more than happy to write more about it, and if you know anyone who might be interested in my work, pass the word along.

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