Notes from the start of the semester in my History of Anthropology course.
Anthropology is a constantly changing discipline. Human beings are so uniquely complex in not just biology, but our ideas. Because we do not know everything, the processes and ideas of anthropology change with time. The Blumenbach skulls for example, were the idea that humans were separated into four distinct races: African, Asian (Mongoloid), Caucasian, and American Indian. We now know this is not true, that variations can occur, and do most often within a race. In fact there can even be a cline, or shift in phenotype across generations in families. Because we are always acquiring new knowledge and ideas, anthropology is an intellectual discipline.
I agree with Geertz’s statement the anthropologists have a “permanent identity crisis,” it is partly what drew me to be an anthropology major. Because humans are so closely tied to and responsible for everything in our world, we must study a great deal of subjects to get the entire story.
Anthropology as a discipline is most definitely a work in progress. There are millions of questions still unanswered about our past, present, and where we may be headed in the future. Humans are constantly changing the world, so as long as humans exist, anthropology will exist.
I believe Boas’s concerns are similar to those of current anthropologists. The problem with reconstructing human history is that much of it is prehistoric, and in some cases evidence may not exist anymore. Historical phenomena and their sequences may only be known by what is written about them, which may have elements of author bias or political influence.
To be honest my global perspective is very limited. This is another reason I want to study anthropology. I have lived in the same house my entire life, and never left the country. My historical understanding of my world is not much better, but as I expand my knowledge I will have better understanding. Television and books have been my main resources. I think I would have a much better understanding once I begin to travel, and really experience the other parts of this world.
The history and development of anthropology helps us understand ourselves better. We can learn the mistakes and triumphs of those before us, putting modern anthropologists ahead of the game. Those who come after us will draw from our experiences and progress even further.