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What is anthropology?

We could start with what anthropology is not. Anthropology is not the study of dinosaurs (that would be paleontology). Anthropology is not just the study of bones (although that is included in biological anthropology). Anthropology is not just the study of ancient arrowheads (although that is included in archaeology). Anthropology is not the study of naked primitive people (although anthropologists are interested in cultures around the world).

Anthropology is the scientific and humanistic study of the human species. Anthropologists take a holistic and cross-cultural view of the species, integrating biological, historical, and cultural perspectives. In the broadest sense, anthropologists study what it means to be human. One American anthropologist, Prof. Conrad Kottak, says that anthropology “is the exploration of human diversity in time and space. Anthropology confronts basic questions of human existence: how we originated, how we have changed, and how we are still changing.”

The broad variety of anthropologists are often described as members of four major subfields: Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology, and Archaeology. Until World War II, almost all anthropologists worked in universities or museums. Since the 1950s, however, the field of applied anthropology has grown dramatically. Applied anthropologists – who may be cultural, biological, linguistic or archaeological anthropologists – use anthropological knowledge and methods to solve modern social problems. Applied anthropologists may work in schools, health care organizations, international development agencies, corporations, government agencies, non-profit foundations, and elsewhere.

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Find more information about the profession of anthropology from the American Anthropological Association.

The Future of Anthropology

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in their Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2009-2010 Edition, that they expect healthy job growth in the fields of anthropology and archaeology during the period 2008-2018.  The report continued:

“Overall employment of anthropologists and archaeologists, geographers, and historians is expected to grow by 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Anthropologists and archaeologists, the largest specialty, is expected to grow by 28 percent, driven by growth in the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry."

"Anthropologists who work as consultants will be needed to apply their analytical skills and knowledge to problems ranging from economic development to forensics. A growing number of anthropologists also will be needed in specific segments of the Federal Government, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, to assess the regional customs and values—or “cultural terrain”—of a particular society in specific parts of the world. Employment growth of archaeologists will be driven by higher levels of overall construction, including large-scale transportation projects and upgrades to the Nation’s infrastructure. As construction projects increase, more archaeologists will be needed to ensure that Federal laws related to the preservation of archaeological and historical sites and artifacts are met."

More information about the professions of anthropology and archaeology is available from the current Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.