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Development of Anthropology as a Discipline in the United States Essays

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Development of Anthropology as a Discipline in the United States


I. Early History of Anthropology in the United States 1870-1900

“The roots of anthropology lie in the eye-witness accounts of travelers who have journeyed to lands on the margins of state-based societies and described their cultures and in the efforts of individuals who have analyzed the information collected. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a number of anthropologists recognized that the practice of anthropology was intimately linked to commerce and colonial expansion.” (Patterson 1)

There were essentially three “schools” of anthropological thinking by the First World War and after. The first, cultural determinism, maintained by Franz Boas and his students, stressed the interrelation of “ethnology, linguistics, folklore, archaeology as an autonomous academic discipline” (Patterson 55). The second was physical anthropology, whose major proponent was Ales Hrdlicka of the National Museum; it stressed biology and wanted physical anthropology to be a distinct academic discipline. The third was the eugenics movement, propagated by Charles B Davenport, it maintained that the status of eugenics, or racial hierarchization, was a legitimate science and asserted the supremacy of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Because of page constraints we will not examine closely physical anthropology, as it is not absolutely vital in a treatment of the development of anthropology as a discipline, but briefly it is the application of biological data and principles to the study man in society.

Anthropology in the United States in the period immediately following the Revolution and the drafting of the constitution was used to fulfill three purposes: (1) forge a national iden...


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...f Columbia’s first instructors in anthropology; he used his positions at the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University to train a generation of anthropologists. Boas, by 1932, had instructed a sizeable number of people from these marginalized groups, who were lumped together as savages or inferior races. We must remember however, as Dr. Paterson points out, that, “Anthropology was professionalized during a period characterized by intense discrimination against people of color, immigrants, women, and poor folks” (65).



Works Cited

Boas, Franz. “Report on the Academic Teaching of Anthropology.” In American Anthropologist, 21:41-48, 1919.

Kroeber, A.L. “The Place of Anthropology in Universities.” In American Anthropologist, 56: 754-767, 1954.

Patterson, Thomas C. A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg, 2001.


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