This list of 100+ anthropology essay topics provides a great variety of ideas for anthropology essays. Anthropology as a discipline is concerned with human diversity. In its most inclusive conception, this is what brings together the four fields of cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology.
Subfields of Anthropology Essay Topics
Neighboring Disciplines Essay Topics
Anthropology and Evolution
History and Anthropology
Genetics and Anthropology
Sociology and Anthropology
Paleontology and Anthropology
Psychology and Anthropology
Applied Anthropology Essay Topics
Bioethics and Anthropology
Business and Anthropology
Ecology and Anthropology
Economics and Anthropology
Ethics and Anthropology
History of Anthropology
Human Rights and Anthropology
Justice and Anthropology
Law and Anthropology
Society and Anthropology
Archaeology Essay Topics
Archaeology and Gender Studies
Archaeology of War
Mummies and Mummification
Pottery and Ceramics
Tools and Evolution
Biological Anthropology Essay Topics
Evolution of Primate Brain
Humans and dinosaurs
Cultural Anthropology Essay Topics
Culture and personality
Culture area concept
Linguistic Anthropology Essay Topics
Anatomy and Physiology of Speech
Language and Biology
Language and Culture
Myths and Mythology
Orality and Anthropology
Origin of Language
Types of Language
Universals in Language
In all its varying shapes, in space and over time, anthropology has tended to straddle conventional academic classifications of disciplines. In its scope of subject matter – for example, family and kinship, politics, and market and exchange, on the one side, and art, music, and dance, on the other – it extends across the social sciences and the humanities. Insofar as it has to take into account the biological givens of human thought and action, and inquires into the interactions of humankind with its natural environment, it reaches into the natural sciences as well. But its multiple affiliations are not only a consequence of its varied subject matter. They are also implied in the variety of intellectual approaches: in field research, in theoretical work, and in styles of presentation. In what ways, or to what extent, anthropology is an art or a science continues to be a matter of lively internal debate.
In many ways the enduring characteristics of anthropology, throughout this range of forms, continue to be expressions of the concern with diversity – with the highly varied manners of being human. To the global public stock of ideas, it brings such notions as taboo, witchcraft, cargo cults, totemism, or the potlatch exchange feasts of Northwest Coast American Indians. Concepts such as ‘Big man’ (out of Melanesia), ‘patron–client relationships’ (not least out of the Mediterranean area), or ‘caste’ (out of India), allowed to travel out of their areas of origin, can enrich our thinking about power, politics, and inequality in many contexts. There is a rich intellectual universe here, to be drawn on within the discipline and from outside it. And anthropology has its classic preoccupations, such as ritual or kinship, concerning which new materials about yet more variations are continuously gathered worldwide, and around which theoretical debates never seem to cease.
At the same time, anthropology goes on reconfiguring itself. One might perhaps have thought that a discipline revolving around the diversity of human forms of life and thought would find itself in difficulty at a time when increasing global interconnectedness may lead to cultural homogenization, and a loss of local or regional cultural forms. Indeed, it is true that many people in the world no longer stick to the beliefs they used to hold, and are discarding some of their past practices, ranging from spirit possession to headhunting. In part, the responsibility of anthropology here becomes one of preserving a record of the ways of humans, past and present, and keeping that record alive by continuing to scrutinize it, interpret it, and bring it to bear on new developments.
It is also true, however, that diversity is not diminishing as much as some, perhaps fairly superficial, views of globalization might suggest. Traditions may be remarkably resilient, adapting to new influences and absorbing them in various ways; there may be more than one ‘modernity.’ Moreover, new interconnections may generate their own social and cultural forms, so that there may be cultural gain as well as cultural loss. A growing interest in anthropology with such notions as hybridity and creolization bears witness to this. In addition, however, anthropology has continuously expanded the field of social and cultural variations with which it has actively engaged. As the discipline was practiced in the earlier decades of the twentieth century, one might have discerned a tension between, on the one hand, the ambitious claims of offering a view of humanity, and, on the other hand, the actual concentration on villages of horticulturalists, bands of hunter-gatherers, or other exotic and small-scale sociocultural arrangements. But then by the mid-twentieth century, there was an increasing involvement with peasant societies, and the civilizations of which they were a part, and later yet urban anthropology appeared as another subdiscipline, practiced in field settings in every region. In recent times, the anthropology of science has been another growing specialization, as the practices of scientists are scrutinized as yet another kind of cultural constructs, and as laboratories are added to the range of possible sites of fieldwork. It appears, consequently, that the enduring wider claims of the discipline to an overall engagement with human modes of thought and action are increasingly being realized.
Obviously, in many of its fields of interest, anthropologists now mingle with scholars from a variety of other backgrounds, and the division of labor between disciplines here may not seem obvious. Undoubtedly, there are blurred boundaries as well as cross-fertilization, but anthropologists would emphasize the intellectual potential of a conceptual apparatus trained on, and informed by a knowledge of, a great variety of cultural assumptions and institutional arrangements. There is also the commitment to close-up observation of the relationships between human words and deeds, and the strain toward understanding ‘wholes,’ which, despite its vagueness, may usefully involve a particular commitment to contextualization as well as skills of synthesis.
Anthropologists now find themselves at work in a global ecumene of increasing, and increasingly polymorphous, interconnectedness. This is a time in which that diversity of social and cultural forms with which they are preoccupied is constantly as well as rapidly changing, and where new social, political, economic, and legal frameworks encompassing and rearranging that diversity are emerging. More people may have access to a larger part of the combined human cultural inventory than ever before; conversely, whether one likes it or not, more of that cultural diversity can also come in one’s way. This is also a time when debates over the limits of diversity are coming to new prominence, for different reasons. Evolutionary biologists are setting forth new views of human nature that need to be carefully confronted with understandings of cultural variation. As people sense that they live together in one world, questions also arise over what is, or should be, shared humanity, for example, in the area of human rights. There would seem to be a place in the public life of this era for a cosmopolitan imagination that both recognizes diversity and seeks the ground rules of a viable and humane world society. For such a cosmopolitan imagination, one would hope, anthropology could continue to offer materials and tools.
Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their related non-human primates and their extinct hominin ancestors. It is a subfield of anthropology that provides a biological perspective to the systematic study of human beings.
As a subfield of anthropology, biological anthropology itself is further divided into several branches. All branches are united in their common application of evolutionary theory to understanding human morphology and behavior.
- Paleoanthropology is the study of fossil evidence for human evolution, mainly using remains from extinct hominin and other primate species to determine the morphological and behavioral changes in the human lineage, as well as the environment in which human evolution occurred.
- Human biology is an interdisciplinary field of biology, biological anthropology, nutrition and medicine, which concerns international, population-level perspectives on health, evolution, anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, and genetics.
- Primatology is the study of non-human primate behavior, morphology, and genetics. Primatologists use phylogenetic methods to infer which traits humans share with other primates and which are human-specific adaptations.
- Human behavioral ecology is the study of behavioral adaptations (foraging, reproduction, ontogeny) from the evolutionary and ecologic perspectives (see behavioral ecology). It focuses on human adaptive responses (physiological, developmental, genetic) to environmental stresses.
- Bioarchaeology is the study of past human cultures through examination of human remains recovered in an archaeological context. The examined human remains usually are limited to bones but may include preserved soft tissue. Researchers in bioarchaeology combine the skill sets of human osteology, paleopathology, and archaeology, and often consider the cultural and mortuary context of the remains.
- Paleopathology is the study of disease in antiquity. This study focuses not only on pathogenic conditions observable in bones or mummified soft tissue, but also on nutritional disorders, variation in stature or morphology of bones over time, evidence of physical trauma, or evidence of occupationally derived biomechanic stress.
- Forensic anthropology is the application of biological anthropology within a legal setting. Forensic anthropologists often assist law enforcement, coroners, and medical examiners in identifying and analyzing human remains.
Scientific physical anthropology began in the 18th century with the study of racial classification. In the 1830s and 1840s, physical anthropology was prominent in the debate about slavery, with the scientific, monogenist works of the British abolitionist James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848) opposing those of the American polygenistSamuel George Morton (1799–1851). The first prominent physical anthropologist, the German physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) of Göttingen, amassed a large collection of human skulls, from which he argued for the existence of a discrete set of races. In the 19th century, French physical anthropologists, led by Paul Broca (1824-1880), focused on craniometry while the German tradition, led by Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), emphasized the influence of environment and disease upon the human body.
In the late 19th century, German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) strongly impacted biological anthropology by emphasizing the influence of culture and experience on the human form. His research showed that head shape was malleable to environmental and nutritional factors rather than a stable "racial" trait. However, scientific racism still persisted in biological anthropology, with prominent figures such as Earnest Hooton and Aleš Hrdlička promoting theories of racial superiority and a European origin of modern humans.
"New Physical Anthropology"
In 1951 Sherwood Washburn, a former student of Hooton, introduced a "new physical anthropology." He changed the focus from racial typology to concentrate upon the study of human evolution, moving away from classification towards evolutionary process. Anthropology expanded to include paleoanthropology and primatology. The 20th century also saw the modern synthesis in biology: the reconciling of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and Gregor Mendel’s research on heredity. Advances in the understanding of the molecular structure of DNA in the and the development of chronological dating methods opened doors to understanding human variation, both past and present, more accurately and in much greater detail.
Notable biological anthropologists
Main article: List of important publications in anthropology
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- ^Jurmain, R, et al (2015), Introduction to Physical Anthropology, Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
- ^Marks, J. (1995) Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- ^Gail E. Husch. "Something Coming: Apocalyptic Expectation and Mid-nineteenth-century American painting - by Gail E. Husch - ...the same inward and mental nature is to be recognized in all the races of men". Google Books. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- ^"Exploring U.S. History The Debate Over Slavery, Excerpts from Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana". RRCHNM. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- ^"The Blumenbach Skull Collection at the Centre of Anatomy, University Medical Centre Göttingen". University of Goettingen. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- ^"Memoir of Paul Broca". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 10: 242–261. 1881. JSTOR 2841526.
- ^"Rudolf Carl Virchow facts, information, pictures". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- ^Moore, Jerry D. (2009). "Franz Boas: Culture in Context". Visions of Culture: an Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. Walnut Creek, California: Altamira. pp. 33–46.
- ^American Anthropological Association. "Eugenics and Physical Anthropology." 2007. August 7, 2007.
- ^Bones of contention, controversies in the search for human origins, Roger Lewin, p. 89
- ^Washburn, S. L. (1951) “The New Physical Anthropology”, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Series II, 13:298–304.
- ^Haraway, D. (1988) “Remodelling the Human Way of Life: Sherwood Washburn and the New Physical Anthropology, 1950–1980”, in Bones, Bodies, Behavior: Essays on Biological Anthropology, of the History of Anthropology, v.5, G. Stocking, ed., Madison, Wisc., University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 205–259.