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Development Of Anthropology As A Discipline In The United States

1559 words - 6 pages

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 identity; (2) aid territorial expansion; and (3) justify slavery. These points are all similar in that early anthropological thought was used as a “scientific” justification for the subjugation of races “considered” inferior and backward, regardless of whether they were Native Americans or African American slaves; in this same way it is no wonder why the national identity in the early part of our nation’s history was connected to the white race. The second point, however, also deals with the fact that anthropology in it’s beginning was used for strategic information, which would latter be used in an attempt to justify the eugenicist’s ideological standpoint, but initially was used practically to more efficiently displace those standing in the way of manifest destiny. It is certainly easier to subjugate a person if you know something about them.

A. Eugenics and Racial Determinism

In the 1870s issues such as the progress of man and the development of civilization became important questions for contemplation. The 1880s was a period of intense discrimination against marginalized groups, based on gender, race, and socio-economic status. America had just emerged victorious from the Indian Wars and the Civil War is recent...

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