A is for … Anthropology
How appropriate! Anthropology is the theme for this month’s challenge and I get to use the first day to talk about the theme itself. This comes in handy when you have a theme that is a whole academic field.
Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. There are four major disciplines:
- Cultural anthropology
- Biological/physical anthropology
Cultural anthropology studies cultural variation across human societies, including elements of society such as religion, law, politics, technology, etc. Studying cultural anthropology provides a unique window into other cultures that can help inspire for worldbuilding writers.
Biological anthropology (often called bioanth or physanth) is the study of the biological and behavioral aspects of humans and our non-human primate relatives. This includes the study of non-human apes, human and hominid fossils, behavioral adaptation, and bioarchaeology (archaeology with bones). I have a degree in this field and have found it especially useful in developing a magical system that makes sense in an evolutionary framework.
Archaeology is the study of past human activity through ancient artifacts and architecture. Everyone knows Indiana Jones, whose brand of archaeology is sensational and, most importantly, fictional. Probably the most famous (real) archaeologist is Howard Carver, who led the team that uncovered King Tut’s tomb. Archaeology can help inform writers as to the customs and rituals of civilizations long gone as well as the development of technology from the first tool to modern manufacturing.
Linguistics, in anthropology, looks at how languages and cultures develop together–how they influence each other and human cognition through time. Linguistics is often overlooked but J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a whole world around his languages so I think there’s something to be said for this subfield. J.K. Rowling made excellent use of linguistics for her magical terms, something I think is truly inspired. Personally, I incorporate a little bit of linguistics into my story by imbuing some kind of meaning into each of the names I use and ensuring that the history behind those names makes sense within the world–even if the reader will never know that history.
Anthropology has many, many smaller subsections of academic study (for example, anthropological linguistics and linguistic anthropology are, technically, distinct fields of study). An anthropologist is trained in all four disciplines but will usually specialize in one or two. The great thing about anthropology is that it is applicable in a wide variety of situations–you will find anthropologists working in laboratories on genetics research, the Amazon Jungle studying cultural medicine of remote tribes, healthcare settings, legal settings, academic settings, etc. We can work for the CIA, your local university, your insurance provider, or your public health office.
For me, I put my anthropology degrees to work at my day job as a data analyst for a healthcare company but also in my own writing. Anthropology has taught me to view cultures that are very different from mine through a lens of curiosity and intrigue, rather than wariness or fear. I use the holistic framework to build my worlds, my magical systems, and my people.
And I can’t wait to show you more.