Of the many social sciences that study human beings, only anthropology seeks to understand the whole panorama of human behavior and experience. The word “anthropology” itself tells the basic story—from the Greek anthropos (“human”) and loggia (“science”), it is nothing less than the study of humankind, from its beginnings millions of years ago to the present day. Anthropology deals both with the unfamiliar and the familiar: from tribal warfare, nomadism, chimpanzee “language”, to tourism, the adaptations of migrants living in foreign cities, and the impact of globalization on less-developed societies. The goal is to advance our knowledge of who we are and how we came to be this way.
Anthropology begins with a simple yet enormously powerful idea: any detail of human behavior can only be understood when it is placed in a cross-cultural context, that is, when it is seen against the background provided by the full range of human behavior. This comparative perspective attempts to understand and explain the similarities and differences that exist among people in different cultures in the context of humanity as a whole. There are four fields in the discipline of anthropology: cultural anthropology studies contemporary human societies; archaeology studies societies of the past; biological anthropology is the study of human evolution and primatology; and linguistic anthropology compares the structure and practice of languages throughout the world. All four fields share a commitment to exploring the wide diversity of human life and experience.