In this unit (to accompany SAPIENS podcast S6E1), students will be introduced to anthropology, focusing on the field in the early 20th century. Students will examine Margaret Mead as a historical figure, her work in American Samoa, and her impact on the discipline of anthropology.
A U.S. territory situated 40 miles east of Samoa and comprised of seven islands and atolls.
The broad field of anthropology—comprised of the fields of archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology—is the study of humanity with a focus on “everything human.” It seeks to understand what makes different people human in their own distinctive ways.
The customary norms, values, beliefs, rituals, and traditions of a social group that are handed down to succeeding generations.
Now discredited for its racist assumptions and flawed scientific foundations, eugenics is the belief or study of the potential for improving hereditary qualities of a human species or population, specifically by the discouragement of reproduction by those with certain inheritable traits.
(1858–1942) A late 19th- and early 20th-century German-born American anthropologist. Boas founded the relativistic, culture-centric American anthropological school of thought that developed as a dominant 20th-century paradigm.
(1901–1978) The renowned American cultural anthropologist who studied under Franz Boas. Mead wrote several noteworthy works, starting with Coming of Age in Samoa, with expertise on gender, sexuality, and motherhood. She became a famous public figure through her popular writing and radio and TV appearances. Mead was known for her commentaries on race relations, environmental protection, and nuclear nonproliferation.
A research methodology wherein the researcher is immersed in cultural activities as equally a participant and an observer.
Officially known as the Independent State of Samoa. It is a Polynesian island country consisting of two main islands and several smaller islands. “Samoa” can also broadly be used to describe both the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa, and its culture and people.
The branch of anthropology that deals with human culture, specifically social structure, language, law, politics, religion, art, and technology. Many sociocultural anthropologists document the meanings humans make of the different worlds they inhabit.
Garver, Kenneth L., and Bettylee Garver. 1991. “Eugenics: Past, Present, and the Future.” American Journal of Human Genetics 49 (5): 1109–1118.
Rubin, Vera. 1979. “Margaret Mead: An Appreciation.” Human Organization 38 (2): 193–196.
Willis, Matthew. 2019. “The Life and Times of Franz Boas.” JSTOR Daily.
Article: National Geographic’s “History and Branches of Anthropology”
Book: Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa
Book: Paul Shankman’s The Trashing of Margaret Mead
Film: Frank Heimans’ “Margaret Mead and Samoa”
Video: Macat iLibrary’s “An Introduction to the Discipline of Anthropology”
Video: Prof. Alan Macfarlane—Ayabaya’s “Coming of Age: Margaret Mead”
Aimee L. Richards, Freedom Learning Group