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Sunday, March 11th, 2007


Historians, with their methodological emphasis on documentary evidence tend to look somewhat askance at the other social sciences, excepting economics and political science ( in that order). Back in my graduate student days I recall my professors treating economic studies with seriousness, poli sci articles with some respect and cracking jokes at the expense of sociology.

Anthropology, on the other hand, was summarily ignored. Unfortunate for me, as the discipline has as much practical application on matters of societal analysis as does history, economics or psychology. Studying WWII is enhanced by reading OSS psychological profiles of top Nazi leaders or Ruth Benedict’s classic -and aptly named –The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

One of the more interesting characters on The Small Wars Council is Dr. Marc Tyrrell, a professional anthropologist, whose insights I have found well worth reading on many a thread (like this one on “Military Totemism” – how’s that for an esoteric topic?). Well, The Small Wars Journal has an article by Dr. Tyrrell this quarter entitled “Why Dr. Johnny Won’t Go To War: Anthropology and The Global War on Terror“(PDF). Tyrrell puts the field of anthropology and the influence of Franz Boas ( Benedict’s mentor, also Margaret Meade’s and the father of the standard social science model and cultural relativism) into the context of the war on terrorism. An interesting piece from which learned a few things, an excerpt:

“Boas combined very strong methodologies and a sound theoretical basis with a ruthless political outlook in his drive to professionalize North American Anthropology – a discipline that he and his students ended up controlling….by the end of WWI. This institutional control….decreased importance of Anthropology as an intelligence source, led to a total reformatting of the ethics of research.”

Read the rest here.

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