Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz / Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology/California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
(530-898-6220; 530-898-6192; FAX: 530-898-6824)

26 October 1992 (1)

© This paper was originally dated 26 October 1992 and was published in the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association, 1992, Volume 33, Number 9, page 3. This page was placed on the WWW on March 28, 1999 and it is printed from

This was written in response to the October 1992 Anthropology Newsletter (Volume 33 Number 7) and the discussion of the "Four Fields" within of anthropology. It is quite clear, as Givens and Skomal pointed out, that the four-field "concept was already part of American ethnology by the early 1800s" but it is not quite clear where this came from and perhaps the following will be of interest and assistance.

The word "anthropology" first appeared in the English language in 1593 (the first of the "ologies," incidentally, to do so). The word "ethnology" made its first appearance in an 1830 letter by André Marie Ampère (1775-1836) and appeared in print for the first time in 1832. The short-lived Sociétés observateurs de l'homme was founded in Paris in 1799 by Louis Francois Jauffret (1770-1850) and this was eventually followed by the 1839 formation of Société ethnologique de Paris, by William F. Edwards (1777-1842). This latter organization lasted until 1848 but no one seems to have a good impression of the term "ethnology" as used by Edwards: De Rohan-Csernak essentially states that the Edwards definition was racist in orientation and Ampère had the first true definition of the word; Paul Topinard (1830-1911) called the Edwards definition terrible and the American Daniel G. Britton (1837-1899) termed it illiterate. Brinton referred to an earlier 1787 definition by Chavennes and stated that this definition was "very nearly its true scientific sense."

It is quite clear that it was Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) and the aforementioned Topinard, both 19th Century French physicians turned anthropologists, who were the "key" founders of the four-fold discipline of anthropology that we know today. Although the anthropology of the mid-19th Century in France was primarily physical, Topinard did develop a scheme for anthropology which included four sub-disciplines: anthropology proper, ethnography, physical anthropology, and accesories: linguistics and archaeology. This four-fold framework was introduced into the United States in 1892 by Brinton, another anthropologist who was initially trained as a physician (as Givens and Skomal pointed out, 1992: 17). John Wesley Powell (1834-1902), geologist turned anthropologist, opposed the Topinard-Brinton schema and preferred his own classification of the discipline.

One final "French connection" must be shared with the readers of this brief commentary: one would venture to guess that "everyone" is aware that August Comte (1798-1857), along with St. Simon (1760-1825) are often given as the titular fathers of the discipline of sociology. In 1839, in Volume IV of his Cours de Philosophie Positive (or System of Positive Polity), Comte coined the term sociologie to serve as an equivalent to the term "social physics" (which came from both Comte and St. Simon). Sociology was the 6th of the sciences, building on a base which began with mathematics and Comte's schema was as follows:

Mathematics-. Astronomy-> Physics-> Chemistry-> Biology-> Sociology.

Are most of us aware that anthropologie was the 7th science for Comte? In 1852 he wrote:

"Elle n'était point apprécable avant que ma fondation de la sociologie eut terminéla préparation encyclopédique qu'exigeait l'avénement systématique de la véritable anthropologie, àlaquelle il faut conserver son nom sacréde morals. Cette condition finale étant désormais remplie, et m'ayant déjàconduit àconstruire subjectivement la saine théorie cérébrale, le septieme et dernier degréde la grand hiérarchie abstraite devient aussi caractérise que tous les autres" (1852, Systeme de Politique Positive, Vol. II, page 437).

An 1875 translation follows:

"The consequences could not be seen, until, by founding Sociology, I was able to add the last group to the Encyclopedic series of the sciences, When this was affected, it was possible to have a systematic basis for an Anthropology, or true science of Man, though this science ought ever to retain its sacred name of morals. Now that this last condition has been fulfilled, and now that it has already enabled me to construct on subjective methods a sound Cerebral Theory, the seventh and last gradation in the Grand Hierarchy of Abstract Science is a distinctively defined as any of the others [stress added]" (1874 translation of System of Positive Polity, Vol. II, pages 356-347).

Elsewhere Comte had written:

"Leaving Sociology, it only remains for me to describe the third term of the grand progressive series, which gives us the true encyclopedic inventory: I mean the study of Moral Laws, the necessary goal of all healthy speculation. The field of Morals [NOTE: Anthropology] is at once more special, more complex, and more noble than that of Sociology strictly so called, the exact rank of which has been determined....Morals is the most eminent of the sciences, both because of the superior dignity of its object, Man, from which we get our type of true nobleness, and because, as I am about to explain, of its theoretic plentitudes [stress added]."

Enough said about "our history" for now!

Incidentally, an interesting example of forgetting our own history appeared few decades ago when Marvin Harris commented on French anthropology and American anthropology as it was being practised. Harris wrote that "because of the rigidities and conservatism inherent in the structure of French higher education, it was not until the 1920's that academic curricula resembling the English and American reformulations of anthropology began to appear" in France is interesting, since the four-field idea of American Anthropology was taken from the initial French sub-disciplines of anthropology.

(1) © This brief essay was submitted to the Editor of the American Anthropological Association Newsletter and a version of it was published in 1992, entitled "Four-Field Commentary" in Anthropology Newsletter [American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C.], Volume 33, Number 9, page 3. To return to the beginning of this Web paper, please click here.

To go to the home page of Urbanowicz, please click here;

to the Department of Anthropology;

to California State University, Chico.

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Copyright © 1999 Charles F. Urbanowicz

28 March 1999 by CFU


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