Brief History of Anthropological Health Research

While paradigms from all four fields of anthropology inform the work of medical anthropologists today, the roots of "medical anthropology" (a term that we later discuss) extend back in basically two directions, reflecting two kinds of anthropological orientations. If we looked back about 100 years, which is about as long as anthropology has existed in an organized fashion within the United States, then we would see a group of biological or physical anthropologists studying human growth and development, evolution and adaptation, and forensic issues. Secondly, we would see a group of social or cultural anthropologists interested in traditional or local healing practices (often linked with religion and magic). If we looked back about 70 years, the social-cultural group would also contain anthropologists interested in psychological issues related to cultural norms (this school of inquiry is often referred to as the "culture and personality" school).

With the end of World War II, medical anthropology (still at that time an unnamed specialization) received impetus and support from foundation- and government-funded applied work in the arena of international public health. The data collected by anthropologists in earlier times for non-medical purposes proved invaluable; anthropologists helped ensure that social and cultural aspects of health and healing were taken into account in ways that promoted international health program success (Foster & Anderson, 1978, pp. 7-8).

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