What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems. Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.

Living Color is the first book to investigate the social history of skin color from prehistory to the present, showing how our body’s most visible trait influences our social interactions in profound and complex ways. In a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, Nina G. Jablonski begins with the biology and evolution of skin pigmentation, explaining how skin color changed as humans moved around the globe. She explores the relationship between melanin pigment and sunlight, and examines the consequences of rapid migrations, vacations, and other lifestyle choices that can create mismatches between our skin color and our environment.

Richly illustrated, this book explains why skin color has come to be a biological trait with great social meaning— a product of evolution perceived by culture. It considers how we form impressions of others, how we create and use stereotypes, how negative stereotypes about dark skin developed and have played out through history—including being a basis for the transatlantic slave trade. Offering examples of how attitudes about skin color differ in the U.S., Brazil, India, and South Africa, Jablonski suggests that a knowledge of the evolution and social importance of skin color can help eliminate color-based discrimination and racism.

* The American spelling for colour is - color.

Prof. Nina Jablonski is a a distinguished Professor of Antropology at the Pennsylvania University in the USA. She is the Author of the book: “LIVING COLOR, the biological and social meaning of skin color.” The reason she wrote this book is so that the facts of skin colour will become common knowledge. She suggests that a knowledge of the evolution and social importance of skin colour can help eliminate colour-based discrimination and racism. I was privileged to be able to visit her during her six weeks stay at STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study). She wrote this message in a copy of her latest book that she was kind enough to give me: “To Glen, with admiration and the most sincere hope that we will live some day in a world without race labels. Signed” . 31 August 2012.

I will use the knowledge of this book to help me to better understand the history of skin colour and the social meanings that was linked with it. Through this I also hope to teach and inspire others to look beyond racial labels.