Anthropological Film: A Scientific and Humanistic Resource

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Science  20 Dec 1974:
Vol. 186, Issue 4169, pp. 1079-1085
DOI: 10.1126/science.186.4169.1079


More than a scientific endeavor but not strictly one of the humanities either, anthropology stands between these basic kinds of intellectual pursuit, bridging and contributing to both. Not limited to natural history, anthropology touches art, historical process, and human values, drawing from the materials and approaches of both science and humanities. This professional interest in a broad understanding of the human condition has led anthropologists to adapt and use modern cameras and films to inquire further into the variety of ways of life of mankind and to develop method and theory to prepare anthropological film as a permanent scientific and humanistic resource.

Until quite recently the evolution of human culture and organization has diverged in the hitherto isolated regions of the world. Now this divergence has virtually ceased; we are witnessing an unprecedented period in human history—one where cultural divergence has turned to cultural convergence and where the varieties of independently evolved expressions of basic human potential are giving way to a single system of modern communications, transport, commerce, and manufacturing technology.

Before the varieties of ways of life of the world disappear, they can be preserved in facsimile in anthropological films. As primary, undifferentiated visual information, these films facilitate that early step in the creation of new knowledge which is sometimes called humanistic and without which scientific application lies dormant, lacking an idea to test. In keeping with the two scholarly faces of anthropology, humanistic and scientific, anthropological films may provide material permitting both humanistic insight and the more controlled formulations of science.

The lightweight filming equipment recently developed has been adapted by anthropologists as a tool of scholarly visual inquiry; methods of retrieving visual data from changing and vanishing ways of life have been developed; and new ways to reveal human beings to one another by using such visual resources have been explored. As a result, not only can anthropological film records permit continued reexamination of the past human conditions from which the present was shaped, but they also facilitate an ongoing public and scientific review of the dynamics of the human behavioral and social repertoire in relation to the contemporary conditions which pattern human responses and adaptation.

How man fits into and copes with the changing world is of vital interest and concern. Visual data provide otherwise unobtainable information on human potential, behavior, and social organization. Such information, fed into the public media, facilitates informed consideration of alternative possibilities. By contributing to a better informed society, such films will help make our future more human and more humane.