In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ethnoscience

  • Introduction
  • Early Works Up to World War II
  • Post-War Discussion and Practice
  • Reviews and Journals
  • Scopes
  • Structuralism
  • Ethnographic Classification
  • Recent Years

Anthropology Ethnoscience
John Trumper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0069


Ethnology and ethnography have existed as words and concepts since 1830–1850. Ethnobotany, a name with tentative definitions, has been used since 1895. Collaboration between cultural anthropology or ethnography (quasi-synonyms) and structural linguistics is a by-product of the interests of Franz Boas at Columbia University and his brilliant pupil Edward Sapir, and the research group formed by Sapir, Mary R. Haas, Morris Swadesh, Floyd Lounsbury, Ward Goodenough and others. Approaches called ethnozoology and ethnobotany were once firmly wedded to traditional ethnography without the general cover-term ethnoscience, meaning a joint scientific approach involving ethnobiology, ethnozoology, ethnobotany, and cultural anthropology. Ethnolinguistics, anthropologically orientated lexico-semantics (ethnosemantics), date from Eugene Nida’s Towards a Science of Translating (1964, chapter 11, p. 38, and note [1], cited under Name and Definitions), where he quotes positively a previously unpublished paper by B. N. Colby that introduced the term and arguments covered.

Early Works Up to World War II

The term “ethnobotany” seems to have been coined in Harschberger 1895, while “ethnozoology” first appeared in Henderson and Harrington 1914; “ethnobiology,” a relative newcomer, showed up in Castetter 1944. Rolland 1877–1915 and Rolland and Gaidoz 1896–1914 were sensitive to collections of local dialect and folk names for animals and plants that were completed by professional linguists or by zoologists and botanists. The subtitle of Rolland and Gaidoz 1896–1914 (Histoire naturelle des plantes dans leurs rapports avec la Linguistique et le Folk-lore) demonstrates an ethnographic point of view. Without defining a concept such as ethnoscience, Malinowski 1920 and Malinowski 1922 (work summed up and complemented in Malinowski 1965) associate ethnology, anthropology, and linguistics in what was then a new seminal approach. The search for a new concept of folk species is prodromic in Whiting 1939, of which selected significant texts are published and commented upon in Clément 1998.

  • Castetter, E. F. 1944. The domain of ethnobiology. American Naturalist 78.774: 158–170.

    DOI: 10.1086/281182

    This is the first work dealing with theoretical problems of the new science of ethnobiology within an ethnoscientific framework.

  • Clément, Daniel. 1998. Alfred Whiting: Textes choisis. Anthropologica 40:99–108.

    DOI: 10.2307/25605875

    A necessary introduction to Whiting’s ethnobotanical theory and research.

  • Harschberger, John W. 1895. The purposes of ethnobotany. Botanical Gazette 21:146–154.

    DOI: 10.1086/327316

    In this article, the term “ethnobotany” first appeared, together with the attempt to define it.

  • Henderson, Junius, and John Peabody Harrington. 1914. Ethnozoology of the Tewa Indians. Smithsonian Institute, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 56. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

    The beginnings of ethnozoological research in the United States.

  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1920. Classificatory particles in the language of Kiriwina. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 1:33–78.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00101661

    Ethnology and linguistics are here first associated in Malinowski’s references to ethnolinguistic theory.

  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. The Argonauts of the western pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge.

    In the second decade of the 20th century, in the UK, collaboration arises between ethnology and other disciplines, through the intellectually productive friendship of ethnologist-anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and J. F. Firth, head of Linguistics at London, culminating in 1922 in this work, based on Malinowski’s research on the Trobriand Islands, as well as developments in his later work in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1965. Coral gardens and their magic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    The elaboration of Malinowski’s fieldwork, research, and theoretical reflections. A milestone in ethno-anthropological research.

  • Rolland, Eugène. 1877–1915. Faune populaire de la France: Noms vulgaires, dictions, proverbes, contes et superstitions. 13 vols. Paris: Klincksieck.

    First French attempt to collate ethnozoology and European dialect research.

  • Rolland, Eugène, and Henri Gaidoz. 1896–1914. Flore populaire ou histoire naturelle dans leurs rapports avec la linguistique et le folklore. 11 vols. Paris: Klincksieck.

    The subtitle is indicative of the felt necessity for interdisciplinary research. Useful volumes for a first research and checking on future ethnological and dialect research.

  • Whiting, Alfred F. 1939. Ethnobotany of the Hopi. Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona.

    This study of the folk culture of the Hopi Indians represents a first attempt to classify elements of oral cultures, elaborating the concept of folk species and anchoring it to the results of specific fieldwork.

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