Anthropology in Outerspace

To read the Anthropology in Outerspace series, head here!

This series examines representations of anthropology in science-fiction. Emma, Marie-Pierre and Rayna  discuss cases from various TV series, movies and books and what they reveal about popular perceptions regarding this science and its branches (archeology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology and sociocultural anthropology).

In preparation for this series, we wished to list examples of representations of anthropologists and anthropology in science-fiction: an anthropologist in a Twilight Zone episode? A description of ethnography in a sci-fi magazine? Margaret Mead being mentioned in a book about little green men? The scenario of a Star Trek episode introducing perspectives and concepts closely related to anthropology? TGA readers provided fascinating such examples to consider.

List examples you can think of in the comments below! Feel free to add examples from other genres of pop culture as well and to share your own work on science-fiction and anthropology!

The ever growing list:

  • Dr. Daniel Jackson, archeologist and linguist, from Stargate SG-1
  • Vash, archeologist, from Star Trek TNG
  • Jean-Luc Picard, starship captain and archeology enthusiast, Star Trek TNG
  • Dr. River Song, archeologist, Doctor Who
  • Dr. Barron, anthropologist, from the episode ”Who Watchers the Watchers?” in Star Trek TNG (S3E4)
  • Dr. Norm Spellman, anthropologist, Avatar
  • Milo Thatch, cartographer & linguist in Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  • R. Potney Smithe, anthropologist, in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2001)
  • Shinichi Chujo, linguist in Mothra (1961)
  • Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist in Bones (2005-Present)

Added from comments/Twitter conversations

  • Twilight Zone episode, Mr. Dingle, the Strong : A Venusian and a two-headed Martian walk into a bar and give Burgess Meredith the strength of five hundred men as an anthropological experiment.
  • Star Trek DS9  “Rapture”: Captain Sisko becomes obsessed with an archaeological puzzle.
  • Star Trek TNG “The Chase”: Dr. Richard Galen, Picard’s old archaeology professor, needs help with a puzzle.
  • Star Trek ENT “Three Days and Two Nights”: Ensign Hoshi Sato is a linguist. The plot  involves linguistic immersion.
  • Star Trek TOS “Who Mourns for Adonais?”: Lt. Carolyn Palamas is the “A & A officer,” which the episode tells us stands for “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ancient Civilizations.”
  • Star Trek VOY: “Tsunkatse”: Chakotay says he’s going to the match in Star Trek VOY: “Tsunkatse” as an anthropologist. In “Bliss,” part of his bliss is being offered a part-time professorship in anthropology. It’s not called out, but his interactions in “Initiations” could count too.
  • Star Trek VOY : Seven of Nine’s parents, observing a Borg cube trying to understand Borg “culture” or “way of life”.
  • Star Trek TNG episodes “Devil’s Due” and “The Bonding” include archaeologists characters.
  • Alien vs. Predator (2004) features archaeologists.
  • Halo franchise is based on archeology and religion.
  • China Miéville, fantasy fiction author, has a degree in anthropology (Embassytown, Iron Council, etc).
  • Mass Effect trilogy: the character Liara T’Soni is an expert in ancient Prothean culture, and was working at a dig site when first introduced.
  • Star Trek TNG “Homeward” (S7E13): Worf’s adoptive brother Nikolai Rozhenko, a bona fide anthropologist, is trying to save a culture from the usual prime directive misunderstandings and goes native in the end.
  • Citizen of the Galaxy: In the juvenile novel Citizen of the Galaxy by Heinlein, the slave boy Thorby meets an anthropologist on a ship who is the only person who will befriend him at first because he does not understand proper behavior. She teaches him about moieties and the morays of the culture of the people on board the ship.
  • Jeff Vandermeer’s book Annihilation.
  • Hort, the anthropologist in Monument, by Lloyd Biggle Jr.
  • X-Men: Xavier has a PhD in Anthropology and one great enemy of the X-Men, Bolivar Trask, is a prominent anthropologist.
  • The Mote in God’s Eye, a novel by Niven and Pournelle features the anthropologist Lady Sandra “Sally” Bright Fowler.
  • The entry on “Anthropology” in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/anthropology ).
  • Apeman, Spaceman (anth 1968) edited by Leon E Stover and Harry Harrison.
  • Anthropology through Science Fiction (anth 1974) edited by Carol Mason, Martin H Greenberg and Patricia S Warrickand.
  • A collection of critical essays on the theme, Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction (anth 1987) edited by Eric S Rabkin and George Edgar Slusser.
  • Chad Oliver’s Shadows in the Sun. Author himself is a practicing anthropologist.
  • Citizen of the Galaxy novel by Heinlein.

Examples from other genres of pop culture

  • Betty Draper from Mad Men studied anthropology in college.
  • In Community, Betty White plays Professor June Bauer, who teaches Anthropology 101 and is rather eccentric.
  • In The Nanny DiairiesScarlett Johansson plays a college graduate who works as a nanny but wishes to work in anthropology.
  • Harrison Kipp, Professor of Archaeology at Night Vale Community College (Welcome to Night Vale).
  • Anthropologie, the store.
  • Noah the pirate slave and anthropologist from Archer
  • Indiana Jones, archaeologist : Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) & Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
  • Lara Croft, Tomb Raider video games and movies.
  • Charlotte Lewis, cultural anthropologist on the ABC show Lost.
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There are 42 comments

  1. kutukamus

    Phoonzang—the Godot-like (somehow) character in the game ‘Crusaders of the Dark Savant, is without doubt (though never explicitly mentioned) is an anthropologist (among many other things).

    Like

  2. meles_ludens

    Star Wars – The Galactic Institute of Anthropology published such notable works on Mandalorian culture as Mandalorians: Identity and Language and Mandalorians: Identity and Its Influence on Genome. It’s not a part of the canon now, but it was mentioned before the Disney took over.
    Also, SW Universe mentions “sentientologist” who is scientist studing all sentient beings in galaxy and they culture, bilogy and hisotry, wich includes anthropologists – http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sentientologist
    Some Lovecraft stories includes ethnologists

    Like

  3. Jacky Garbutt

    Double whammy with WASTELAND OF FLINT by Thomas Harlan.
    An alternate history science fiction novel with the Mexica in charge of Earth, which follows a xeno-archaeologist investigating the remains of an extinct advanced culture on a distant planet.

    Like

  4. doesnt matter

    Seven of Nine’s parents (Star Trek: VOY), observing a Borg cube trying to understand Borg “culture” or “way of life”

    Like

  5. Stephen Gonzalez

    Dan Sylveste is an archaeologist in Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space novel. From the wikia “At the beginning of Revelation Space he is an archaeologist working on Resurgam and studying the ruins of the ancient Amarantin, convinced that their history holds the key to why no alien species has yet survived long enough for humans to make contact.” http://revelationspace.wikia.com/wiki/Dan_Sylveste

    Like

  6. Evan Conaway

    What about the Archaeology profession in World of Warcraft and all the so-called “Archaeology Trainers” and the Assistant-Associate-Full professor development! 😀

    Like

  7. Karin Rita Gastreich

    Hadley Rille Books has entire series based on archaeology and archaeologists, in both its science fiction and historical fiction collections. This is a small press, so they don’t get a very wide distribution, but their RUINS anthologies have a loyal following, including RUINS TERRA and RUINS EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Other anthologies of note would be FOOTPRINTS and ORIGINS. The latter is a collection of short stories about human evolution based on the archaeological record. All of these anthologies were edited by Eric T. Reynolds. Another book from HRB’s science fiction list is the novel TRANSCENDENCE (not to be confused with the recent movie) by Chris McKitterick, which features an archaeologist working on one of Jupiter’s moons. There’s probably more, but these are the titles I’m most familiar with. Hope this helps!

    Like

  8. Mr Mwenda

    Yo,
    If it’s not too late, The scifi novel ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ by Niven and Pournelle features the anthropologist Lady Sandra “Sally” Bright Fowler.

    Like

  9. Hal

    If you want to follow up on this, consider the entry on “Anthropology” in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/anthropology )

    Other examples can be gleaned Apeman, Spaceman (anth 1968) edited by Leon E Stover and Harry Harrison;Anthropology through Science Fiction (anth 1974) edited by Carol Mason, Martin H Greenberg and Patricia S Warrickand A collection of critical essays on the theme, Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction (anth 1987) edited by Eric S Rabkin and George Edgar Slusser.

    Like

  10. Hal

    Chad Oliver’s Shadows in the Sun is a prime example, and several of his other works feature anthropologists. He should know – he was a practicing anthropologist all his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Erin S

    In the juvenile novel Citizen of the Galaxy by Heinlein, the slave boy Thorby meets an anthropologist on a ship who is the only person who will befriend him at first because he does not understand proper behavior. She teaches him about moieties and the morays of the culture of the people on board the ship.

    Like

  12. Alex Oliveira

    The best example in Star Trek TNG is still “Homeward” were Worf adoptive brother Nikolai Rozhenko a real bona fide anthropologist is trying to save a culture from the usual prime directive misunderstandings and going native in the end.

    Like

  13. Anonymous

    Although not directly referencing anthropology per se, I always found the Next Generation episode “Darmok” to be an interesting examination about how culture affects language and communication.

    Like

  14. tribble314

    There’s a few more in Star Trek:
    – Lt. Carolyn Palamas in TOS: “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (At first I confused her with Lt. Marla McGivers in “Space Seed,” but she’s a historian.)
    – Chakotay says he’s going to the match in VOY: “Tsunkatse” as an anthropologist. In “Bliss,” part of his bliss is being offered a part-time professorship in anthropology. It’s not called out, but his interactions in “Initiations” could count too.
    – TNG episodes “Devil’s Due” and “The Bonding” have archaeologists too, but not very prominantly.

    Like

    1. tribble314

      Oh, a few more episodes:
      – Captain Sisko becomes obsessed with an archaeological puzzle (DS9: “Rapture”)
      – Dr. Richard Galen, Picard’s old archaeology professor, needs help with a puzzle in TNG: “The Chase”
      – Ensign Hoshi Sato is a linguist. Mostly the writers give her jargon, but her plot ENT: “Three Days and Two Nights” involves linguistic immersion.

      Like

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