Ethnology: Background information when reading Bone River

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Bone River

by Megan Chance

Bone River by Megan Chance
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    Dec 2012, 395 pages

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Ethnology

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Ethnology Map of 1904Ethnology is a section of anthropology that analyzes the differences between religion, language, technologies and other social structures of people as categorized by race, nationality or ethnicity. Its goals are broad – to understand the history of human beings and the creation of our various social norms (as defined by race, nationality or ethnicity). It has become exceedingly similar to cultural anthropology and social anthropology, so much so that the three terms are often interchangeable. Another way to understand ethnology is that it is the study of living cultures, both in their own, separate rights, and as compared to others across the world.

Bone RiverIn Bone River, Leonie and her husband, Junius, are ethnologists who study skeletons, as well as artifacts, of local primitive culture to try to understand the origins of human culture. They live near Bone River in Washington State, which is where they make their discoveries.

Adam Franz Kollár (1718-1783) is said to have coined the term ethnologia. Kollár was interested in the diversity of ethnicities and cultures because Hungary, his native country, was multi-lingual and multi-"rooted."

Ethnology is especially interesting to study within the context of modern technology, specifically in terms of the speed at which information can travel from nation to nation and culture to culture, because dominant cultural "norms" are disseminated rapidly and, as a result, can sometimes drown out the unique, distinctive customs of less dominant cultures. Globalization has also caused greater conflict between cultures, as access to one another can expose economic and resource disparities. On the positive side of this fast-paced present-day reality, ideas and information and even objects can be exchanged and studied and understood at a much greater and faster rate. Also, with the seeming increase of natural disasters across the world – from tsunamis to hurricanes to earthquakes – and the subsequent clarity of universal human actions and reactions, the study of ethnology focuses, in part, on the relationship between human beings and nature.

At its center, ethnology is the quest to understand the movement and metamorphosis of people - their language, culture, lifestyle and physical identity - through history and time.

Photograph of old map from Probert's Encyclopaedia

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