Re: Anthro's most important contribution to society

Tom Riley (triley@VMD.CSO.UIUC.EDU)
Mon, 10 Apr 1995 13:33:00 +0000

>If you were pressed to identify the one most important contribution which
>anthropology has made to improving the well being of humankind what would
>it be?
>I assume that the majority of readers of this list are anthropologists, but
>I am interested in responses from non-anthropologists too.

That's a really good question. If I were to think about it for a long time
I would probably come to a different conclusion, but off the top of my head
I would have to say that the work that led Carelton Gajdusek to a
behavioral solution for the spread of Kuru and to the research that began
the current work on slow viruses and viroids would be one piece of work
that an anthropologist (Gajdusek) could claim. It certainly has led in
interesting directions and has some value for looking at a behavioral
solution ot the AIDS epidemic.

The work of Ruth Benedict and other anthropologists influencing the
reconstruction in Japan after WWII would certainly qualify as well.

There is a fine piece of work by Evenari and others in the ancient
agriculture of the Negev that has led to the rejuvenation of ancient
agricultural rain catchments there for agriculture and arboriculture. This
and the work of Clark Erickson at Penn and Alan Kolata reconstructing
prehistoric agricultural systems for modern use in Peru, Venezuela and
Bolivia are otherpieces of work that have some real everyday value in the
world of the present. I guess this latter work wouldn't qualify for the one
most important piece of work by n anthropologist, though.

Thomas J. Riley
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign