Doing some research on the original goals of four-field anthropology, I came across an interesting article by Dan Hicks entitled "Four-Field Anthropology: Charter Myths and Time Warps from St. Louis to Oxford (Current Anthropology 54(6): 753-763). Hicks looks at the origins of four-field anthropology, tracing some of its aspects back to the 1870s (i.e., pre-Boas) using documentary evidence. I don't know about all of you, but I was taught as an undergrad that Franz Boas was more-or-less the founder of four-field American anthropology. "Papa Franz" is a cultural hero to American anthropologists, standing for relativism and against racism, training many of the influential anthropologists of the early 20th century, and posing for the famous hoop photo shown above. His Wikipedia entry clearly states his founding role:
"By uniting the disciplines of archaeology, the study of material culture and history, and physical anthropology, the study of variation in human anatomy, with ethnology, the study of cultural variation of customs, and descriptive linguistics, the study of unwritten indigenous languages, Boas created the four field subdivision of anthropology which became prominent in American anthropology in the 20th century."
I really appreciated Hicks' approach to primary source material. He questions the historical accuracy of the mythology that has developed about Boas and his role in founding our discipline, and he does so by identifying a developmental sequence that is preserved in material remains (in this case, documents). It is a very archaeological way to look at history, and very similar to the approach I am using to try to understand the various incarnations of the ancient giants phenomenon.
I am convinced by Hicks' paper that the idea of four-field anthropology has a history that extends well prior to Boas. While Boas' importance to the development of the four-field approach in America is not in dispute, I love that Hicks' paper demonstrates the usefulness of material remains for questioning mythology and trying to understand where ideas come from. That's good stuff.