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Anthropology and Ethnography

Discussion in 'Research' started by Geldor, Nov 20, 2017.

  1. Geldor

    Geldor Scribe

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    I am currently writing my dissertation (I study Ancient History) on the development of a Messenian Identity in the Classical Period. During my degree there has never been the slightest mention of the study of ethnicities, yet somehow I chose to focus on it in the most important piece of writing in my life so far!

    I have had to teach myself the fundamentals of ethnography and it occurred to me how central ethnicity is to us as a species. So central that we take it for granted.

    I happened to read Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson (a book I cannot recommend highly enough) over the summer and looking back I realised how amazing of a worldbuilder Erikson is. He built into his work various ethnicities so subtly that I didn't even recognise them in reading them, they were just as natural to the world as the characters and the environment.

    Erikson studied anthropology and this is obviously going to have had an impact on his writing. I was wondering how much you consider anthropology and ethnography when you are researching for your next work? I know it has now become a central aspect of my work in future!
     
    Geo likes this.
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It's a good question. I don't know how important it is overall--there are plenty of great fantasy works that simply don't touch on these issues because extensive world-building isn't important to the work. On the other hand, if you're going to do extensive world-building, then I think knowledge of anthropology, ethnography, and other disciplines is quite useful. You mentioned Erikson, and if you look at the Malazan books as a whole I'm not sure anyone beats him in terms of world-building. His background is probably a large part of the reason why.
     
  3. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    Erikson is not the only fantasy writer who uses Anthropological principles and knowledge to build his worlds. Many great authors have done it, from Tolkien to LeGuin, and I think is what gives their work such a real feeling. Societies may change, but human interactions are preserved. I do try to rad an learn of cultures and their environment if I want to use them as models in my work. It's not always an easy labor, but I think it pays off nicely.
     
  4. ApaCisare

    ApaCisare Scribe

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    I think my entire approach to world building is influenced by ethnology and history to an extent. As a history major (and having recently submitted my dissertation), I find myself constantly aware of the narratives and tales that the inhabitants of my world would construct about themselves and their past.
    Most of my inspiration for world building comes from my interest in history and in the interconnections between various ethnicities and cultures.
    I found there was a considerable amount of overlap between the various disciplines in the arts and social sciences during my time as an undergrad, e.g. Anthropology, History, English literature, Linguistics, Political Science etc. Everything I read from the 'Humanities' seemed interconnected to me but perhaps that was simply my own love for seeing relationships between disparate elements at work!
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Other authors certainly make use of these disciplines. I’m not sure I’ve come across anyone who seems to make as thorough and effective a use as Erikson. Most are more understated in their reliance on these sciences.
     
  6. ApaCisare

    ApaCisare Scribe

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    I have to admit that I've never read Erikson, :( though his reputation does proceed him.
    As far as my own approach is concerned, I have found myself titling my writings on fantasy cultures 'Birth Life and Death in...', detailing the customs surrounding major life events in a particular culture
     
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