Ethnology , is the study of different human cultures, the relationship between them and how these develop over time. It is a branch of anthropology that deals with comparing and analysing the different characteristics of groups of people and how external forces such as the economy, politics and technology affect the cultures of such groups. The ethnologist studies the different cultures of humans and how those cultures influence or are influenced by the world around them. Ethnology also focuses on the differences between every person. The goal is to ultimately learn about other cultures by collecting data about how the world economy and political practices affect the new culture that is being studied. Ethnology has also been demarcated as cultural anthropology or social anthropology, potentially due to its focus on human cultures and other domains of social and cognitive organisation.
Adam Kollar (1718-1783) is credited with coining the term ethnology after he defined it as “the science of nations and peoples, or, that study learned men in which they inquire into the origins, languages, customs, and institutions of various nations, and finally into the fatherland and ancient seats, in order to be able better to judge the nations and peoples in their own times” (Kollar, 1783). While ethnology may be somewhat similar to ethnography, the two are distinct disciplines. The ethnographic researcher studies single groups of people, at times through direct contact with the culture. The ethnologist, on the other hand, uses the research of ethnographers and compares and contrasts the findings of these cultures. An interesting example of a finding in ethnology is the formulation of cultural invariants such as incest taboo – the cultural norm that prohibits sexual relations between relatives. Ethnology has been considered as an academic field since the late 18th century and is conceived to be any comparative study of human groups.
In this respect, ethnology’s greatest contribution to the social science sphere has been the reconstruction of human history. One of the first persons to develop an interest and write about cultural diversity was again Adam Kollar. Kollar not only defined ethnology. He was also interested in linguistic and cultural diversity. This was aroused by the situation in his country, Hungary, which was multi-lingual, with roots in Slovakian cultures. He also studied the shifts that began to emerge after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan countries. Another interesting research oncivilisations originated from E.B. Tylor who studied the cultures of primitive people and their cultural foundations and how this developed to forming the higher civilisations of Europe and Asia. Tylor noticed and drew a number of similarities in the cultural norms of different groups. He was particularly fascinated by the similarities between theancient aboriginal civilisations of Mexico and India. This further substantiated the theory of multiple origin of civilisations. Another influential figure in ethnology is Claude Levi-Strauss who asserted that within the deepest root of cultures one finds structures that do not change. Because of this, all cultural practices have a shared ancestry in all cultures and are therefore very similar to the point of being equitable. He showed, for example, how opposing ideas would fight and also be resolved in the rules of marriage, in mythology, and in ritual. During his work in the Amazon forests he found that tribes divided their villages in half and although the tribes were rivals, members from one tribe married members from the other rival tribe. This approach, he remarked, illustrated how two opposites may be in conflict but are also resolved. This also concurred with the dialectic triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis originally developed by the German philosopher Hegel. Nowadays, ethnographic research is not solely devoted to the origins of culture and civilisations, but also consider contemporary phenomena such as globalisation, health sciences, indigenous rights, virtual communities and industrialised societies.