Worldwide Popular Interest in Anthropology, 2004-2009: Online Search Statistics

Google Insights reveals some interesting comparative data on the popularity trends of various terms and authors in anthropology. I have only scratched the surface, not having conducted very refined comparisons of specific anthropological concepts, theories, schools, etc., although presumably all of these statistical comparisons can now be done. The statistics generated by Google Insights simply tell us about particular Internet search terms, and “the likelihood of users in a particular area to search for a term on Google on a relative basis” (data normalization).

The results of my research surprised me, and in some instances I am not sure how to interpret these results. In the case of the first chart below, we see that the relative popularity of “anthropology” as a search term, across all categories of information searched worldwide, has declined by almost 50% in the last five years.

Popularity of "anthropology" as a search term, 2004-2009
Popularity of “anthropology” as a search term, 2004-2009

More surprising, given the next map, is that in terms of relative popularity, more Ethiopian web users are likely to search for “anthropology” online than any other nation on earth, and followed very closely by Nepal. Will this send our recruiters into a tizzy as they quickly rush glossy brochures to prospective students in those countries?

Regional interest in "anthropology," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “anthropology,” 2004-2009

I was also interested in seeing the comparative popularity online in terms of anthropologists who are both major figures in the discipline, and yet whose names are very distinctive (fewer people are likely to be called Marshall Sahlins, than Greg Smith). The figures I chose were Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, Arjun Appadurai, and Marshall Sahlins — however, given the preponderance of unusual names in our discipline, many other choices could have worked (Powdermaker, Evans-Pritchard, etc.). Not surprisingly, Franz Boas is still a world leader:

Searches by author name: "Franz Boas" (blue); "Bronislaw Malinowski" (red); "Arjun Appadurai" (orange); "Marshall Sahlins" (green)
Searches by author name: “Franz Boas” (blue); “Bronislaw Malinowski” (red); “Arjun Appadurai” (orange); “Marshall Sahlins” (green)

More suprisingly perhaps is that Franz Boas is likely to be searched more often online in Brazil than in any other country:

Regional interest in "Franz Boas", 2004-2009
Regional interest in “Franz Boas”, 2004-2009

In the meantime, Mexicans and Canadians seem to have a greater interest in Bronislaw Malinowski than most other web users:

Regional interest in "Bronislaw Malinowski," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “Bronislaw Malinowski,” 2004-2009

Arjun Appadurai, oddly enough is not very popular in India, but extremely popular in the United States:

Regional interest in "Arjun Appadurai," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “Arjun Appadurai,” 2004-2009

Brazilians and then Americans are much more likely to search for Marshall Sahlins online than most other web surfers:

Regional interest in "Marshall Sahlins," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “Marshall Sahlins,” 2004-2009

Archaeology and linguistics, as search terms, are vastly more popular worldwide than cultural anthropology or physical anthropology:

Search popularity, 2004-2009, for: "archaeology" (red); "linguistics" (orange); "cultural anthropology" (blue); "physical anthropology" (green)
Search popularity, 2004-2009, for: “archaeology” (red); “linguistics” (orange); “cultural anthropology” (blue); “physical anthropology” (green)

Cultural anthropology is more popular as a search term in the Philippines and the U.S.:

Regional interest in "cultural anthropology," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “cultural anthropology,” 2004-2009

Archaeology seems to lead in popularity especially in Ireland, followed by the U.K.:

Regional interest in "archaeology," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “archaeology,” 2004-2009

Interest in linguistics is greatest in Kenya and Pakistan:

Regional interest in "linguistics," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “linguistics,” 2004-2009

While physical anthropology appears to be of especial interest to Americans and Canadians:

Regional interest in "physical anthropology," 2004-2009
Regional interest in “physical anthropology,” 2004-2009

What does it mean? That’s the problem: I am not sure. I am more excited about the potential to finally do some enhanced cross-cultural and global comparisons about the perceptions and interests in anthropology, than I am about my ability to comprehend the statistics or to perform effective searches.

16 thoughts on “Worldwide Popular Interest in Anthropology, 2004-2009: Online Search Statistics

  1. Benjamin

    Just a small correction : “Cultural anthropology is more popular as a search term in Japan and the U.S.:” –> the highlighted country is the Philippines.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      It is, sorry about that! I have corrected that. I can just imagine how many Filipinos would have been charmed by that slip — all I can say is: I am vision impaired! Yes, go ahead and laugh.

  2. shannon

    It is interesting to see that the searches are still predomenantly male. What about the likes of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead and Zora Hurston among other female anthropologists?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      That’s true. I am a bit worried about results for Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, because the less unusual a name might be, the more likely it is that the search terms tracked by Google are not for the anthropologist. However, my assumption might be flawed on that account as well: these Google statistics are about the relative popularity of a search term, so that the intention to search for Ruth Benedict the anthropologist might still be a relatively more popular than those searching for Ruth Benedict the director of home loans at a small Midwestern bank. The problem is that I am not sure, and the Google information pages on how to read their numbers are not always very helpful.

    2. Maximilian Forte


      I performed a new comparison, placing Margaret Mead, Hortense Powdermaker, Franz Boas, and Bronislaw Malinowski together. Interesting that you should have thought of asking this, because Mead is the subject a vastly more popular interest than Boas.

      Note also the peaks and troughs: the peaks tend to be during critical months of the school year, when essays are likely due — October and March. The troughs are almost always in July. That suggests the *possibility* that the people performing these searches are students, and if so, we might be playing a role in making Mead more “popular” than Boas.


      1. Maximilian Forte

        I also noted that the results for Boas, in terms of regional interest, are very different this time when part of this comparison group — that makes no sense to me. Last time, Boas was of especial interest in Brazilian searches; now Brazil does not even appear. That is one odd way of gauging the popularity of something in regional terms…it is only popular given a certain comparative group? I am not sure how that works, or how it helps.

  3. Maximilian Forte

    One of the strange possibilities that these results might suggest, given that the graphs show a steady decline in popularity for many of the anthropology-related searches I did, is that this decline happens at the same time as there has been an increase in anthropological blogging and a very serious expansion in the number of anthropology websites overall. I would have expected to see the numbers rising, rather than falling.

    Again, I say this with trepidation because I am convinced that there is something about either the numbers, or my searches, that is off.

  4. Nullifidian

    I believe this probably is reflective of the population’s average level of interest in a subject, notwithstanding the fact that not everyone uses Google. For example, I searched for “Frantz Fanon”; unsurprisingly most popular in Algeria, followed by South Africa.

    Al-Hayat” is most popular in Egypt, probably explained by the fact that the London Arabic-language newspaper gives groups like the Muslim Brotherhood a hearing that they don’t get in Egypt’s state-owned dailies, Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuria.

    It also reflects the temporal interest in a subject. Searching for “Bill Ayers” showed a minor peak in April 2008, just when Barack Obama was being tied to Ayers by both the Republicans and the Clinton campaign. Then there was a major spike in October 2008, when the McCain campaign ran out of steam and started dredging up the Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers stories again.

    Likewise, “Kitzmiller” showed a peak in October 2005, just after the ID creationism case, Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. began (it didn’t spike in September because the trial started on the 26th), and then a major spike in December 2005 when the verdict was released.

    Just what I need: a really interesting way to procrastinate.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Yes, it really is a great way to procrastinate.

      You’re right, I have found similar patterns that lend some credibility to the results, in some cases confirming what I suspected, in other cases adding a new dimension to what I thought I understood well already.

      The examples you brought up are very good, and I should have a few more when I talk about the Human Terrain System again.

      Many thanks for visiting again.

  5. Pingback: Wednesday Round Up #59 « Neuroanthropology

  6. Tyrone Slothrop

    Maximilian Forte,

    Have you done something like this for “linguistic anthropology?” “Linguistic anthropolpogy” is most decidedly not “linguistics.”

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I was genuinely confused about that issue…I opted in the end for “linguistics” thinking it would be the broader category that would encompass linguistic anthropology, and to take into account those places that use linguistics as a substitute for the longer term. I was also trying to think like a non-academic web user who might perceive of the wider field as being that of linguistics (after all, linguistic anthropologists themselves speak of “sociolinguistics” and “psycholinguistics” and use some of the theories of linguists), and who in conducting a search might be tempted to focus on the linguistics.

      Anyway, that was the rationale at the time. Were I to do it over, I would use “linguistic anthropology.”

  7. Maximilian Forte

    That’s a good choice. I will do another comparison, keeping “anthropology” as the top search, but adding these others such linguistic anthropology and ethnology. I will add the update here. When? I am not sure, this is the busiest week of the year for me.

Comments are closed