Culture (Latin: cultura, lit. "cultivation") is a modern concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Roman orator Cicero: "cultura animi" (cultivation of the soul). 

This non-agricultural use of the term "culture" re-appeared in modern Europe in the 17th century referring to the betterment or refinement of individuals, especially through education.

 During the 18th and 19th century it came to refer more frequently to the common reference points of whole peoples, and discussion of the term was often connected to national aspirations or ideals. Some scientists such as Edward Tylor used the term "culture" to refer to a universal human capacity.


A bronze statue, possibly representing Athena carrying an owl. Image: R.Conan-Davies 

In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be directly attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings:

  • the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively (for example through arts); and
  • the distinct ways that people, who live differently, classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.

Hoebel Adamson describes culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.

Distinctions are currently made between the physical artifacts created by a society, its so-called material culture, and everything else, the intangibles such as language, customs, etc. that are the main referent of the term "culture".



Almost all human activity can be considered a type of cultural expression. Here are a few topics that can be considered cultural in the sense of being a relatively arbitrary approach to the creation of activities:

The study of human culture is often referred to as anthropology