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3 Evolutionary Ideas in the Cultural Anthropology of Sir Edward Burnett Tylor

Nikolas is interested in common points of evolutionary science in Nature and human society.

The Founder of the Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary ideas became widespread in the second half of the nineteenth century in all countries. They proceeded from the dependence of developed civilizations on primitive culture as a quantitative change of the latter. Ethnography was becoming an independent scientific discipline. The founder of the evolutionary school is rightly considered the outstanding English scientist Edward Burnett Tylor (1832 - 1917). He owns the introduction to the Anglo-American ethnography of the concept of "anthropology". Tylor, on a trip to Cuba (1855), met a patron of the arts, a banker Henry Christy who subsidized archaeological excavations in Central America. The banker awakened in him an interest in the culture of other peoples, unusual for a European. A trip to Mexico finally has defined Tylor's life path. He devotes all his energy and time to the study of the extensive ethnographic collections in the museums of Europe by that time.

The Founder of Evolutionary Theory - Sir Edward Burnett Tylor



Scientific Credo

In 1865 Tylor published his Studies in the Ancient History of Mankind, his scientific credo. In it, Tylor makes the following conclusions: (a) culture develops along the line of progress from primitive to modern times; (b) differences between peoples have nothing to do with racial differences but reflect only the achieved level of cultural development; (c) all specific cultural elements in each people either were invented independently, or borrowed from neighbors, or inherited from past eras. Tylor's positions as an evolutionist were most clearly stated in his major study, Primitive Culture. This work, grandiose in its presentation and analysis, was completed in 1869, published in 1871. Moreover, just in 1872, it was translated into other languages of the world.

Representatives of Evolutionism

Tylor became the most recognized authority on ethnography. He was elected to the Royal Society, and in 1896, after the organization of the first chair of anthropology at Oxford University, he became its professor. In 1881 Tylor's second major work, Anthropology (Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization), which was the result of the scholar's new research, was published and was also a kind of continuation of Primitive Culture. In all, Tylor wrote more than 250 works, which influenced the establishment of the evolutionist trend in ethnography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other representatives of evolutionism include John Lubbock (1843-1913), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), John Ferguson McLennan (1881-1927), Tylor's disciple the prominent religious scholar James George Frazer, and the outstanding American scholar of primitive history, Lewis Morgan (1818 - 1881). The evolutionary school in ethnography represented the first fairly coherent concept of human and cultural development and was based on the recognition of progress in social development.

Development of Evolutionary Ideas

The main ideas of the evolutionists were as follows: 1) the phenomena of social and cultural life mark an evolutionary process of continuous, gradual change, quantitative increases or decreases, characteristic also of all peoples on the way from prehistoric state to civilization: 2) social development follows the laws of an evolution characteristic of living nature and, in particular, the animal world, where there is also an interspecific struggle for existence, expressed in the layering of one cultural element on another or the ousting of the old by the new; 3) general theory gives grounds to consider the monogamous family, state Regarding the last point, Tylor wrote: "Parental and patriarchal authority is the most primitive institutions. As the family is the unit of primitive society, so paternal authority is the germ of law and state authority

Method of Studying Remnants

. In his native United States, Morgan's major work Ancient Society was consigned to oblivion, as were his scholarly activities. Only almost a century later did Morgan's name and work return to American science. The representatives of the evolutionary school proceeded only from quantitative changes. Therefore, they could not and did not seek to explain the history of the origin of culture and its constituent parts, assuming the existence of all future phenomena. At least, it should be in embryonic form, from the very beginning of human history. Evolutionists, and above all Tylor himself, in addition to a good generalization of the ethnographic material collected by the twentieth century, developed an animistic theory of the origin of religion. Moreover, they worked out a method of studying remnants to reconstruct past social and cultural history.

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Animistic Conception of E.Tylor

Animistic picture

Animistic picture

Unity of Human Culture

Though that very cautious judgment undermined the monotheistic concept of clerics and provoked a harsh condemnation of animistic theory by the Church. Tylor's animistic theory is debatable today, but it was and remains the pinnacle of 19th-century religious studies. Tylor's theory of remnants was of outstanding scientific value, according to which certain elements of culture are preserved in modern life from the past. As a result, through these long-dead phenomena, it can be recovered (as the vestiges of a living organism). Such a theory enabled ethnography to reconstruct both cultural and social achievements. However, Tylor proposed to consider the preservation of this or that vestige in isolation, outside any obvious socio-cultural connections. Hence there was without the possibility of explaining the reasons for the preservation of the vestiges themselves at a given stage of cultural development. When assessing the evolutionary school as a whole, it should be emphasized that the evolutionists of the 19th century, were representatives of the most advanced direction in foreign, as well as in domestic, ethnography. They affirmed the unity of human culture and the progress of social development. L. Morgan brought particular fame to the evolutionists.

About the Founder of the Cultural Anthropology

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Who was the founder of cultural anthropology?
    • Edward Burnett Tylor
    • Charles Lyell
    • Charles Darwin
  2. How did E.Tylor consider animism?
    • He considered this phenomenon as the first phase of development of religions
    • He considered it as the basis for monotheism
  3. Did E.Tylor gain a university degree?
    • He never gained
    • He gained it at Oxford
  4. When did he travel to Mexico and Central America?
    • In 1854
    • In 1855
  5. What was his first scholar work?
    • Researches into Early History of Mankind and Development of Civilization
    • Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern
    • Primitive Culture

Answer Key

  1. Edward Burnett Tylor
  2. He considered this phenomenon as the first phase of development of religions
  3. He never gained
  4. In 1855
  5. Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern

Your Choice

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