Much nineteenth century anthropology responded to the

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Much nineteenth century anthropology responded to the excitement and challenge of Darwin ’s theory of evolution, and tried to situate humanity in these new terms.  In Ancient Society, Lewis Henry Morgan proposed that all human societies had evolved through stages, from savagery to barbarism to civilization. His case implied that this evolution could be read from the subsistence technologies and material culture, though he presented the process as equally cultural, such as in “the growth of the  idea of government. ”  In Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor suggested that evolution could be read from myth and religion, and that the stages were animism (the belief in spirits), polytheism (many gods), and monotheism (one god). Both Morgan and Tylor took for granted that their western society, industrialization, and religion manifest the highest form of human achievement, and that any other people could be ranked by their degree of difference from that norm. The racist implications of these views are quite striking now, but were commonplace among educated white westerners of this time. It was a general assumption of evolutionary anthropology that Australian aboriginal populations expressed humankind in its most primitive and elementary form. By studying their religion and kinship, scholars would be able to chart the lines of human cultural and social evolution, such as Emile Durkheim in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life, and The Division of Labor in Society. There were various lines of debate in nineteenth century anthropology, between evolutionist and diffusionist ideas, and between materialist and idealist explanations, but a general agreement that the principle of human social life had shifted from blood to soil, or from kinship to social contract and modern nations. This shift marked the line between primitive and civilized peoples. This early anthropology did not call for field research; it could be done by culling reports and questionnaires, and the British Royal Anthropological Institute published Notes and Queries in Anthropology to enable traders, missionaries, explorers, and colonial administrators to collect the relevant data. Around 1900, ethnographic museums were widespread, and urban populations in various western cities took considerable interest in their displays. There was considerable traffic in specimens, which at the time were equally skeletons, religious objects, clothing, and household items. As anthropology was professionalized as a university discipline, the focus shifted in many ways. One of the markers was the reliance on first hand field research and in most cases a study of a single society. Bronislaw Malinowski studied the Trobriand Islanders, Evans-Prichard the Nuer. Research now required an intensive study of a society, for a year or longer. From attempts to explain evolutionary change, scholars shifted to social structure and culture. Evans-Prichard wrote one book on Nuer livelihood, another on Nuer kinship, and a third on Nuer religion.

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