Anthropology : A Distinct Field Of Study During The Nineteenth Century

1350 Words Mar 21st, 2016 null Page
Anthropology appeared as a distinct field of study during the nineteenth century. Europe’s successful efforts in geographical exploration, and the colonization of the America facilitated public intrigue regarding the relationship between human evolution, nature and culture. Early anthropological theory was highly concerned with the classification of cultures and peoples along a static, evolutionary timeline, ascending from savagery to barbarism, and finally to civilization, typified by European society at the time. This concept, associated with Edward Burnett Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan, respectively, is known as unilineal cultural evolution. Unilineal cultural evolution is characterized by the supposition that all societies pass through the same sequences in their cultural odyssey to the ‘pinnacle’ of civilization. While early classical Evolutionist anthropology spawned the comparative method, as well as the first definition of culture, described by Tylor as “a complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society,” (1873, (1985) 30) it is overall, inadequate and ineffective. Lack of first hand field observation and participation by the anthropologist, a Eurocentric undercurrent, and the small detail of the data failing to support the basic premise of unilineal cultural evolution, are just a few of the oversights present in early anthropological inquiry. Tylor theorized…

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