Edward Burnett Tylor

Edward Burnett Tylor

Overview
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (2 October 1832 – 2 January 1917), was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 anthropologist.

Tylor is representative of cultural evolutionism
Cultural evolutionism
Cultural evolutionism attempts to describe and explain long-term change in human ways of life, insofar as those ways are socially rather than biologically acquired...

. In his works Primitive Culture and Anthropology, he defined the context of the scientific study of anthropology, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Lyell
Charles Lyell
Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, Kt FRS was a British lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which popularised James Hutton's concepts of uniformitarianism – the idea that the earth was shaped by slow-moving forces still in operation...

. He believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal.
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Encyclopedia
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (2 October 1832 – 2 January 1917), was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 anthropologist.

Tylor is representative of cultural evolutionism
Cultural evolutionism
Cultural evolutionism attempts to describe and explain long-term change in human ways of life, insofar as those ways are socially rather than biologically acquired...

. In his works Primitive Culture and Anthropology, he defined the context of the scientific study of anthropology, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Lyell
Charles Lyell
Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, Kt FRS was a British lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which popularised James Hutton's concepts of uniformitarianism – the idea that the earth was shaped by slow-moving forces still in operation...

. He believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal. E. B. Tylor is considered by many to be a founding figure of the science of social anthropology, and his scholarly works are seen as important and lasting contributions to the discipline of anthropology that was beginning to take shape in the 19th century. He believed that "research into the history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 and prehistory
Prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 of man [...] could be used as a basis for the reform of British society."

He reintroduced the term animism
Animism
Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle....

(the faith in the individual soul
Soul
A soul in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing or object. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans have souls, and others teach that all living things and even inanimate objects have souls. The...

 or anima
Anima
Anima may refer to:*the Latin term for the "animating principle", see vitalism**the Latin translation of Greek psyche**in Christian contexts, the soul**see also spirit...

of all things, and natural
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 manifestations) into common use. He considered animism as the first phase of development of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

s.

Early life and education


E. B. Tylor was born in 1832, in Camberwell
Camberwell
Camberwell is a district of south London, England, and forms part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is a built-up inner city district located southeast of Charing Cross. To the west it has a boundary with the London Borough of Lambeth.-Toponymy:...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He was the son of Joseph Tylor and Harriet Skipper, part of a family of financially well-off Quakers who owned a London brass factory.

He was educated at Grove House School, Tottenham
Tottenham
Tottenham is an area of the London Borough of Haringey, England, situated north north east of Charing Cross.-Toponymy:Tottenham is believed to have been named after Tota, a farmer, whose hamlet was mentioned in the Domesday Book; hence Tota's hamlet became Tottenham...

, but due to the deaths of Tylor's parents during his early adulthood and his restrictive Quaker background, he never gained a university degree. After his parents’ deaths, he prepared to help manage the family business, but had to set this plan aside when he developed symptoms consistent with the onset of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 (TB). Following advice to spend time in warmer climes, Tylor left England in 1855, traveling to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 and Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

. The experience proved to be an important and formative one, sparking his lifelong interest in studying unfamiliar cultures.

During his travels, Tylor met Henry Christy
Henry Christy
Henry Christy was an English banker and collector who left his substantial collections to the British Museum.-Early life:...

, a fellow Quaker, ethnologist and archaeologist. Tylor's association with Christy greatly stimulated his awakening interest in anthropology, and helped broaden his inquiries to include prehistoric studies.

Professional career



Tylor’s first publication was a result of his 1856 trip to Mexico with Christy. His notes on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered were the basis of his work Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861), published after his return to England. While never traveling again, Tylor continued to study the customs and beliefs of tribal communities, both existing and prehistoric (based on archaeological finds). He published his second work, Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, in 1865. Following this came his most influential work, Primitive Culture (1871). Despite his continuing to work and write to the beginnings of World War I, Tylor did not surpass the influence of his Primitive Culture. It was important not only for its thorough study of human civilization and contributions to the emergent field of anthropology, but for its undeniable influence on a handful of young scholars, such as J. G. Frazer, who were to become Tylor's disciples and contribute greatly to the scientific study of anthropology in later years.

He was appointed Keeper of the University Museum
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, sometimes known simply as the Oxford University Museum, is a museum displaying many of the University of Oxford's natural history specimens, located on Parks Road in Oxford, England. It also contains a lecture theatre which is used by the...

 at Oxford in 1883, and, as well as serving as a lecturer, held the title of the first “Reader in Anthropology” from 1884-1895. In 1896 he was appointed the first Professor of Anthropology at Oxford University.

He was involved in the early history of the Pitt Rivers Museum
Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum is a museum displaying the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. The museum is located to the east of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and can only be accessed through that building.The museum was...

, although the nature and degree of that involvement is debated.

Legacy and honors

  • 1871, Tylor was elected Fellow of the Royal Society
    Royal Society
    The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

    .
  • 1875, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of Oxford
    University of Oxford
    The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

    .
  • 1912, Tylor was knighted for his contributions.

Ideology and "Primitive Culture"


Tylor’s ideology is best described in his most famous work, the two-volume Primitive Culture. The first volume, The Origins of Culture, deals with various aspects of ethnography including social evolution, linguistics, and myth. The second volume, titled Religion in Primitive Culture, deals mainly with his interpretation of animism
Animism
Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle....

. Fundamental to understanding Tylor’s ideology, is acknowledging that he is considered an ‘undertaker of religion’. Tylor displays negative feelings towards religion, and especially Christianity.

On the first page of Primitive Culture, Tylor provides an all-inclusive definition which is one of his most widely recognized contributions to anthropology and the study of religion : “Culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, Tylor asserts that the human mind and its capabilities are the same globally, despite a particular society’s stage in social evolution. This means that a hunter-gatherer society would possess the same amount of intelligence as an advanced industrial society. The difference, Tylor asserts, is education, which he considers the cumulative knowledge and methodology that takes thousands of years to acquire. Tylor often likens primitive cultures to “children”, and sees culture and the mind of humans as progressive. His work was a refutation of the theory of social degeneration
Degeneration
The idea of degeneration had significant influence on science, art and politics from the 1850s to the 1950s. The social theory developed consequently from Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution...

, which was popular at the time. At the end of Primitive Culture, Tylor writes, “The science of culture is essentially a reformers' science.”

Another term ascribed to Tylor was his theory of “survivals.” Tylor asserted that when a society evolves, certain customs are retained that are unnecessary in the new society, like outworn and useless “baggage”. His definition of survivals are “processes, customs, and opinions, and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved.” This can include outdated practices, such as the European practice of bloodletting
Bloodletting
Bloodletting is the withdrawal of often little quantities of blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease. Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were considered to be "humors" the proper balance of which maintained health...

, which lasted long after the medical theories on which it was based had faded from use and been replaced by more modern techniques. Despite much criticism about his survivals (critics argued that he identified the term but provided an insufficient reason as to why survivals continue), his coining of the term is still acknowledged.

Survivals


Tylor’s concept of survivals (similar to meme
Meme
A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena...

) explains the characteristics of a culture that are linked to earlier stages of human culture. According to Tylor, survivals are “processes, customs, opinions, and so forth, which have been carried by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home and they remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved,”. Studying survivals assists ethnographers in reconstructing earlier cultural characteristics and possibly reconstructing the evolution of culture.
  • Religion as a survival

E.B. Tylor argued that in the past, religion was used by people to account for or explain things that occurred in the world. He saw that it was important for religions to have the ability to explain why and for what reason things occurred in the world. For example, God (or the divine) gave us sun to keep us warm and give us light. Tylor argued that animism is the true natural religion that is the essence of religion; it answers the questions of which religion came first and which religion is essentially the most basic and foundation of all religions. For him, animism was the best answer to these questions, so it must be the true foundation of all religions. Animism is described as the belief in spirits inhabiting and animating beings, or souls existing in things. To Tylor, the fact that modern religious practitioners continued to believe in spirits showed that these people were no more advanced than primitive societies. For him, this implied that modern religious practitioners do not understand the ways of the universe and how life truly works because they have excluded science from their understanding of the world. By excluding scientific explanation in their understanding of why and how things occur, he asserts modern religious practitioners are rudimentary. Tylor perceived the modern religious belief in God as a “survival” of primitive ignorance. He claimed the contemporary belief in God to be a survival, because science could explain the phenomena previously justified by religion.

Works

  • Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861)
  • Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (1865)
  • Primitive Culture (1871) (reissued by Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , 2010. ISBN 9781108017527)
  • Anthropology (1881)
  • On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions; applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent (1889)

Related studies

  • Joan Leopold, Culture in Comparative and Evolutionary Perspective: E. B. Tylor and the Making of Primitive Culture (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1980).
  • George W. Stocking, “Matthew Arnold, E.B. Tylor, and the Uses of Invention,” American Anthropologist, 65 (1963), 783–799 Open Access Copy
  • Edward B. Tylor: The Science of Culture
  • Laavanyan Ratnapalan, "E. B. Tylor and the Problem of Primitive Culture," History and Anthropology, 19,2 (2008), 131-142.

External links