Edward B. Tylor, founder of the study and curriculum of anthropology, is considered to be the first cultural evolutionist anthropologist and the father of the science of anthropology.
Tylor was born the son of Quakers on October 2, 1832 in London, England. He attended school at Tottenham, but due to poor health withdrew to travel to North America, where in Mexico he befriended ethnologist Henry Christy. Tylor was fascinated by anthropology and the prehistoric remains in Mexico, and he systematically investigated the artifacts and cultures of the peoples who had inhabited the area. His investigations evolved from incidental ethnography to sophisticated ethnology. Returning to England, he married Anna Fox, attended meetings of the Ethnological Society of London, and in 1861 published Anahuac, an account of his Mexican journey that contains anthropological commentary. In 1865 he published Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and The Development of Civilization to begin an active study of anthropology highlighted by his masterpieces, Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom (1871), which is one of the major works of the 19th century, and Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization (1881), which still holds relevance today.
Tylor became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1871. He received a Doctor of Civil Laws degree at Oxford (1875), was appointed Keeper of the University Museum (1883), presided over the newly formed Anthropological Section of the British Association (1884) and the Royal Anthropological Institute, was given a Readership in Anthropology (1884), became Oxford’s first professor of Anthropology (1896), received an Honorary Fellowship at Balliol (1903), retired as Emeritus Professor (1909), received a knighthood (1912), and died on January 2,1917.
Tylor’s contributions to the science of anthropology are historic, especially his analysis of small-scale society and the relationship between culture and mentality, and his work on the evolution of culture and the religion of animism (omnipresent spiritual life in all organic living things). Establishing a taxonomy or lexicon of anthropological concepts and a basic curriculum in anthropology studies were his academic goals and accomplishments. His basic curriculum is the prototype for the undergraduate degree in anthropology.
The principle of cultural evolution threaded his work: culture and civilization evolve along unilinear timelines from small scale (“primitive” or “savagery”) to large scale (“civilization”) in opposition to the theory of “cultural degeneration.” His work took to task religious orthodoxy and divine inspiration of religious belief. Tylor labored to apply the scientific method to the study of humanity and crafted his theory of systematic evolution, describing the development of all societies along a single timeline or progressive pattern from a single natural state: human development progresses from “savagery” to “civilization.”
Tylor asserted that culture had been created by intelligent men and had evolved into civilization, a “developmentalism” enveloped in comparative methodology. Interest in his works continues, and anthropologists subscribe to the theory that human culture evolves in relationship to physical evolution.
- Marett, R. R. (1936). Tylor. New York: Wiley.
- Tylor, E. B. (1881). Anthropology: An introduction to the study of man and civilization. New York: Appleton.
- Tylor, E. B. (1958). Religion in primitive culture. New York: Harper & Row.