Tylor, Edward Burnett

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Tylor, Edward Burnett



Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), the English evolutionary anthropologist, was born in London in the year of the Reform Bill. What little we know of his early years and family background places him squarely within the social milieu of the mid-Victorian liberal middle class. Son of a Quaker brassfounder, Tylor was educated along with the sons of other successful Quaker businessmen at Grove House in Tottenham. At 16, he was taken from school to join the family firm. His entrance into the business world coincided with the end of a thirty-year period of social instability, and he soon witnessed that symbolic triumph of middle-class endeavor, laissez-faire policy, and English civilization: the Great Exhibition of 1851 (at which his elder brother Alfred was a juror).

Four years later, symptoms of consumption forced his withdrawal from business. Supported by “a modest competence,” he was thenceforth to devote his life to travel and study and to participate in the life of the English intellectual aristocracy that by 1860 had developed from prospering Evangelical and Nonconformist families.

To “Anahuac” and ethnology. To improve his health, Tylor left England in 1855 for an American tour. Riding on a Havana omnibus the following spring he encountered Henry Christy, a middle-aged Quaker banker who was indulging his ethnological and antiquarian interests on an extended trip through the New World. Their acquaintance led to a four-month excursion in Mexico. Christy spent his time enlarging his collection of antiquities, while Tylor observed the details of Mexican daily life and custom. But although the Mexican excursion may have given his Wanderjahr something of the character of an anthropological field trip, Tylor’s awareness of his vocation seems to have developed only gradually.

Aside from the facts that in 1858 he married Anna Fox and that he spent time traveling in Europe, we know little of the years in which Tylor’s ethnological interests were germinating. But for men of antiquarian and ethnological bents like Christy and Tylor, it was a period of intense excitement. The years 1858 and 1859 witnessed not only the publication of the Darwinian theory, but also the discovery of flint tools in association with extinct animals at Brixham Cave in Devonshire and the confirmation by British investigators of Jacques Boucher de Perthes’s similar findings in the Somme Valley. The net effect was the opening of a new vista on the antiquity of man and the meaning of contemporary “savagery.” Christy’s previously diffuse antiquarianism found a more exact focus in what his necrologists called “the close resemblance between the lost races of primitive man and the savage life of our own time.” Christy was active in the revival of the Ethnological Society of London, whose meetings Tylor had begun to attend by 1862. In the years before his death in 1865, Christy participated with the noted French archeologist Edouard Lartet in an extended excavation of caves in the Dordogne Valley. In view of Tylor’s acknowledged debt to Christy and his later comment that he had followed “all the details of [Christy’s] ethnological researches in these years,” it seems reasonable to infer that Tylor was stimulated by the same events and motivated by the same purpose along a parallel path from incidental ethnography to theoretical ethnology (see Gruber 1965; Burrow 1966).

In 1861 Tylor published an account of his Mexican trip. For the most part, Anahuac is simply a well-wrought travelogue. Nevertheless, certain characteristics of the future anthropologist are already apparent: the book has a vivid sense of cultural differences, an intermittent concern with ethnological controversies, glimpses of the later concept of “survival,” and a cautious, empirical, and rudimentary anthropological relativism mixed unashamedly with a humane but assured ethnocentrism. Tylor was preoccupied by the backward, illiberal un-English elements in Mexican life, and he ended his book by predicting the ultimate absorption of Mexico by the United States.

Although Tylor published little in the early 1860s, he was busy moving beyond the ethnological asides of Anahuac to the more systematic Researches Into the Early History of Mankind, which he published in 1865. The late 1860s were a period of intense activity for him, and in 1871 the ideas on the evolution of religion and culture that he had sketched in a number of articles and lectures were given full elaboration in his two-volume masterwork, Primitive Culture. This was his major anthropological contribution, and it was recognized the same year by his election as a fellow of the Royal Society.

Positive science and religious orthodoxy. Published at the end of a decade of polemics about evolution, Primitive Culture is as much a cultural document as a scientific study. It can be understood only in relation to the major intellectual controversies of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. From 1830 on, Christian orthodoxy suffered a series of blows that eventually undermined not only belief in the inspiration and literal sense of the Bible and in the uniqueness of man as a vessel for a God-given soul, but also the more general, active, providential conception of nature, which largely governed the thinking of British scientists until 1859. From Sir Charles Lyell’s statement of the principle of uniformitarianism in the early 1830s, through Robert Chambers’ popular evolutionism and J. S. Mill’s confident reassertion in the early 1840s of the principle that the actions of human beings are subject to invariable laws, through Darwin’s implicit denial of God’s intervention in the history of nature and the polemic over the “ape theory” in the 1860s, and on down to the declaration of warfare on religion by Tyndall and others in the 1870s, what was at first simply a fault line between different religious points of view within science widened into what seemed to many a chasm between science and religion. Tylor was a young member of the generation of Thomas Huxley and Tyndall. Primitive Culture was, among other things, a rationalist assault on the very stronghold of religious orthodoxy: the divine inspiration of religious belief. As Tylor later expressed it in doggerel:

Theologians all to expose—

’Tis the mission of Primitive Man.

(Lang & Tylor 1883)

Indeed, the foci of Tylor’s anthropology—the applicability of scientific method to the study of man, man’s great prehistoric antiquity, and man’s development along progressive, uniformitarian rather than degenerational, providential lines—were all subjects of heated debate. It is in this broad context of the reassertion and development of the rationalist principles of the Enlightenment against the waning power of the early nineteenth-century religious revival that Tylor’s work must be understood.

Sources of Tylor’s thought. Quaker humanitarianism was a major factor in the emergence of English ethnology in the 1830s; in Tylor’s case the Quaker heritage expressed itself primarily in intellectual terms. The early nineteenth century was a period of Quaker decline in England, as the sons and daughters of the Quaker well-to-do broke down the barriers of the rigidified antiformalism that isolated them from the middle class at large. Some moved toward evangelicalism or the Church of England; others, following Mill’s injunction to pursue the argument wherever it might lead, moved toward rationalism. Tylor took the latter course, but the traditional Quaker antagonism to systematic theology undoubtedly colored his conception of the “mission” of primitive man.

This mission was of course evolutionist as well as antitheological:

From a status like that of the Crees
Our society’s fabric arose.

(Lang & Tylor 1883)

However, Tylor’s evolutionism was no simple reflection of Darwin’s Origin, although his work was quickly incorporated into the body of Darwinian evolutionary thought. Tylor was also close to prehistoric archeology, and his brother Alfred was a geologist. But although he was undoubtedly much affected by recent advances in these fields, we must look beyond them for the roots of his uniformitarian search for prehistoric origins. There may have been German influences: Tylor knew comparative philology, especially as Anglicized by Max Müller, and he had read Gustav Klemm’s Allgemeine Culturgeschichte der Menschheit. But Klemm’s cultural evolutionism was only part of a tradition that was more directly available to Tylor, who was, in any event, “not really happy with foreign tongues” (Lowie 1937, p. 13; Marett 1936, p. 28). The ultimate source of Tylor’s evolutionism is suggested rather by his illuminating reference to the empiricism of Mill’s System of Logic (Tylor 1871, vol. 1, p. 218); by his clear debt to Auguste Comte, whose theories Mill had introduced to England in 1844; and perhaps most revealingly, by the motto from Charles de Brosses’s 1760 work, Du culte de dieux fetiches, on the title page of Primitive Culture: “It is not in his possibilities, it is in man himself that man should be studied. The issue is not to imagine what he might have or ought to have done, but to look at what he does.” Here is the germ of the uniformitarian view that the causal forces of the past are those visible in the present. Indeed, here is foreshadowed the social evolutionist conception that the development of all human social groups (composed as they are of beings with a common nature) normally follows a single gradual progressive pattern of development out of the natural state, that the rate of this progress is subject to circumstantial retardation, and that the stages of human development from savagery to European civilization can therefore be reconstructed scientifically beyond the reach of historical evidence by comparing the institutions of human groups coexisting in the present and arranging them in a sequence of “natural” development on the basis of their similarity to western European forms.

Rooted in classical thought and Cartesian philosophy, this social evolutionary point of view was developed by the social scientists of the French and Scottish Enlightenment—Turgot, Condorcet, Ferguson, Smith. The evidence of racial diversity and the arguments of religious “degenerationists” tended in the first half of the nineteenth century to undermine the developmentalist assumption that all men share a uniform psychic nature that expresses itself in universal progress. Nevertheless, it was transmitted through this “period of doubt” and reasserted in the 1850s and 1860s by various writers who may loosely be termed “positivist”—among them Henry T. Buckle, Herbert Spencer, and, of course, Tylor. For these men, the assumption that civilized society has evolved by natural processes from origins similar to existing “savagery” was at once intellectual baggage and a polemical platform (see Bock 1956; Burrow 1966).

Historical and “comparative” methods. Although his social evolutionism can be traced to eighteenth-century roots, Tylor was affected also by the more orthodox historicism of the romantic period, which was concerned with recreating the actual sequences of historical change rather than with deriving scientific laws of historical development. This historicism was reflected in the ethnological societies founded around 1840. They were more “diffusionist” than evolutionist; indeed; their central concern was the “origin and diffusion of the races of mankind.” When, in the late 1860s, Tylor moved toward a more systematic evolutionism, he was in fact rebuked by the president of the Ethnological Society of London (Burrow 1966, pp. 122-123). Perhaps as a result of his contact with the ethnological tradition, Tylor’s first major work, Researches Into the Early History of Mankind, escaped the frequent tendency of positivist social theory to subordinate historical fact to nomothetic ends. On the contrary, this work was largely an attempt to delineate the range of application of two methods in the study of civilization—the systematic comparison of like phenomena and detailed reconstruction of specific historical sequences.

On the one hand, Tylor argued that detailed history is unnecessary “when a general law can be inferred from a group of facts” (1865, p. 3). Over half the book was an application of the “comparative method” in seeking the origins of language, magic, and myth. Thus, the essential similarity of cultural manifestations among various tribes suggested to Tylor that gesture language and picture writing are “direct products of the human mind” under certain conditions and that magic is the outcome of the “very simple mental law” by which the untutored human mind tends to confuse objective phenomena with their associated subjective manifestations (names, images, and so forth). On the other hand, most of the phenomena of culture have “traveled [too] far from their causes” to be approached so directly in terms of general psychological laws. To trace their development the ethnologist must piece together their actual histories, yet without written records. Relying on the indirect evidence of “antiquities,” Tylor demonstrated the world-wide progress from stone to metal and from fire drill to flint. But he argued that the use of such other materials of “culture history” as language and mythology depends on first answering the question whether similarities of custom and art result from independent invention by like minds in like conditions or from transmission and diffusion by blood relationship and social intercourse. Although he made abundant use of the data of independent invention to infer general laws of the mind, Tylor argued that such data have “no historical value whatever.” His goal was rather to separate these data from the data of diffusion, to distinguish myths based on the observation or personification of natural phenomena—which recur independently all over the world among groups historically unconnected—from myths whose similarities are better explained by diffusion, and from actual historical traditions. When this was done, he could get on with the real job of using these actual historical traditions to reconstruct the course of man’s early history, a process he felt would eventually tie together many races “whose history even the evidence of Language has not succeeded in bringing into connexion” (1865, p. 368).

But although Tylor’s Researches thus subordinated the “comparative method” of developmentalist social theory to the goal of specific historical reconstruction, he nevertheless offered support for several developmentalist assumptions that the racial heterodoxies and the religious orthodoxies of the pre-Darwinian nineteenth century had brought sharply under attack. The many evidences for independent invention buttressed the argument for the psychic and genetic unity of man against the polygenist argument that various groups of men were aboriginally distinct and unequal species, some of them incapable of progress. And in general, his Researches supported the developmentalist position against the attacks of religious orthodoxy. “Degenerationists” like Archbishop Whately had argued that savagery was the end product of decline rather than the starting point of progress and that no savage had ever advanced or could ever advance unaided to civilization. Granting that the early condition of the human mind was not exactly represented in any living tribe, Tylor argued that his Researches showed that the similarity was sufficient to justify the use of existing savage tribes as a basis “to reason upon.” Furthermore, his consideration of the “Growth and Decline of Culture” (1865, pp. 252-290) showed that on the whole the history of mankind has been one of progressive development.

Doctrine of survival and theory of animism. Although ostensibly carrying the Researches into other branches of thought and belief, art and custom, the purpose and method of Primitive Culture are in fact rather different. The change in focus is related to the scientific and religious controversies of the 1860s. Tylor’s “Remarks on Language and Mythology as Departments of Biological Science” shows that his evolutionism, while rooted in an earlier tradition of social thought, was not unrelated to contemporary developments in biology. Here, Tylor argued that the “details of human culture should come under discussion as topics of biology, where … they must be treated as facts to be classified and referred to uniform and consistent laws” (1868, p. 120). During this period, the older attack against developmentalism fused with the anti-Darwinian polemic. Orthodox religionists argued that the moral or cultural qualities that distinguish man from beast are subject to neither the laws of progress and natural selection nor the jurisdiction of science. Given Tylor’s strong commitment to both science and progress, it is not surprising that he took up the challenge. Primitive Culture was an attempt to demonstrate that human culture and above all human religion are products of a natural, regular, continuous, progressive, and law-abiding evolution of the mental capacities of the human animal in the social state and that this evolution is a proper subject of scientific study. In this context, Tylor’s interest in the data of independent invention changed. Rather than separating out the products of psychic unity so that he might study man’s history, he used them to demonstrate progress and to establish a “science of culture” based on the classification and comparison of ethnological facts (Smith 1933, pp. 116-183).

The basic tool of the science of culture was the “comparative method,” buttressed against the attacks of the degenerationists by Tylor’s “doctrine of survivals” (1871, vol. 1, pp. 63-144). Antiquarians had long been fascinated by the irrationality and superstition in the folklore of European peasant life. But to Tylor’s eminently rationalist mind, everything in the world of culture was intelligible because it had been created by intelligent men. Applying an archeological analogy, he treated old ideas as mutilated artifacts of an earlier stage of intellectual development. Thus he made European peasantry a link between savage man and civilized society and at the same time created a methodological tool of general applicability (Hodgen 1936). As Andrew Lang later suggested, the ethnologist was no longer compelled to seek reason where none existed: “The most irrational-seeming customs were the product of reason like our own, working on materials imperfectly apprehended, and under stress of needs which it is our business to discover, though they have faded from the memories of the advanced savages of today” [1907, p. 12; see also the biography of Lang]. Because man’s reason did not advance at the same pace all over the world, it is possible to trace the spiritual culture of European man backward, through successive vestiges of past reason surviving in later ages as superstition, to a level analogous to that of contemporary savages.

While Tylor’s major methodological contribution in the late 1860s was the doctrine of survivals, his major theoretical contribution was the related concept of animism. Animism was religion in its minimal, most primitive, and, therefore, broadest form— “the belief in Spiritual Beings.” As Tylor himself indicated, the idea can be traced back through Comte to de Brosses’s notion of “fetishism.” Tylor, however, went behind their idea that “man conceived of all external bodies as animated by a life analogous to his own” to the basis of this tendency within man himself, arguing that “a conception of the Human Soul is a crude but reasonable inference by primitive man from obvious phenomena”— dreams and visions, life and death. Simultaneously, “the notion of a ghost-soul as the animating principle of man” is “extended by easy steps to souls of lower animals, and even of lifeless objects” to provide a “complete philosophy of Natural Religion.” The major part of Primitive Culture is an attempt, using the evidence of recurrence and survival, to trace the evolution of religious belief forward to the “outcome of the Animistic Philosophy” in the great monotheistic religions (1871; 1877, pp. 142, 145).

The sense of social conservatism that prevented some Victorian intellectuals from making more forthright attacks on religion was, in a way, built right into Tylor’s evolutionary scheme. Religion and morality, unrelated in the state of savagery, become linked in the higher stages of civilization through the idea of retribution in a future life. But Tylor did not accept this linkage as irrevocable. On the contrary, he thought it possible that a “positive morality … shall of its own force control the acts of men” (1871, vol. 2, p. 407). Explicitly opposing animism to “materialism,” he saw human cultural development as a “long-waged contest between the theory of animation which accounts for each phenomenon of nature by giving it everywhere a life like our own, and a slowly-growing natural science which in one department after another substitutes for independent voluntary action the working out of systematic law” (1866, p. 83). Within this context, the doctrines of animism and survival took on broader significance, and the “science of culture” became “essentially a reformer’s science,” exposing and marking out for destruction “the remains of crude old culture which have passed into harmful superstition” (1871, vol. 2, p. 410).

Despite the focus on evolutionary origins and stages, which shunted the study of historical diffusion into the background in Primitive Culture, and despite its nomothetic and polemical purposes, Tylor’s method did not lend itself to the ridicule which orthodox historians heaped on certain other practitioners of the “comparative method.” Tylor rarely allowed his cultural preconceptions or his nomothetic purpose to override his evidence; he always retained a deep commitment to the “canons of sober historical criticism” he never lost the historian’s touch with documentary material.

Continuity of Tylor’s anthropology. Although Tylor was active in anthropology for more than three decades after 1871, his theoretical work in that period was largely reiterative. His only other book, Anthropology (1881), a popular introduction to the field, was a demonstration of the fact of evolution in each of the various aspects of human culture. His developmentalist commitment is evident in most of his later work. In the 1890s he wrote a series of articles on the Tasmanians as representatives of paleolithic man, explicitly shoring up once again one of the basic assumptions of the “comparative method.”

Two aspects of Tylor’s later work are, however, particularly worthy of note. In the late 1870s he turned again to a question he had touched on in Anahuac and which continued to occupy him on and off through 1896—the origins of civilization in the New World. In 1861 he had been inclined to regard this civilization largely as an independent growth (1861, p. 104; cf. p. 243, p. 280). Now, having established the fundamental similarity between the Aztec game patolli and Indian pachisi, he concluded that this and other elements suggested that Mexican civilization was “in large measure” the result of Asian influence (1878, p. 128).

But despite his renewed interest in historical diffusion, Tylor’s interest in developmentalism remained strong until his death. His most significant later work was a dramatic reassertion of the possibility of establishing a science of culture; he titled it “On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions: Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent” (1888). Here he summarized data on 350 peoples in tabular form so as to note the “adhesions” between such customs as avoidance, couvade, and matrilocal or patrilocal residence. Tylor argued that the total pattern of more-than-chance associations revealed in his tables supported the by-then traditional picture of an evolution from maternal to paternal institutions. But despite this “unilinear” evolutionist conclusion, Tylor regarded his study primarily as a methodological exercise illustrating the possibilities of applying statistics to anthropology. Although Sir Francis Galton attacked the logical basis of the whole procedure by noting the possibility of historical connections between the various tribes that Tylor treated as independent units, the article did in fact have an important impact, and the issues Galton raised are still debated today. [See Ethnology.]

Tylor’s failure to complete any major anthropological work after 1881 has been attributed to his preoccupation with the organization and propagation of anthropological science. He was twice president of the Royal Anthropological Institute and an important contributor to the successive editions of Notes and Queries on Anthropology prepared for “the use of travellers and residents in uncivilized lands.” In 1884 his address as first president of the anthropological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science provided the stimulus for a study of the tribes of the Northwest Coast of Canada. Although Tylor was for 12 years the chairman of the supervising committee, it was Franz Boas who did the field work, achieving thereby his extensive professional competence as an anthropologist. In 1883 Tylor was appointed keeper of the University Museum at Oxford and from then on was busy with the supervision and expansion of the Pitt-Rivers collection of cultural artifacts. The following year he began regular lectures at the museum, first as reader and then, from 1896 until his retirement in 1909, as Oxford’s first professor of anthropology.

In 1907 Andrew Lang mentioned that he was looking forward to the completion of a “great work” with which Tylor had been “long occupied.” However, the years until Tylor’s death in 1917 were a period of mental decline, and the book was never finished. It was apparently intended to be a reworking of the Gifford lectures which Tylor had given between 1889 and 1891. The detailed outline of these lectures in the annotated bibliography of Tylor’s writings indicates that they covered essentially the same ground as Primitive Culture. Therefore, another reason Tylor did not publish any books in his last decades may have been that he thought he had said all that he had to say on the major issues which concerned him. By 1890 the battle for a broadly evolutionary view of human origins had been won: “the mission of primitive man” had been accomplished. As Tylor himself suggested in a letter to Boas in 1895, the time was at hand for a “reformation” in anthropology.

Tylor’s influence and contribution. Tylor has been called “the father of anthropology in all its British developments,” but this is hardly a precise estimate of his role. Tylor did little in physical anthropology except insofar as the counterweight of his influence may have helped prevent physical anthropology from dominating anthropology in Britain as it did in France in the 1860s. Within the range of his major interests, Tylor’s influence in his own lifetime was great, especially on the humanist margin of anthropological study. His major works were widely translated and continuously reprinted until as late as 1920. Andrew Lang and James G. Frazer came to the study of religion through reading Primitive Culture, and the book’s ideas continued to influence students of comparative religion on into the twentieth century. The doctrine of survivals gave stimulus and focus to more than a generation of folklorists in England and elsewhere and was employed by scholars in all countries in such varied disciplines as law, economics, literature, and, of course, anthropology. However much Tylor may have helped prepare the acceptance of anthropology, he actually trained few anthropologists, and only at the very end of his tenure at Oxford did anthropology as an organized discipline achieve more than nominal status. And although some of Tylor’s technical terminology has been incorporated into the modern study of social structure and aspects of his work have made it easier for British anthropologists to accept the influence of L. H. Morgan and Emile Durkheim, twentieth-century British functionalist social anthropology represents on the whole a sharp break with the Tylorian tradition.

It has also been suggested that whereas Morgan founded modern British social anthropology, Tylor founded American cultural anthropology. Insofar as this paradox is based on the assumption that Tylor “invented” the culture concept in its modern anthropological sense, it must be seriously questioned. Despite the famous definition on the first page of Primitive Culture (for discussion, see Stocking 1963), Tylor’s idea of culture lacks a number of the central elements of the modern idea of culture—functional integration, cultural relativity, meaningful historicity, and behavioral determinism. In fact, his commitment to the developmentalist “comparative method” tended to inhibit rather than encourage the emergence of these central concepts. True, there are traces of functionalism in Tylor’s work, but the very “first step in the study of civilization” involved the fragmentation of human cultures (although Tylor never used the plural) into elements that might be compared, with little regard for context, in order to reconstruct a single evolving human culture. True, Tylor insisted that even what he frequently called “uncultured” savages had systems of morality, religion, and the germs of culture, but his commitment to progress and his anthropological method required that these be in some real sense inferior to European forms. Despite his self-conscious concern with method, there was a point where his method was rooted in the European’s inherited assumption of his own superiority. The stages of cultural evolution coexisted in the present. “All that is hypothetical … is the sequence in which they are supposed to have arisen one out of another” (1866, p. 85); and as to that, “few would dispute that the following races are arranged rightly in order of culture:—Australian, Tahitian, Aztec, Chinese, Italian” (1871, vol. 1, p. 24). Even an agnostic Quaker could see that the Church of England was a less barbaric form of religion than the Church of Rome (1871, p. 450). Although Tylor emphasized the slowly cumulative continuity of human culture and the tenacity of custom, he had no real theory of the processes of cultural transmission or persistence through time, beyond the notion of non-functional survival. Nor did Tylor’s concept of culture really take into account the frequently non-rational mechanisms through which a culture “determines” the behavior of its members; on the contrary, it was because Tylor saw culture as above all a matter of conscious, rational processes that he was led into error in the explanation of religious phenomena (Marett 1936). To firmly establish Matthew Arnold’s humanist culture as a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry was no small contribution to the development of anthropology. But the emergence of the modern pluralistic concept required a change both in theoretical orientation and in methodology. When it finally did emerge after 1900, it was in the work of Boas and other men who had rejected an evolutionism that submerged the variety of human cultural manifestations in a single evolving human culture and who devoted themselves to the systematic study of human cultures in the field (Stocking 1966).

On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that Tylor, somewhat paradoxically, did have an important influence on the diffusionist orientations which arose in opposition to evolutionism in the early twentieth century. Paul Radin once suggested that Tylor’s study of adhesions was “the corner stone of all distribution studies since his time” (1933, p. 133). Boas’ correspondence indicates quite clearly that Tylor’s article served as a methodological catalyst for Boas’ own statistical investigations of the diffusion of myth elements, to which much of later culture area work may be traced. In the case of Rivers and the British diffusionists, who tended to see Tylor as their main antagonist (Smith 1933), the debt is at best indirect. But it may perhaps be traced through the German diffusionist Graebner, who although critical of Tylor’s evolutionism incorporated the notion of adhesions into his own methodology (1911, pp. 86-91, 119). In any case, this important but rather indirect influence had exhausted its force by the 1930s.

To judge by current textbooks, Tylor has little to say to anthropology today. The idea of animism is basic to our understanding of religion but not in Tylor’s universal terms. The notion of survival has had a hard time surviving in a functionalist milieu. Modern methods of comparison are not the same as Tylor’s “comparative method.” Now that some anthropologists are turning once again to problems of human evolution, they may find Tylor’s works of greater interest. But in reassessing his historical and theoretical significance, it would be well to keep in mind the very different context in which Tylor wrote.

He was a nineteenth-century cultural evolutionist. This is not to suggest that he accepted such evolutionist vagaries as the promiscuity of the primitive horde or even that he rejected the diffusion of culture. His primary commitment was to an overall progressionism, not to any specific mechanism of progress. Nomothetic purpose and comparative method may have led him to emphasize independent invention; he nevertheless granted a considerable role to diffusion and even suggested several of the technical criteria of the later diffusionists. This is not to say that Tylor was in any rigid sense a “unilinear” evolutionist; he admitted that the “history of Culture as a whole” is not the same as “the history of particular tribes” (1865, p. 190). It is rather to suggest that Tylor’s overriding purpose was to show that the development of European civilization has been part of an evolutionary process that links it to the processes of nature in the inorganic and subhuman organic realms and that the scientific point of view that applies in these realms is therefore applicable to the study of man. We have long since come to take for granted the burden of Tylor’s message. Today we look with a more jaundiced eye at European progress; we are not at all sure that history can be in any easy way subsumed by science; and we have largely rejected historical reconstructions based on the “comparative method.” But no anthropologist would doubt that human culture is the product of an evolutionary development linked to the physical evolution of man.

George W. Stocking, Jr.

[See also Anthropology, article on The field; Culture; Religion, article on Anthropological Study; and the biographies of Boas; Frazer; Lang; LÉvy-bruhl; Marett.]


Freire-Marreco (1907) annotated a bibliography of Tylor’s lectures and published writings. Such manuscripts as Tylor left are for the most part in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Oxford; they consist largely of notebooks and folios of references which he used in teaching and writing.

1861 Anahuac: Or, Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. London: Longmans.

(1865) 1878 Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization. 3d ed., rev. London: Murray. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1964 by the University of Chicago Press.

1866 The Religion of Savages. Fortnightly Review 6:71-86.

1868 Remarks on Language and Mythology as Departments of Biological Science. Pages 120-121 in British Association for the Advancement of Science, Report. London: Murray.

(1871) 1958 Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom. 2 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith. → Volume 1: Origins of Culture. Volume 2: Religion in Primitive Culture.

1877 Mr. Spencer’s “Principles of Sociology.” Mind 2: 141-156.

1878 On the Game of Patolli in Ancient Mexico and Its Probably Asiatic Origin. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 8:116-131. → Contains two pages of discussion.

(1881) 1907 Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization. New York: Appleton. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1960 by the University of Michigan Press.

(1883) 1888 Lang, Andrew; and Tylor, Edward B. Double Ballade of Primitive Man. Pages 44-46 in Andrew Lang, XxxiiBallades in Blue China. London: Routledge.

(1888) 1961 On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions: Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent. Pages 1-28 in Frank W. Moore (editor), Readings in Cross-cultural Methodology. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files. → First published in Volume 18 of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.


Bidney, David 1953 Theoretical Anthropology. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Bock, Kenneth E. 1956 The Acceptance of Histories: Toward a Perspective for Social Science. University of California Publications in Sociology and Social Institutions, Vol. 3, No. 1. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Burrow, John W. 1966 Evolution and Society: A Study in Victorian Social Theory. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Freire-Marreco, Barbara 1907 A Bibliography of Edward Burnett Tylor From 1861 to 1907. Pages 375-409 in Anthropological Essays Presented to Edward Burnett Tylor in Honour of His 75th Birthday. Oxford: Clarendon.

Graebner, Fritz 1911 Methode der Ethnologie. Heidelberg: Winter.

Gruber, J. W. 1965 Brixham Cave and the Antiquity of Man. Pages 377-402 in Melford Spiro (editor), Context and Meaning in Cultural Anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Hodgen, Margaret T. 1936 The Doctrine of Survivals: A Chapter in the History of Scientific Method in the Study of Man. London: Allenson.

Lang, Andrew 1907 Edward Burnett Tylor. Pages 1-15 in Anthropological Essays Presented to Edward Burnett Tylor in Honour of His 75th Birthday. Oxford: Clarendon.

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Tylor, Edward Burnett

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