Tag Archives: Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

This was a period in science and human thought that affected great changes in how people understand the world and human development.
Notable people of this era include:
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace,
Herbert Spencer,
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor,
Lewis Henry Morgan,
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Notable publications include:
-Herbert Spencer, The Social Organism (1860)
-Lewis Henry Morgan, Ethnical Periods (1877)
-Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook (1845-1846)
-Edward Burnett Tylor, Science of Culture (1871)

-Lewis Henry Morgan, Ethnical Periods (1877)(link to article)

This is one of Morgan’s articles articulates his nineteenth century view that helped to shape anthropological theory. This was written in 1877 and discusses human progress evolution form savage to civilize. This theory of human cultural development was one of the historical foundations of nineteenth century evolution and the development of anthropology.

Morgan’s purpose is to define and category human cultural development, since there are common patterns and systems, needing structure and order. He viewed this as a moral development of the “primary institutions” such as Subsistence, government, language, the family, religion, house life and architecture, and property believing that these were in conjunction with discovery and inventions (McGee and Warm 2004, 57).These seven categories starting with the techniques of providing food to civilization beginning with the idea of ownership are what Morgan uses to define important stages in human cultural development.These are solid points that seem very reasonable to accept to some degree within anthropology and labeling of human culture and social development.

The other aspect of his theory from “Ethnic Periods” is what he calls factors were he illogically groups stages of human development starting with lower, middle and upper savagery and then moving upward to lower, middle, and upper barbarism to conclude at status of civilization (McGee and Warm 2004, 61-62).Fellow anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, criticized Morgan over his grouping method, such as the Polynesian people being labeled as middle savage in there development, but were instead of a higher category in relation to their social and governmental chiefdom structure (McGee and Warm 2004, 63-64).In this period, Morgan viewed what he would consider primitive societies as living fossils and that “human development is predetermined by the natural logic of the human mind” based on what he called “germs of thought” (McGee and Warm 2004, 66).Morgan was looking at the world’s diversity cultural and people finding that there was the ability to provide a foundation of cultural birth.


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