19th 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)

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Comments

  • Dale H.  On January 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Biologic and social evolution both progressed from simple to more complex; racism was commonplace and thought to be justifiable with white people scientifically proven to be morally and intellectually superior (of course, elite whites were more advanced and superior to peasant whites); and girls were stupid because, at a young age, “the needs of reproduction arrested the mental evolution of females.” (text pg 47, note 25) These are the main themes I got from reading our three iconic anthropologist’s “fundamental ideas”. Some of it does make sense to me though, like, I remember how proud my mom was when I jumped from middle savagery to lower barbarism!

    However, the person I never knew about until these readings, but now will always remain with me, is Samuel George Morton “thought of as the originator of “American School” ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is seen by some as the origin of scientific racism.” (Wikipedia) Samuel George Morton and his “scientific” study, published from 1839 – 1849 “proved” large differences in brain size among races with white people at the top. I just wonder how much human horror and suffering this one scientific test provided justification for? How would someone even go about tracing the complete impact, evolution and influence of this idea through time? Morton’s study, apparently, heavily influenced Lewis Henry Morgan’s ideas. (text pg 47, note 5) Even though this may have been similar to Piltdown Man (reaffirming beliefs widely held at the time) the part that is astounding to me is — everyone considered Morton’s tests correct and nobody double checked his results until 1981 when a Harvard biologist 140 years later “reanalyzed the skulls in Morton’s collection” and discovered “gross errors” and, using Morton’s own skull collection “found no significant differences” in ethnic group skull volumes!!

    How ironic that early anthropologists, generally, believed in racial differences, and modern anthropologists, often times, are fighting against it. Is this an unconscious effort at atonement for past sins? (Just kidding, trying to lighten up a bit)

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