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Edward Burnett Tylor

Edward Burnett Tylor.

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (October 2 1832January 2 1917), was an English anthropologist.

Tylor is considered representative of cultural evolutionism. In his works Primitive culture and Anthropology, he defined the context of scientific study of anthropology, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. 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 a founding figure of the science of social, or cultural, 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[1]. He believed that research into the history and prehistory of man could be used as a basis for the reform of British society.[2]

He reintroduced the term animism (the faith in the individual soul or anima of all things, and natural manifestations) into common use.[3] He considered animism as the first phase of development of religions.


E. B. Tylor was born in 1832, in Camberwell, London. He was the son of Joseph Tylor and Harriet Skipper, part of a family of financially well-off Quakers, owners of a London brass factory. Subsequent to the death of Tylor's parents during his early adulthood he readied himself to help manage the family business, but this plan was abruptly set aside by symptoms consistent with the onset of tuberculosis. Following advice to spend time in warmer climes, Tylor left England in 1855, traveling to Central America. The experience proved to be an important and formative one, sparking in Tylor a life long interest in studying unfamiliar cultures.

During his travels Tylor also met Henry Christy, 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[4]. The notes Tylor took on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered, allowed him to publish Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861) upon 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) and 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 continuing to work and write all the way up to the beginnings of World War I, Primitive Culture remained the pinnacle of Tylor's career, 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.

In 1871 Tylor was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1875 received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of Oxford. He was appointed Keeper of the University Museum at Oxford in 1883, and the first reader in Anthropology in 1884. In 1896 he became the first Professor of Anthropology at Oxford and he was knighted in 1912.


  • 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)
  • Anthropology (1881)

Related StudiesEdit

References Edit

  1. Paul Bohannan, Social Anthropology (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969)
  2. Lewis, Herbert S. (1998) The Misrepresentation of Anthropology and its Consequences American Anthropologist 100:" 716-731
  3. Definition of animism at the Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 2 October 2007.
  4. R. R. Marett, Tylor (London: Chapman and Hall, 1936)

External links Edit

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