Hello class, I am Sir Edward Burnett Tylor. I was born on October 2, 1832 in Camberwell, London to a prosperous Quaker family. My parents were industrialists, owning a London brass factory called—J. Tylor and Sons Brassfounders. You may have heard of my eldest brother—Alfred Tylor—who went on to become a famous Geologist. Because we were a Quaker family, I received a private education at Grove House School in Tottenham, which was run by the Society of Friends. This restrictive background wouldn’t allow me to attend the university, so in 1848, at the age of 16, I began as a clerk for my family business…and after 7 years behind a desk…I had had enough! My health began to deteriorate and I eventually developed Tuberculosis. Partially due to my illness, I was encouraged to travel…which I wasn’t going to complain about!
I arrived in Havana, Cuba in 1856 where I met fellow Quaker, Henry Christy. He was an archaeologist and ethnologist who was planning on studying remnants of the ancient Toltec culture in the Valley of Mexico. I spent the months of March, April, May and June with Henry in Mexico, and it changed my life forever. Though strenuous and sometimes dangerous, while almost always on horseback, I gained practical knowledge of archaeological and anthropological fieldwork. This experience helped me determine my overall purpose in life. Henry became a dear friend and I was sad to see our time together come to an end, but I decided to return to England in 1858.
I soon met and married Anna Fox, and while living comfortably on my family inheritance—began working on my first publication about my observations in Mexico. In 1861, I published Anahuac: Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. I wrote this as more of a travelogue, using empirical methods and incorporated factual data, to explain my sense of cultural differences…and yes, I was sometimes guilty of interjecting hints of superiority.
In 1865, I published Researches Into The Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization. I tried to explain my thesis that cultures—past and present—civilized and primitive—must be studied as parts of a single history of human evolution. “The past,” I wrote, “is continually needed to explain the present, and the whole to explain the part.” I took archaeological and historical research from different parts of the world, for example tools, and tried to piece together a time-line demonstrating how complexity only builds and not usually regressive. I hypothesized and established a cultural reconstruction showing progressive development from primitive to civilized man. This immediately established my reputation as a leading anthropologist—in Britain. Growing up in a Quaker family drove me to becoming agnostic, which sparks my interest in the origins of religion, as both an intellectual system as well as an expression of belief.
In 1871, I came out with a more elaborate publication called Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Customs. I was the first to identify the earliest form of religion, which I believed to be animism—that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spirit. I believed primitive people tried to explain events in the human and natural world that are beyond our control…attempted to explain the difference between the living body and the corpse, and the separation of soul and body in dreams. This then led to ancestor worship. I also noted that not only should artistic and spiritual achievements of civilizations be studied, but also man’s technological and moral accomplishments made at all stages of development. I introduced the idea of “survivals”, which is cultural phenomena that outlives the set of conditions under which they developed. These survivals we the vestiges of previous cultures. My evolutionary view of human cultural development was endorsed by a famous man, you may know him for his work with biological evolution…Mr. Charles Darwin.
This was the same year (1971 if you’ve already forgotten), where I was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. A few years later, in 1875, I was granted an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law from the University of Oxford.
In 1881, I published a smaller but more popular handbook on anthropology where, on the first page, I offered the first anthropologic definition of culture—as the complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by others as a member of society. This was crucial for the development of anthropology as a science.
In 1883, I was appointed keeper of the University Museum at Oxford and a year later became a reader in anthropology. I then went to the University of Aberdeen in 1888, where I was appointed first Gifford lecturer—and gave a set of 10 lectures. That lasted until 1896, when I decided to return back to Oxford to become a professor of Anthropology. This was the first such chair of it’s kind, and often what contributes to what other’s have labeled me as—The Father of Cultural Anthropology. I retired in 1909 as emeritus professor. My body was just as young, but my mind was starting to fail me. Many thought I would publish the Gifford lectures, but I was unable to do to my condition. I was knighted in 1912, just a few years before I died in Wellington, England on January 2, 1917 at the ripe age of 84. I never had any children, but survived by my dear wife Anna.