Tylor, Edward Burnet


Tylor, Edward Burnet
(1832-1917)
   His interest in ethnology, which developed while travelling in Cuba and Mexico, led to his three influential books, Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1865); Primitive Culture (1871); and Anthropology, an Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilisation (1881), which established him as an original and important thinker and earned him the title 'Father of Anthropology'. He was appointed Keeper of the University Museum at Oxford in 1883, Reader in Anthropology 1884, and served as the first ever Professor of Anthropology 1896-1909. Tylor was knighted in 1912.
   Tylor was also hailed as the 'Father of Folklore', as his theories were eagerly adopted by all the early British folklorists - *Clodd, *Gomme, *Lang, *Hartland, and many others. In his application of Darwin's evolutionary theories to human cultures he constructed the theory of *survivals (the idea that modern folklore is a survival from a previous stage of civilization and can thus be used to reconstruct that stage), which became the cornerstone of folklore thinking for generations. He was also one of the first to use what became the 'comparative method', drawing on material from all over the world in his attempts to correlate customs, and he identified 'animism' as the universal primitive belief in the existence of spiritual beings which he claimed provided the basis for all religions, and so a means of comparing them. The new discipline of anthropology, while grateful for Tylor's organizational as well as theoretical work, soon moved on from his theories, but the folklorists did not. They continued to couch their investigations in terms of survivals well into the 20th century. Nevertheless, as Dorson clearly shows, Tylor's folklore followers were extremely selective in their readings of his books, as there is much that they should have disagreed with. Andrew Lang, for example, who was probably the most effusive in his thanks to Tylor, chose to ignore the latter's obvious debt to Max Muller and the solar mythologists whom Lang himself had lambasted a few years before. Even on the knotty question of whether outwardly similar myths could be explained by transmission or by independent creation, Lang favoured coincident and multiple invention, whereas Tylor leaned more towards the borrowing of myths between peoples.
   ■ Dorson, 1968: passim; Justin Wintle, Makers of 19th Century Culture (1982), 640-1; DNB.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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