Jonathan Haas

Paper #: 96-05-025

The study of the evolution of cultural systems has undergone a series of permutations in the course of the past century. Studies of cultural evolution began in earnest with the work of two of the most important anthopological figures in the nineteenth century: Lewis Henry Morgan (1877) and Edward B. Tylor (1871, 1881). Both Morgan and Tylor recognized that there were broad patterns of similarity that could be recognized in many different cultures around the world, and developed parallel typologies for categorizing these cross-cultural patterns. The typological system used by Morgan and Tylor broke cultures down into three basic evolutionary stages: savagery, barbarism and civilization. Both believed that all societies at the "civilization" stage had gone through the other two stages and those at the "savagery" or "barbarian" stages were, presumably, on their way to "civilization." These three stages were characterized by specific supposedly shared attributes. Tylor looked at different aspects of culture, such as language, mythology, "the arts of life," or "the arts of pleasure." In his discussion of each of these, he considered the traits and conditions that prevailed under the different stages and how later characteristics evolved out of earlier ones.