Cultural Evolution Comparison

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Cultural Evolution Comparison: Morgan vs. Boaz

The different theories of cultural advancement conceived by Lewis Henry Morgan and Franz Boaz both address major anthropological questions and had profound effects on the discipline of anthropology. While they differed in many ways, both anthropologists had similar goals and worked to prove the differences between nurture and nature and differentiating culture from biology. Each took a different route to prove his theory, but both individuals created methods to study and further ethnographic research on cultural differences.

Lewis Henry Morgan stumbled upon anthropology while working as a lawyer assisting the Iroquois in a land dispute in the 1840’s. Similar to other anthropologists, Morgan devoted his life to the study of Native Americans after spending a significant time around the Seneca tribe (Background, 1964: 29). This vastly influenced his choice of ethnographic material and passion for the study of cultural evolution.

His most influential works involve both breaking down the system of cultural evolution and categorizing kinship classifications. He was a firm believer and key developer of the idea that cultural evolution equals progress. According to Morgan, culture evolves in three stages: savagery, barbarism and civilization (Morgan, 1877: 32). Savagery refers to aborigines with no metal use and no writing system. Barbarism is a step closer towards civilization, but still only uses some metal and practices polytheism (Tahitians, Aztecs). Civilization, according to Morgan, is the pinnacle of cultural evolution, and refers to societies that use a phonetic alphabet, practice monotheism, and are highly developed industrially. His theories are similar to Edward Tylor, an anthropologist developing cultural evolution ideas around the same time period and considered the father of British anthropology. While they were both evolutionists and shared a position of naïve realism, Morgan stayed focused on his...
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