Important Dates in the History of Anthropology

Dates Worth Contemplating


5th century BC  Socrates, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides; Herodotus provides brief ethnographies ofEgypt,Scythia, etc., and launches cultural relativity with an ironic story about Greeks confronting endocannibalism


4th  Aristotle; Chinese social theory launched by Mencius, Shang Yang, Shen Pu-hai and others


3rd  Xunzi, Han Feizi, Dao De Jing.  Major social thought that fed into Western social thought from the 17th century


98 AD  Germania by Tacitus (ca. 55-ca. 120); the first “ethnography” and very much the inspirer of the tradition


14th century AD   Ibn Khaldun, Tunisian theorist of cycles and systems


early 1500s  Europeans in New World and elsewhere, and English inIreland, develop modern colonialism and imperialism


1542  Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, by Bartolome de Las Casas (1484-1576); full-out attack on the extermination of the Native Americans by Spanish colonialism; first work of its kind

1580 (approx.)   “Of Cannibals” by Montaigne (1533-1592); highly sympathetic treatment, launches idea of cultural relativity


1590  Death of Bernardino de Sahagun, whose Codex Florentinus, using “native” accounts to construct a full-length ethnography, was finished around 1580


1596-1650  René Descartes; argued for empirical experimental science and for natural laws; with Francis Bacon, critical for invention of “science” as we know it


1651  Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes; “the life of man in his natural state is poore, solitary, nasty, brutish and short”


1690  Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke (1632-1704)

1718  Society of Antiquaries founded inLondon(after informally meeting since 1706); classical antiquities and some ethnography


1748, Spirit of Laws, by Baron Montesquieu (1689-1755); first serious use of worldwide ethnographic comparison to establish social theory; draws heavily on Chinese sources.  Also,

Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (David Hume, 1711-76; it’s redone from the Treatise of Human Nature, 1739-40).


1712-1778  J.-J. Rousseau; major writings relevant to anthro in 1750s; lifelong critic of European society; far from idealizing the “noble savage” (he never used the phrase), he had some perceptive things to say about apes and humans, anticipating Darwinin some things. 1762, his Du Contrat Social critiques Hobbes and Locke and adds much (including a lot of healthy cynicism) on how society really works.


Ca. 1750  Word “civilisation” coined inFrance; popularized by Mirabeau.


Ca. 1770  “Ethnologie,” “ethnologisch” and “Völkerkunde” coined by August Schlözer atUniv. of Göttingen,Germany.


1772, Ernst Platner:  New Anthropology for Doctors and Philosophers:  With Special Consideration to Physiology, Pathology, Moral Philosophy, and Aesthetics.  Early if minor work about “anthropology.”

1775, Blumenbach’s Treatises on Anthropology (Eng edition; of the original editions, the Latin of 1770 is important)


1776  Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith, 1723-1790)


1786  William Jones, inCalcutta, reads paper presenting evidence that Sanskrit is related to European languages; Indo-European is born.  Meanwhile, inRussia, P. Pallas begins publishing his Comparative Vocabularies of the World’s Languages.  Comparative philology (and, thus, scientific linguistics) can be said to date from this year.


1788  Antropologie ou science générale de l’homme by Alexandre-César Chavannes; first book to use the word in the title.  Inconsequential, however, and the word did not really get going until:


1798,  Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, by Immanuel Kant, introduces the word “anthropology” to mainstream discourse.  The book was perhaps closer to sociology or social psychology (both fields that trace directly to Kant) than to modern anthro, but is in the direct ancestral lineage of all three.  Some brilliant insights and good political commentary, but also, alas, all too much evidence that Kant was a man of his time in re sexism and racism.  Still worth reading for the insights.

1798, also, and very significantly, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), Essay upon the Principle of Population.  This was the bleak book that made “Malthusianism” a bad word and got political economy called “the dismal science.”  The sixth edition, 1826, was considerably less bleak.

1806, Rasmus Nyerup’s call for a Danish museum of antiquities; under Nyerup, Thomsen, etc. this museum really developed scientific archaeology


1813  Researches into the Physical History of Man (1st edn), by James C. Prichard.

Vedel-Simonsen inDenmarkproposes Stone-Bronze-Iron Ages sequence.

1821  Champollion deciphers the Rosetta Stone


1830-33, Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell; establishes concepts of uniformitarianism, stratigraphy, and the very long time scale for the earth and its development.


1835  Henry Rawlinson copies cuneiform texts; translates the Persian, pub. 1838; deciphers Babylonian by 1851

1836  C. J. Thomsen, Guide to Northern Antiquities, establishes the sequence Stone, Bronze and Iron ages.  (Work extended by J. Worsaae, his student, in 1850s.)


1836-38, J. Boucher de Perthes identifies stone tools contemporaneous with extinct megafauna in the Pleistocene; as he put it, “Practical people came to look…they did not suspect my good faith, but they doubted my common sense.”  (Quoted in Lowie, History of Ethnological Theory, p. 7.)  Widespread acceptance came in the 1850s.

1837  Founding of Aborigines Protection Society (the early equivalent of today’s Cultural Survival),England


1839  Founding of Societe Ethnologique de Paris


1841, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan by John L. Stephens (1805-1852); his Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 1843.

1842  Founding of American Ethnological Society, with Albert Gallatin (1761-1849, Swiss-born) as first president; H. R. Schoolcraft, H. Hale, etc.

1843  Founding of Ethnological Society of London, as a spinoff from the Anti-Slavery League and influenced by the Aborigines Protection Society


1846-48  Potato blight and bad weather cause famine acrossEurope.  This coincides with the early peak of socialism and nationalism as ideologies, leading to a rash of revolutions and to new heights of social thought.


1847, Broca begins his physical anthropology work (most active publishing, 1870s)

Austen Henry Layard’s Nineveh and Its Remains reports early Mesopotamian archaeology; sells 8000 copies in the year, “which,” Layard wrote, “will place it side by side with Mrs. Rundell’s Cookery”–the Julia Child of the 19th century


1848  Karl Marx and F. Engels, Communist Manifesto.

John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy.

Gallatin publishes his final work on American Indian languages in long introduction to Horatio Hale’s book Indians of North-West America; scientific linguistics firmly established in America.

1850  Social Statics, first book by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903); steady and active publisher thereafter; particularly influential in 1860-1885 period.  Spencer, notDarwin, gave us “social Darwinism,” which, as various people have pointed out, should be called “social Spencerism.”


1851, League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois (Lewis Henry Morgan: 1818-81).

Auguste Comte’s Systeme de Politique Positive (1851-54); his Cours de Philosophie Positive was 1830-42. (Auguste Comte, “father of sociology,” was yet another neo-Kantian; he lived 1798-1857).


1854, Rise of pseudo-scientific racism with A. de Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inegalité des races humaines.  Nott and Glidden, American racists, wrote similar books in 1854 and 1857.


1856 (excavated), 1857 (studied): First Neanderthal to be recognized as an early human (by T. H. Huxley and others)


1858, Darwin and Wallace jointly publish the theory of evolution through natural selection

William Pengelly invents stratigraphy in excavation, using natural strata in excavatingBrixhamCave

1859, Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.

Beginning of paleolithic archaeology: J. Prestwich begins publishing; Boucher de Perthes and others meet inFrance, recognize that the material soon called “paleolithic” is very early in date; Charles Lyell formally announces this inEngland.  The fact that this andDarwin’s publication occurred in the same year is no mere coincidence.

1860  Thomas Henry Huxley debates Samuel Wilberforce atOxfordand soundly defeats him, establishing evolution as a formidable foe of traditional religious creationism.  (Huxley was called “Darwin’s bulldog,” since the retiringDarwinhated debates.  Huxley also coined the word “agnostic” to describe his religious attitudes.)

Britainis reading Dickens, Carlyle, Macaulay….


1861, Ancient Law by Henry Maine; holds that patriarchy was the original form of social organization among Classical European peoples (but NOT everywhere)

Das Mutterrecht by J. Bachofen; holds that matriarchy was the original form everywhere.


1863  Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, by Thomas Henry Huxley


1864, Fustel de Coulange’s Cité antique, social study of Greek and Roman cities


1865, J. McLennan’s Primitive Marriage (much expanded into Studies in Ancient History, 1876); puts the real spin on the matriarchy theory, and introduces much of the modern terminology for marriage studies, including “exogamy” and “endogamy”

J. Lubbock’s Pre-Historic Times; 2edn 1872.

1867, first volume of Marx’ Capital (last vol. published posthumously in 1894; Marx lived 1818-83)


1868, Museum für Völkerkunde opens inBerlin; the great neo-Kantian liberal and ethnologist, Adolf Bastian, director.

L. H. Morgan, The American Beaver and His Works, published.  (On top of inventing modern anthropology, Morgan essentially invented animal behavior studies and the whole idea of comparing animal to human society and behavioral complexity.)


1869, Bastian and Rudolf Virchow establish the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory, and start the journal Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, still a major journal last I looked.


1869-70  “The Worship of Animals and Plants,” article in the Fortnightly Review by J. McLennan, introduces the theory of totemism


1871, Morgan’s Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity (introduces the anthropological concepts of kinship “systems” and of “social organization”).

Darwin’s Descent of Man.

Edward Burnett Tylor’s (1832-1917), Primitive Culture, the book that launched the modern use of the word “culture.”   That definition is still used.  The book was standard inEngland for decades.  Tylor later became the first anthropology professor atOxford.

Anthropological Institute ofGreat BritainandIrelandestablished; name coined by Huxley.  Later became the Royal A. I.

J. O. Dorsey begins work on Cegiha (Omahalanguage); arguably the first thorough anthropological-linguistic field research.

H. Schliemann begins work atTroy, working there and nearby till his death in 1890; over the years, his assistant Doerpfeld develops techniques of stratigraphy and other modern archaeological methods.

Talk about the Axial Year…!


1870-1900  Golden age of imperialism; US Indian Wars (peak in 1870s), “Great Game” in Central Asia (started earlier), “Scramble for Africa” (esp. 1880s and 1890s), British takeover of Malaysia, Dutch consolidation in Indonesia, etc.  Anthropology develops partly as a reaction against this, partly as an accommodation.

1875  Frederick Ward Putnam (1839-1915) becomes curator of Peabody Mus.


1875-80, first Paleolithic art research: Marquis de Sautuola inAltamiraCavediscovers the art 1875, publishes it in 1880 after research

1877  Morgan’s Ancient Society


1878-9, Erminnie Platt Smith studies the Tuscarora; first major ethnographic research by a woman; she trains J. E. B. Hewitt first as assistant, then as ethnographer, and he goes on to a distinguished career with the BAE–the first Native American anthropologist; Smith thus pioneered the technique (later perfected by Fletcher and Boas) of getting local indigenous people to take over the ethnographic project.  Unfortunately, Smith’s work was cut short by her untimely death in 1886.


1879, US Congress establishes USGS and BAE.  First BAEAR (Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report), 1880.   Frank Cushing (1857-1900) at Zuni, 1879-1884.


1883, Tylor starts teaching at Oxford, thanks to General Lane Fox Pitt Rivers funding a post along with his museum there.


1883-4  Franz Boas (1858-1942) carries out his Inuit field work.  1885-6, Boas assists Bastian at Mus. for V.

1883  W. M. Flinders Petrie begins work inEgypt.  Major publications include Tell el Amarna, 1894, and Royal Tombs of Abydos, 1901.

1884  Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State by Frederick Engels (1820-1895)

1885, Women’s Anthropological Society founded by Matilda Coxe Stephenson in protest to Anthro. Soc. ofWashingtonexcluding women.  The WAS lasted till around 1899, when the new AAA arose (1898) and opened its doors to all genders and ethnicities


1886, Putnam becomes Peabody Professor of Anthropology at Harvard, but no real instruction there till 1890.


1887  Le suicide, by Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917.

F. Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society), sociological classic that greatly influenced ethnology


1887-88, First and main Hemenway Expedition; Cushing and several archaeologists launch major study of the Southwest

1888  American Anthropologist begins (started by the Anthropological Society of Washington).  Boas begins teaching at Clark U (leaves 1892; to AMNH in 1895).

1889  Tylor, address to RAI, “On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions, Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent,” introduces the term and theory of “cross-cousin marriage”; in a comment, Francis Galton (statistician, eugenicist, racist, sometime president of the RAI) introduces Galton’s Problem


1890  First edition of The Golden Bough by James Frazer (1854-1941).  The final, definitive edition in many volumes came out in 1911-15.

First really modern archaeology: Flinders Petrie at Tell el-Hesi,Palestine, uses techniques of stratigraphy, cross-dating, and careful excavation of all artifacts, developed by him inEgyptand by Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers inEnglandover preceding decade

1891, John Wesley Powell (1834-1902), “Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico,” published in 7th BAEAR

Edward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, 1st edn.; definitive 5th edn., much larger, 1921


1892, Alexander F. Chamberlain receives the first PhD in anthropology in theUS(under Boas atClark; a very fine anthropologist, Chamberlain became sickly and died young).  Anthro begins at U. of Chicago, but with Frederick Starr, a geologist and not very good ethnographer; in spite of giving out two early PhDs, to Merton Miller and David Prescott Barrows, in 1897, Chicago didn’t start real anthro till Fay-Cooper Cole got there in 1924 and Sapir in 1925; and then it was still under Sociology till 1929, giving a strong, still-enduring flavor to the Dept. there.  Starr and Barrows were “lost” to administrative positions, and Miller was never heard from again, soChicagowas not really a player till Cole.


1893  Columbian Exposition.  Lots of archaeology and ethnology on display; material from Mancos, CO, leads John Harshberger to coin term “ethnobotany” in 1895


1894  First archeology PhD in US: George Dorsey under Putnam at Harvard.  Cyrus Thomas’ mound researches published in BAEAR for 90-91.  Livingston Farrand teaches anthro atColumbia(with W. Ripley; Boas arrived in 1896).

B. Spencer and F. Gillen begin their classic joint work in centralAustralia.  Spencer was an ethnographer, Gillen a local who started by helping with details and wound up becoming an excellent ethnographer in his own right.

Arthur Evans begins work onKnossos(excavates Minos’ palace in 1900).

1897-1902  Jesup Expedition


1898-9 Torres Straits Expedition, led by Alfred Cort Haddon.  (Haddon’s The Study of Man, an early four-field text, pub 1898.)  This expedition was the first serious field work by British anthropologists.  W. H. R. Rivers, brought along as psychologist, does the first field work in psychological anthropology.


1900 RolandDixonPhD; 2nd in US, 1st at Harvard (under Putnam).

Wilhelm Wundt, Völkerpsychologie, published; a leading psychologist’s statement on culture and psych.


1901, anthropology begins at UCB: A. L. Kroeber and P. E. Goddard.  (1902-3, Putnam there, organizes it.  Boas opposed, Putnam supported, the new department.)  Kroeber was Boas’ first Ph.D. atColumbia(I think 1901)


1902  Pyotr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution.


1903, Durkheim & Mauss’ Primitive Classification.

Max Uhle publishes major work onPeru.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

1904-5, Die protestantische Ethik usnd der Geist des Kapitalismus pub., in 2 parts, by Max Weber (1864-1920.)

1906  Alice Fletcher and Joseph La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, classic ethnographic collaboration between Anglo andOmaha ethnographers, published in BAEAR.


1908, Rites de passage by Arnold van Gennep.  Georg Simmel, Conflict and the Web of Group-Affiliations (Ger. orig.)

1911, Boas’ Mind of Primitive Man


1912  Formes elementaires de la vie religieuse, by Durkheim

Piltdown skull and accompanying material discovered; quickly championed (and possibly created) by Arthur Keith; attacked by Ales Hrdlicka and many others

1913  Sigmund Freud, Totem und Taboo (Eng transl. by A. A. Brill, 1918)


1914-18, Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) stuck in Trobriands (as war internee allowed to do field work)

1915, Cours de Linguistique Generale issued by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye from notes on lectures given 1907-11 by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)


1921  Sapir’s Language (and, in the same year, Otto Jesperson’s book by the same title and with the same “educated layperson” reader in mind; the contrast is dramatic; Sapir is fully 20th century, Jesperson thoroughly 19th)


1922  A. R. Radcliffe-Brown’s Andaman Islanders and Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific.  (ARR-B’s classic articles came out soon after: “The Methods of Ethnology and Social Anthropology,” 1923; “The Mother’s Brother inSouth Africa,” 1924.  Known for his devotion to Durkheimian theory, R-B had had an earlier devotion to Kropotkin that earned him the nickname of Anarchy Brown.)

1922-3, Weber’s Gesammelte Aufsaetze zur Religionssoziologie (collected essays on sociology of religion; core works published originally in 1916-19; Weber’s core economic work was also collected and published in 1922-3)


1923, Ruth Benedict’s The Concept of the Guardian Spirit in North America published; neglected classic, much better than Patterns of Culture

1925, Marcel Mauss’ (1872-1950) Essai sur le don (The Gift) published.  Not translated till 1954!

A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955) and Malinowski both in US.



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