The "Father of Anthropology" in the English-speaking world, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor was born in London, England in 1832 to a Quaker family. Like his elder brother Alfred, he attended school at Tottenham, though each was pulled out of education to work in the family business. But Edward's lungs were weakened by tuberculosis, and failing health forced him to travel. In 1855 he set out, making his way to the US, Cuba, and Mexico; he was much stimulated by the archaeological ruins in Mexico and began to study the newly emerging science of anthropology.

His first book, Anahuac, was about Mexico, but it was Researches into the Early History of Mankind which really made his reputation, to be consolidated with the appearance of Primitive Culture. In these works he showed himself able to marshall a great deal of research with great insight and systematizing ability. Anthropology was a more general text which is considered to have laid much of the groundwork for the modern discipline.

In 1883 he was appointed head of the University Museum at Oxford; he was the first professor of anthropology there in 1886, and he remained in that position till he retired in 1909. The coursework structure he developed for anthropology degrees at Oxford was modeled by other universities as they developed their own anthropology departments.

In 1871 Tylor put forward that most famous definition of culture which is still trotted out in every introductory anthropology course:

Culture . . . is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

What's important about this definition, and the reason why it's still referred to today, is that his vision of culture is that it is holistic, includes both ideas and actions, and is learned and shared amongst a group of people (or "men" as they were known at the time).

Tylor is also remembered as an evolutionist who saw human physical and cultural development as linear and evolutionary in structure, passing through a number of predetermined phases and culminating in "modern", "civilized" society.

He is particularly recalled for his work on "primitive" people's mentalities and religious belief systems, particularly animism, the idea that all a spirit or soul exists in all things, animate and inanimate. Tylor argued that religion performed a function for "primitives" that science performed for "moderns": answering questions about why the world is at it is and why things happen as they do. This was a great advance from thinking of "primitive" peoples as superstitious fools; instead, argued Tylor, "they", like "us", derive their ideas from observation, inference, and generalization; the only difference is that their assumptions are wrong. Indeed, Tylor first formulated many ideas on the study of culture and religion which are still accepted today.

In 1885 he married Anna Fox, and the two remained together until he died in 1917, though they never had children.

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