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Encyclopedia > Lewis Henry Morgan

Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) was an American lawyer and amateur scholar best known for his work on cultural evolution and Native Americans. Born in rural New York he studied law at Union College and began practicing in Rochester. He developed an interest in Native Americans and spent several years living with groups local to the area, gaining their trust and eventually being formally incorporated into their society. As a result of this experience he published several accounts of Native American life, including his famous League of the Iroquois (1851), which became one of the earliest examples of ethnography. These initial researches led him to consider more general questions of human social organization. In keeping with the general interest in social evolution common to his times, he began publishing books such as his seminal Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity (1886). His goal was to explain the wide variety of kinship systems in indigenous societies as different stages in human evolution and social development. Morgan was a prominent man who received many accolades during his lifetime. He served in the New York assembly and senate, was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He died in 1881.

Morgan's legacy today is slightly schizophrenic. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels relied on his accounts of the evolution of indigenous peoples to fill in their own account of the development of capitalist society. As a result many come to his writings from a leftist or Marxist point of view. Within the discipline of anthropology he is famous for holding an untenable evolutionary position which was attacked by famous anthropologists such as Franz Boas. At the same time, many anthropologists recognize that he was one of the first people to systematically study kinship systems.

  Results from FactBites:
Lewis H. Morgan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (600 words)
Lewis Henry Morgan (November 21, 1818 – December 17, 1881) his professional life was in the field of law.
Morgan became interested in the Native Americans of his region and helped form a club (Grand Order of the Iroquois) to promote the interests of the local group, the Iroquois.
Morgan viewed the technological progress as a force behind the social progress, and any social change - in social institutions, organisations or ideologies have their beginning in the change of technology.
Morgan, Lewis Henry. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05 (249 words)
Morgan was interested in social organization, and developed a theory correlating kinship terminologies with forms of marriage and rules of descent, holding that matriarchal patterns had originally prevailed over all other kinship patterns.
Morgan’s work was accused of being overly speculative, and provoked a reaction against theories of cultural evolution within American anthropology that lasted well into 20th cent.
Ethnographic and archaeological research has invalidated Morgan’s specific evolutionary models, but his tireless research and his wide-ranging theoretical interests are credited with serving to advance the new field of anthropology.
  More results at FactBites »



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