An Overview of Two Major Theorists of Anthropology: Lewis Henry Morgan and Franz Boas
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LEWIS HENRY MORGAN Lewis Henry Morgan has been credited as being the founder of American cultural anthropology or more broadly as the father of “American Anthropology.” Many anthropologists at the time were called “arm-chair” academics, meaning that they studied anthropology from a distance while sitting in chairs, reading and thinking; Morgan was not an “arm-chair” anthropologist. He went out into the field to learn about other cultures. As noted by Kinton, Jacob Bachofen and John McLennan influenced Morgan (1974:4).
Morgan started his work with an extensive ethnographic study of the Iroquois. Langness informs us that the driving force behind Morgan’s “devotion” to the field was due to a chance meeting with a young, educated Seneca Indian, named Ely Parker (1974:20). Morgan fought to protect various Indian causes and to preserve Indian traditions. In fact, he was a member of a group called the Grand Order of the Iroquois, whose “main purpose was to help create a society that would treat the Iroquois with more compassion and consideration” (Birx 2006:1625). Lewis Henry Morgan’s influence has gone past the fields of anthropology and ethnology. He is best known for his work on kinship and social structure, which inspired the writings and ideas of Karl Marx and, through Marx, Frederick Engels (Stern 1946). Morgan’s first major work was League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois written in 1851. Many people consider it the “first scientific study of an American Indian tribe” (Meggers 1946). Morgan had studied the Iroquois culture with the help of Ely Parker. In fact, Morgan dedicated the book to Parker stating the book is “…the fruit of [their] joint researches” (1851). During his research, Morgan noticed differences between the European model of kinship and the Iroquois model of kinship. It is this “discovery” that leads to an expansion of the idea of kinship