Physical Anthropology

Lewis Henry Morgan the Founder of Kinship Studies



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Lewis Henry Morgan was a distinguished American anthropologist, writer and New York-based lawyer during the 19th century. Morgan is best known and credited for founding scientific anthropology and for introducing a comprehensive study on kinship system which led to numerous theories regarding social and cultural evolution.

Morgan’s works have influenced Marxist beliefs, being incorporated into the Marxist theory by German political philosopher Engels Friedrich shortly after Karl Marx’s death.

Morgan was born on November 21, 1818 in Aurora, New York to the couple Jedediah and Harriet Morgan. Morgan graduated in Cayuga Academy in Aurora and went on Union College in Schenectady, New York where he studied law.

By 1844, Morgan was a full-time lawyer, running his own law firm in Rochester.

During the later parts of the 1840s, Morgan was hired as an attorney for the Seneca tribe, representing the tribe in court and in the United States Congress against the Ogden Land Company, which claims ownership of the tribe’s land.

Eventually, Morgan was accepted into the Seneca tribe and was given the name Tayadaowuhkuh, which literally means "One-bridging-the-gap," in reference to Morgan’s role in serving as the bridge between the Seneca tribe and the “white men.”

Morgan’s interest in culture was sparked by his closeness to the Seneca tribe. Morgan further studied culture and society, leading to him publishing his first book the “Ho-de-no-sau-nee” or simply Iroquois, referencing to the gathering of North American tribes prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

Later during his life, Morgan became interested on the kinship system implemented not only by North American tribes but as well as other cultural groups in Asia.

Morgan investigated thoroughly regarding kinship and how the culture, society and beliefs of a person or group of people affect the system of kinship.

In 1871, Morgan published a sophisticated work regarding kinship entitled “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family.”

Needless to say, the Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, became the pioneer work on anthropological systems and societies.

Morgan’s work on kinship systems also served as a starting ground for his other works including “Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization” which describes in full detail Morgan’s own theory of cultural evolution.

Morgan continued his studies on kinship systems and anthropology until his death on December 17, 1881, at the age of ripe age of 63.

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