09 Jun 2023 · 9.00 am

Andreas Lipowsky: “To the ethnographer, the bow and arrow is a species”. The legacy of natural history in late Victorian anthropology

Venue: Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, Arne Novaka 1, 60200 Brno
Research project(s): Metaanthropology

Lecture as part of the SIEF2023 congress in Brno, 7–10 Jun 2023

In Primitive Culture (1871), E.B. Tylor conceptualizes his “science of culture” in the image of two competing disciplines. Cultural evolution is modeled on the “sciences of inorganic nature” as, to Tylor, “our thoughts, wills, and actions accord with laws as definite as those which govern the motion of waves.” Meanwhile, he casts ethnography in the image of natural history and its classificatory practices. This latter aspect of Tylor’s ‘science’ is the basis for the publication of the Notes and Queries on Anthropology in 1974, a handbook of research queries for the discerning colonial traveler, tasked by a committee of the British Society for the Advancement of Science (chaired by Tylor) to “dissect” the cultural traits of the empire’s conquered indigenous populations and “to classify them into their proper groups.”

While few investigations into the Notes and Queries exist (Urry 1972, Stocking 2001), inquiry into the extensive ethnographic literature produced on its basis is even scarcer. As I will show with the help of E.H. Mans The Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands (1883) this literature may significantly broaden our understanding of victorian anthropology: Conventional histories of anthropological thought place cultural evolutionism at the center of the historical discipline. Ethnographies of the time, however, emulated the classificatory procedures of natural history. As both systems are only partially commensurate, my investigation aims to reveal the inherent contradictions of the ‘science of culture’ in the aftermath of Tylor.

Cultural scholar and musicologist Andreas Lipowsky currently works on his dissertation project Metaanthropology. An Epistemic Poetics of the Ethnographic Form.