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4 - The Battle for Mankind: James Hunt, Thomas Huxley and the Emergence of British Anthropology

Efram Sera-Shriar
Affiliation:
York University
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Summary

In a society like ours we want thinkers as well as observers. We should give every encouragement to [an] accurate reasoner, as it is to him we must look for the laws which can be deduced from our illustrations and accumulated facts.

James Hunt, 1863

In 1863 the physician and speech therapist James Hunt delivered his first presidential address before members of the newly formed Anthropological Society of London (ASL). In his speech, Hunt outlined an extensive practical framework for collecting ethnographic data, analysing the material and displaying its results. For Hunt – and other leading members at the ASL – the key to reforming the science lay in the observational practices researchers utilized in their studies. This was nothing new for the nascent discipline, as James Cowles Prichard, William Lawrence and Robert Gordon Latham continually sought to refine the observational techniques of ethnologists during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, as the 1850s came to a close, there was a growing divide within the British ethnological community. On the one hand, there were those researchers committed to a Prichardian observational model. Using a combination of anatomical and linguistic data, Prichard attempted to trace the common origin of humans by emphasizing similarities among the races. Conversely, there were those ethnologists interested in a Knoxian observational model that argued in favour of the multiple origins of races and promoted a methodology that prioritized inferences based on French and German comparative anatomy and transcendentalism.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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