Henry Lewis Morgan (1818-1881)

Henry was an Ethnologist & scientific anthropologist

Biography - Who is Henry Lewis Morgan ?

Henry Lewis Morgan (1818-1881) was an American Ethnologist and a principal founder of scientific anthropology. Henry was especially known for his establishment of the kinship systems study, and also for his overall theory of social evolution. His career in ethnology started when he joined a young men’s club, the Grand Order of the Iroquois, in Aurora after he graduated from college. In order to pattern this club upon the famous Iroquois confederacy, Henry undertook an extensive Iroquois study that included their history and their culture, in particular of the Seneca tribe. Morgan’s researches and theories led up to the publication in 1877 of his well-known and most influential work, Ancient Society. This book attempts to embrace culture generally, but it makes emphasis on the evolution of society, as it is constantly changing. It is divided into four parts: (1) “Growth of Intelligence Through Inventions and Discoveries”; (2) “Growth of the Idea of Government”; (3) “Growth of the Idea of the Family”; (4) “Growth of the Idea of Property.” Two theories are then used based on this: an idealistic and a materialistic one. According to the idealistic one, institutions are described as the accumulated product of germs of thought in the human mind; this approach was carried by Henry’s predecessors and contemporaries.

More About Lewis Henry Morgan

Here is a video on Lewis Henry Morgan to help understand who he was.
Lewis Henry Morgan

The Contributions Of Lewis Henry Morgan.

In the 19th century Lewis Henry Morgan contributed immensely to the methodology of evolutionism. As he became more fond of the Seneca tribe, Lewis noticed the Seneca treated their consanguineous kin differently from the civilized people. The Seneca kinship terminology did not recognize the distinction between kin in one's direct line of descent while the civilized people did. After realizing this odd observation, he developed more interest in kinship terminology. His observation and research in kinship represents his most durable contribution.

Lewis also had interest in the cultural evolution. He believed that that the associations was what progressed the expansion of knowledge, technological inventions, and change the view point of relationships, and marriage structures. During the research Lewis subdivided the social evolution into 3 major stages: Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization.

Lewis branched the stages by technological inventions. Thus, Lewis stated that technological progress was what really pushed the social progress to change and develop. As the culture evolved through the decades; the evolution from primitive to modern progressed the society. Lewis's intention was to demonstrate and describe the wide variety of kinship systems and the different stages in the cultural progression as well as social development.


Henry practiced law at Rochester (1844-1862) and also served in the New York State Assembly (1861-1868) and Senate (1868-1869). He developed a wide interest in Native Americans during the time of the early 1840's, and observed their struggles against colonialism and oppression. Morgan's kinship study persuaded him to develop his cultural evolution theory.

Why Is Lewis Henry Morgan Important To Anthropology?

Lewis Henry Morgan is famous for his study on "Kinship", and "Cultural Evolution". His interest in Iroquois (especially the Seneca tribe) helped Lewis to develop his research on kinship. Throughout his research he was able to recognize 3 stages in the cultural evolution in men. Until this day, his contributions became the key to learn more about our ancestors, and conclude a brief idea on how we may evolve as we face the future.

What Are The Stages Of The Cultural Evolution

As we all know, Lewis subdivided our cultural evolution into 3 categories: Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization. Throughout the video you will be able to see the cultural evolutionary model and see how we have changed throughout the past decades.
Lewis Henry Morgan