SESSION 2.1: Among the Polyphyletic Woods: Evolutionary Anthropology and the ‘Place’ of Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia

Brian Gobbett, Great Plains College

Abstract

The study of the history of anthropology in British Columbia has been dominated by analyses—sometimes strongly competing in nature—of Franz Boas’ critique of the comparative method and the importance of the study of local culture and regional environment. The dominance of Boasian approaches in the first decades of the twentieth century was not, however, complete and versions of evolutionary approaches toward anthropology can be identified from Robert Brown’s ethnographic explorations of Vancouver Island in the 1860s to Charles Hill-Tout’s more elaborate manifestations in the 1920s and 1930s. With particular attention to George Mercer Dawson, Alexander Chamberlain, and Hill-Tout, this paper focuses on the roles that evolutionary anthropology played in ‘placing’ Indigenous peoples in British Columbia within the so-called evolutionary tree. Far from being ‘local contributions,’ these anthropological contributions contributed to a wider debate that strained notions of the psychic and physical unity of humanity and, in the words of Hill-Tout, “differentiated [humanity] into several distinct types, some relatively advanced and some distinctly degenerate.”

 
May 2nd, 1:45 PM May 2nd, 3:15 PM

SESSION 2.1: Among the Polyphyletic Woods: Evolutionary Anthropology and the ‘Place’ of Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia

IB 1010

The study of the history of anthropology in British Columbia has been dominated by analyses—sometimes strongly competing in nature—of Franz Boas’ critique of the comparative method and the importance of the study of local culture and regional environment. The dominance of Boasian approaches in the first decades of the twentieth century was not, however, complete and versions of evolutionary approaches toward anthropology can be identified from Robert Brown’s ethnographic explorations of Vancouver Island in the 1860s to Charles Hill-Tout’s more elaborate manifestations in the 1920s and 1930s. With particular attention to George Mercer Dawson, Alexander Chamberlain, and Hill-Tout, this paper focuses on the roles that evolutionary anthropology played in ‘placing’ Indigenous peoples in British Columbia within the so-called evolutionary tree. Far from being ‘local contributions,’ these anthropological contributions contributed to a wider debate that strained notions of the psychic and physical unity of humanity and, in the words of Hill-Tout, “differentiated [humanity] into several distinct types, some relatively advanced and some distinctly degenerate.”