Modern anthropology would be radically different without this book. Published in 1871, this first major study of kinship, inventive and wide-ranging, created a new field of inquiry in anthropology. Drawing partly upon his own fieldwork among American Indians, anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan examined the kinship systems of over one hundred cultures, probing for similarities and differences in their organization. In his attempt to discover particular types of marriage and descent systems across the globe, Morgan demonstrated the centrality of kinship relations in many cultures. Kinship, it was revealed, was an important key for understanding cultures and could be studied through systematic, scientific means.
Anthropologists continue to wrestle with the premises, methodology, and conclusions of Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity. Scholars such as W. H. R. Rivers, Robert Lowie, Meyer Fortes, Fred Eggan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss have acknowledged their intellectual debt to this study; those less sympathetic to Morgan’s treatment of kinship nonetheless do not question its historical significance and impact on the development of modern anthropology.
Elisabeth Tooker is professor emerita at Temple University. She is the author of numerous studies, including Lewis H. Morgan on Iroquois Material Culture and The Iroquois Ceremonial of Midwinter.
“Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity remains a towering monument. . . . Morgan can never be ignored by the student of kinship.”—Robert Lowie