James C. Prichard's views of mankind : an anthropologist between the Enlightenment and the Victorian age
The Bristol doctor James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848) is acknowledged as Britain's foremost student of anthropology and ethnology in the early nineteenth century. At a time when European scholars increasingly embraced racial theories to account for cultural diversities, Prichard was a stout defender of monogenism. Being was brought up as a Quaker, he later converted to Anglicanism, embracing the Evangelical wing of the church. He regarded the unity of mankind as a necessary precondition in the struggle to uphold Christian morality under threat of materialism and Utilitarianism. Oddly, his theories have often been misrepresented, in particular their opposition to contemporary racial theorizing has been underestimated. My dissertation, the first study dedicated exclusively to Prichard, explores his notions of man's place in nature and puts them in the context of contemporary European learning. This comprises an investigation into his theories of insanity as well as his ethnological writings laid down in his Researches into the Physical History of Mankind and other works. In order to support monogenism Prichard became a self-taught expert in philology and mythology, adding the latest results of continental scholarship to the knowledge acquired at Edinburgh University. He studied German comparative philology years before the method spread in Britain, availing himself of methods deemed by many as theologically dangerous. Yet, synthesizing German Romantic theories with Edinburgh learning, Prichard's anthropology remained within the framework of Christian piety, culminating in the assertion that mankind was a unity due to its common "psychology" which Prichard inferred from his observation that all human tribes believed in a life after death. The concept of the atonement, so important for early nineteenth-century Evangelicals, came to stand at the core of Prichard's anthropology. But his conflation of science and theology appeared increasingly unacceptable. By delineating the debates Prichard was engaged in, the thesis adds to the understanding of the development from eighteenth-century thought to secularized mid-nineteenth-century theories of man.