Ethnological Society's Classification and Distribution Committee

The following extract is handwritten on a loose set of foolscap papers enclosed in Religions No. 4 Notebook. James Urry has confirmed that this was in fact published in 'Journal of the Ethnological Society of London' 1(3), 1869, pp. 1-7 and is more complete in the published version. 

‘Project for the establishment of a permanent classification and Distribution Committee under the auspices of the Ethnological Society

Functions of the Committee

1. Admission of Evidence --- the Committee will examine into the validity of all evidence submitted to the Society or otherwise obtainable in relation to the science of man. It will reject false data or such as appear to be unauthenticated or insufficiently proved. It will ascertain as far as possible the period to which all evidence belongs, the locality and date of discovery, the names of discoverers or witnesses or of such persons as may be able to authenticate the discoveries. It will investigate associated facts rejecting as such all the connection of which is insufficiently proved or improbable. the relative value of all evidence whether direct or second hand to be attached to the names according to a scale of abbreviation to be hereafter determined upon.

2. Terminology – the committee will decide upon a recognised terminology as far as may be practicable for all classes of ethnological evidence.

3. Classification – the committee will classify all facts submitted in evidence. the classification to be as follows with the abbreviations attached to each grade




each grade to be a subdivision of the one above it and as far as possible posterior in sequence.

The classification to include the following primary divisions viz Races, Languages, Religions, Myths & Superstitions, Customs Laws and Institutions, Works of art and Industry.

the first two divisions having been made a subject of study for some time this classification will be more easily determined the remaining divisions afford a new field for classification which it will be the province of the committee to inaugurate.

4. Correspondence – the secretary and members will communicate with the several authors and others from whom information is to be obtained and the correspondence will be docketed as far as possible by classes for future reference Information will also be obtained by means of the notes and queries in the Quarterly Journal.

5. Registration. all facts & all evidence classified in accordance with section 3 will be registered upon sheets provided for the purpose by means of abbreviation to be hereafter determined upon. the registers to be kept by classes and accompanied with distribution maps and will include 1st the class, sub-class, variety and sub-variety of the Race, Language custom, or Implement [insert] work of art [end insert] 2. all associated facts classified as above 3 period to which the evidence belongs 4 date of discovery 5 date of registry 6 names of authorities and reference to the Authors or to the correspondence of the committee.

6. Distribution Skeleton maps to be provided for the purpose of shewing the distribution of each class, sub-class, variety or sub-variety to be attached to accompany the registers

7. Reports – Reports to be made to the society from time to time shewing the classification & distribution that have been determined upon then reports to be illuminated by the distribution maps the registers will also be open to any members of the society who desire to obtain from them information or to any special branch that they are investigating

Advantages to be derived from the proposed Committee.

1. As the science of man must of necessity find itself opposed to a number of preconceived opinions, it will be of advantage to shew that the evidence on which it is based has been carefully investigated by a number of competent persons and not left to the judgement of subordinates.

2. The establishment of a recognised terminology will tend to facilitate the procuring of evidence and to prevent confusion of ideas.

3. By means of classification an insight will be obtained into the natural growth and order of development of all the various branches of human culture.

4. the committee by this means will be enabled to collect a number of isolated facts, which are now in possession of individuals who have neither time or inclination to prepare papers but who will be glad to avail themselves of the means thus afforded of briefly recording their experience.

5. By means of the distribution maps the society will be in a better position to determine those branches of culture which appear to be derived from a common source and those which have arisen independently, and to ascertain how far they have been modified by external causes during migration.

6. the distribution maps will be a means of drawing the attention of ethnologists to those regions which are as yet unexplored. they will point out what information is wanted and where to look for it.

7. Persons interested in any special branch of the science of man and who are especially qualified for the investigation of it will be enabled to refer to the registers of the committee for the means of prosecuting their studies by this means a division of labour which is necessary to the success of an undertaking of the kind will be promoted.

8. In order to carry out the objects of the committee, it will be necessary the members should combine their labor to a greater extent than has been the custom hitherto as however the truth can only be promoted by a balance of opinion derived from a broad basis of facts. … advantages will be derived from each … sharing his knowledge with the common … than from the unsatisfactory results obtained through limited … and limited judgement.’

AP May 2012, James Urry's comments (for which we are very grateful) added April 2015.

Urry also comments: 'The project was just one of a number of attempts to refocus anthropology in the late 1860s and early 1870s lead in fact by Thomas Henry Huxley and the members of the X Club to reorganise “anthropology” into a proper scientific field of study along Darwinian lines. Lane Fox, as he then was, provided – as it were – logistic support! In part this grew out of the struggles to defeat James Hunt and the Anthropological Society of London. An attempt to unite the Ethnological Society and the ASL failed in 1868 and the project was part of an effort by Huxley and others to refocus the ESL. The failed negotiations did result, however, in Hunt’s resignation and, following his death, to renewed negotiations towards an amalgamation that resulted in the formation of the Anthropological Institute in 1871.

The amalgamation, however, was not entirely successful as the former members of the ASL attempted to take-over the Institute. Lane Fox was closely involved with Huxley, Lubbock and others in preventing this and a core of the old ASL members broke away in 1873 to form the London Anthropological Society under Charnock. They briefly published their own journal but the Society failed and although they attempted to re-amalgamate with the AI, the leaders of the AI refused to negotiate. The LAS collapsed and its members (those who anyway had resigned from the AI as not all had), were permitted to re-join as ordinary members. Lane Fox was particularly hard on them no doubt viewing them as a band of mutineers!

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