Boas, Franz

Boas, Franz

biographical name


Franz Boas, 1941.—AP

(born July 9, 1858, Minden, Westphalia [Germany]—died Dec. 22, 1942, New York, N.Y., U.S.) German-born U.S. anthropologist. Trained in physics and geography (Ph.D., 1881), Boas was part of an early scientific expedition to Baffin Island (1883–84), where he turned to studying Eskimo culture. He later studied native peoples of British Columbia, including the Kwakiutl. From 1896 to 1905 he directed the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, which investigated the relationships between the aboriginal peoples of Siberia and North America. Teaching at Columbia University from 1896 until his death, he was a leading organizer of the profession in the U.S. and the mentor of Ruth Benedict, Alfred L. Kroeber, Margaret Mead, and Edward Sapir. He is largely credited with establishing anthropology as an academic discipline in the U.S. His achievements in anthropology are virtually unrivaled. Before Boas, most anthropologists adhered to a relatively crude theory of sociocultural evolution, arguing that some peoples are inherently more civilized or developed than others. Boas argued that such views are ethnocentric and that all human groups have actually evolved equally but in different ways. It is largely because of Boas that anthropologists now attribute human differences to historic “cultural,” rather than genetic, factors. His books include The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), Primitive Art (1927), and Race, Language, and Culture (1940).

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