The Anthropology of Franz Boas: Essays on the Centennial of His Birth

The Anthropology of Franz Boas: Essays on the Centennial of His Birth

The Anthropology of Franz Boas: Essays on the Centennial of His Birth

The Anthropology of Franz Boas: Essays on the Centennial of His Birth

Excerpt

This volume is a memorial to Franz Boas on the centenary of his birth. We believe it a fitting monument, and one of a character that he would have appreciated and understood. Out of the cold analytic facts of Boas' own work emerges the image of the man himself, and through the man, the discipline of anthropology which he in turn did so much to shape.

That the image of Boas should appear so clearly in these papers is something of a surprise, though perhaps it should not be. Each author was requested to present his materials analytically, and to avoid the polemics that have on occasion marred the discussion of Boas' work over the past few years. The request was inspired by the belief that anthropology was old enough to have a history and mature enough to evaluate its parental figures with detachment. Ultimately, it is his work that counts for us, for it has in greater or lesser degree shaped all of us in our academic endeavors. It is a pleasure to realize that our request was interpreted by the authors in Boas' own spirit. For certainly he insisted, in his own and his students' fieldwork, that the data themselves are the important matter, and that only through the recording and examination of the data can the culture emerge. Certainly, too, he avoided evaluation.

It was never my privilege to meet Boas personally, though I have known him as an intellect through his writings, and as a personality through his legend. These essays make me feel that I know him as a being and that I can understand the character of his influence upon anthropology.

Much in these essays documents and adds detail to Boas' characteristics which are generally known. His breadth and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, which led him into such disparate aspects of the human scene as the statistics of bodily growth and the characteristics of primitive mythology, are documented by the very range of subject that these essays had inevitably to cover. Even here we have not managed to reach the full scope--for example, we were unable to obtain an analysis of his important contributions to the field of primitive art. Certainly, it was his personal range of interests, his concept of the discipline, more than anything else that has preserved in this country the unity of the anthropological sciences--with far-reaching, beneficial consequences for American anthropology.

Also well known are Boas' background in mathematics and physics and his thorough German education, which gave him his empirical bent and his insistence on the collection of facts and his distaste for facile generalization. Some of the details of this background have been set forth by Kluckhohn and Prufer in their biographical sketch of his German years. The implications of that background are documented throughout the volume: by Mead in showing his careful, internal analysis of cultural phenomena; by Tanner on his . . .

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